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Laying Him Bare From Thigh To Neck. Good Friday–Tenebrae. March 30, 2018

Good Friday—Tenebrae (7pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 2:8-3:9; Hebrews 4: 16-5:10; Habakkuk 3:1-12jesus crucifixion grunewald isenheim.PNG

March 30, 2018

“Laying Him Bare from Thigh To Neck”

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, “Where is corn and wine?”  When they swooned in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mother’s bosom.  Lamentations 2:11-12

 

It’s good this is in King James English.  Otherwise we might all be crying as we hear Jeremiah’s lament.

 

The prophet is sick as he looks at what is going to happen to the daughter of his people, Jerusalem.  My liver is poured out on the earth.  He vomits as he watches, until nothing is left except bile coming out of his mouth.  He sees children and babies dying of hunger during the siege of Jerusalem.  Babies die on their mother’s breasts because their mothers can no longer produce milk.  And little children say to their mothers, “Why is there no food?  What happened to all the corn and wine we used to have?”  Anyone with children can imagine what it would be like to try to answer this question from their small children who are too young to understand.  And watch them fade with hunger, and finally faint in the streets from it, and die.

 

This has probably happened to people in my lifetime thousands, millions of times, in places ravaged by war.

 

It just has never happened to us.  Just like it hadn’t happened to Jeremiah’s people, to the nation that was in a covenant with God.  But finally in Jeremiah’s day, all their years of forsaking that covenant with God caught up with them.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The temple was destroyed.  Children died.  Those who didn’t die were taken in chains to Babylon.

 

What happened then is going to happen again.  As judgment came upon Judah, so it will come on the whole world for all its centuries of casting aside God’s Law and ignoring the Gospel of His Son.  And the hunger, the chains, the death that will come will not last for seventy years.

 

That’s why Jesus told the women who followed Him as He carried His cross to Golgotha: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children!  For the time is coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

 

What our Lord says is true, but it is so painful that we cannot bear to think about it.  It would be better to never be born than to be damned, better to never have a child than for that child to be lost forever.  Yet that is the road most people are on.  Can’t we see it?

 

And even before the last judgment, the years leading up to it will make people wish they had never been born.  There will not only be physical suffering and a famine of bread, but a spiritual famine that will make the eyes of Christians fail with tears and pour their livers on the earth.  People will starve because they will not be able to find the bread of God’s Word.  The walls of Jerusalem will be broken down, and the hosts of the devil will pour in with their glinting weapons, with teachings that destroy souls.

 

And these days are already upon us.  Can’t we see it?  Those of us with children, grandchildren.  Do we have tears in our eyes as we see the gaping holes in the walls of the church and the demons howling through the gap?  How few of them will remain in the church a few decades from now?  And those who remain—where will they go to have their babies baptized, to receive the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the pure, saving word of God?  Will they have to drive hours?  Will they have to choose between going to a church with corrupt teaching and worshipping God in their homes?

 

This is where our world is.  If we had hearts that were not mostly dead, we would cry like Jeremiah, be sick like Jeremiah.  Yet neither you nor I feel much.

 

It is too much to bear, and we have so little faith that we do not pray about it very often or for very long.  So we turn on the television, fire up the internet, get busy with this and with that, and get numb.

 

Another prophet about the same time as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, had a different reaction.  He did not weep.  He prayed and asked God to renew the work of vengeance He had done in the Exodus in his own day.  We will be singing Habakkuk’s prayer shortly.

 

And God gave Habakkuk a vision of the day when He would answer his prayer.  God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran…His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power.  Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.  He stood and measured the earth.  He looked and scattered the nations…The sun and the moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear…You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.  You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.

 

Oh, that would be wonderful, would it not?  To see our God come out to save us with His unspeakable power, and destroy those who are destroying us?

 

Do you realize that that is what Jesus did today?

 

The compassion of Jeremiah that is lacking in us is not lacking in Jesus.  He went out for the salvation of His people to Calvary to be brutally killed.  Because though the daughters of Jerusalem were not weeping for themselves and for their children, He was.  He did.

 

Jesus our Lord sees very clearly what is in store for you and your children and your neighbors because of your sins.  He not only sees it.  He feels the agony of the hell that opens its mouth to swallow you, the agony ahead of the unrepentant, from which you and I hide our faces.

 

What Jeremiah said about himself in the 3rd chapter of his Lamentations was fulfilled in Jesus:

 

I am the man that hath seen affliction and the rod of His wrath.  Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day… He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy.  Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer.  He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone…

 

Paul says to you who believe in Jesus: As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes.  (2 Cor. 1)

 

In Jesus God says yes to us and holds nothing back from us of His grace, love, riches, glory.

 

But when Jesus prayed to His Father in Gethsemane, God’s answer was “No.”  No, Jesus could not escape the judgment of God, the hell of our sins.  Until, with the sun gone black, Jesus screamed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  God shut out Jesus’ prayer.  He closed Jesus in, not merely with mockers and enemies, but with our sins and their unending punishment.  He could not get out.  The heavy chain of our sins that sinks us down to hell was fastened on Him.  Until He died and was enclosed with the hewn stone of the tomb.

 

He was the man. Pilate brought Him out to the crowd covered with blood, bruises, spit, with a reed, a robe, a crown of thorns.  “Behold the man,” Pilate said.

 

Behold the man who has seen affliction and the rod of God’s wrath, and removed that rod from your back forever.

 

For God appointed Him a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He was appointed to be priest not because he was born in a priestly family or because he went to school, but because of the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.  He is the king of righteousness.  His righteousness makes Him a priest who lives forever, able to reconcile you to God once and for all, to settle with Him for you.

 

So the author of Hebrews tells us that we should boldly, confidently come near the throne of grace to receive from the one who presides over that throne grace and mercy in our time of need—for ourselves, children, and neighbors.

 

We should not let ourselves shrink from facing the terrible plight of the people around us who are on the way to hell, or timidly draw back because of the terrible coldness of our hearts, but boldly go and lay before Him our hearts and the lost ones we cannot save ourselves.

 

You do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who was tempted with them all.  Even more, who was condemned for the temptations you gave in to.  He plunged into the endless death, the bottomless pit of condemnation that belongs to your sins and those of your unrepentant family and neighbors.  Do you think he doesn’t care about them, that he won’t hear you when you plead for them?

 

Do not think that.  Don not believe it.  Rejoice in the privilege you have been given.  You have a great high priest who not only offered a sacrifice that removes your sins, but gave Himself to be the sacrifice.

 

When He did that the might of the Lord Habakkuk saw in His vision was at work.  His power was veiled on the cross, but there He became the plague and pestilence of hell.  He shook the earth with His death and it gave up its dead.  The sun stood still and was darkened at the flash of His spear as in fury He crushed the head of the wicked one, laying him open from thigh to neck.

 

When He went out to Golgotha under His cross He went out for the salvation of His people, for your salvation.  And what He set out to do in omnipotent might He performed.

 

Hear His cry from the cross, the cry of victory—your victory cry.  “It is finished!”

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria

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Christ the Glory and Power of God. Wednesday after Laetare 2018

jesus ecce homo domenico feti.PNGWednesday after Laetare: Matins/Vespers

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History: Pilate

March 14, 2018

Christ the Glory and Power of God

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

“We have a law, and according to that law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.”

 

When the chief priests say this, Pilate becomes afraid of Jesus for the first time.  Before that he sees nothing in Jesus worthy of his fear.  Neither does Herod.  Jesus is not worthy of death.  He’s not dangerous enough.  He doesn’t have an army.  He doesn’t do a miracle to hurt his enemies or even to win Herod over to his cause.  He doesn’t even try to answer the charges against Him.  Herod and his men laugh at Jesus and at the chief priests who think Jesus is worth their time.  And Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea, answerable to Tiberius Caesar, or at least to his prefects, has more important things to worry about than the Jews’ latest power struggles.

 

But when the priests say this—“This Jesus claims to be the Son of God”—Pilate becomes afraid.  Pilate seems to wonder whether he is dealing with a god walking the earth incognito.  Greek and Roman gods were said to do this by their poets.

 

But what Pilate suspected we know to be true, truer than he knew.  Jesus stands there not lifting up His hand or His voice, but in Him is all power and authority, because He is the only true God dwelling among us in human flesh.

 

 

 

 

Can you wrap your head around the idea that someone with that kind of power would not use it to defend Himself from mockery and abuse?  And death?  Who among us, if we had the power, wouldn’t have more money, better clothes, a nicer house?  Who among us, if we had the power, wouldn’t make it so that we, the people we love, the institutions we love, are strong instead of weak, prosperous instead of poor and struggling?  Yet Jesus has the power to have whatever He wants, to do whatever He wants.  And there He is, being falsely accused and saying nothing.  Being beaten and not defending Himself.  Having crowds call for Him to be crucified and saying and doing nothing.  Can you wrap your head around that?

 

We can’t.  Our church has lost the favor of the crowds, and we are in great fear that we are dying.  Any one of us if we had Jesus’ power would not allow this to stand.

 

And the reason for this is that we have the same way of thinking as Pilate and Herod.  We understand power the way they do, because, though we have the mind of Christ, we do not put on that mind very well or for very long.

 

It is faith that makes us able to see power and glory in Jesus when He is abandoned, mocked, condemned.  It’s not faith to believe in Jesus’ power and glory when He is on the mountain of transfiguration or when you see Him risen from the dead.  It’s faith when you see life in Jesus’ death, glory in His humiliation, power when He is mocked and flogged.

 

It’s faith when you believe that God embraces you when you are abandoned, that God is glorifying you when you are humiliated.

 

Do you know why Jesus our Lord doesn’t use His power to impress Herod or hurt His enemies, or to get a real purple robe and a real golden crown?  Why He didn’t become an emperor with His own soldiers?

 

It’s because our Lord despises what passes for power and glory in this world.  Not that He hates it, but that He thinks little of it.  Fine silk, gold, diamonds, cadillacs, and all that passes for glory and wealth in this world are garbage compared with the glory of God.  Paul understood this and said in Philippians 3: Indeed, I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).  But really the word is not “rubbish” but dung, something detestable.  Money, fame, power, honor, and all the things this world offers is dung in comparison to what God gives us in Christ—His glory, His power, Himself.

 

Roman legions, Navy Seals, hypersonic missiles—they are feeble compared to the glory of God.

 

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the wisdom of God and the power of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.  1 Cor. 1:22-25

 

When Jesus is silent before those who lie about Him, when He doesn’t break the ropes binding His wrists, but lets them hold Him like Samson with his shaved head—when Jesus allows the Roman soldiers to lay the whips to His back and tear it open—He is displaying God’s power.

 

Those bloody stripes befitting a criminal, the laughter of the soldiers and Herod in His face, the crowd screaming for an evil man to be released and for Him to be crucified, the long spines pressed down as a mock crown into His head—with this humiliation Jesus is displaying the glory of God.

 

Because the mockery of the sinful world is to be preferred to its praise, since the world is hostile to God.  And it is a bad trade to exchange God’s almighty power for the feeble power of this world.

 

Yet when you and I receive a little of the humiliation and weakness that reveal God’s power and His glory in us, our faith falters.  As though Jesus stopped being God when they mocked Him and bound Him.  As though we stop having God dwell in us when popularity departs from us.

 

Repent, you of little faith!

 

When we are humbled and weak, we should not try to escape.  We are either getting what our sins deserve, like the penitent thief realized on the cross during his last hours.

 

Or we are being made partakers of Jesus’ power and glory.  We are being treated as sons of God.

 

Either way God means us well.

 

If we are chastened for our sins, it comes from the hand of our Father in heaven, not our judge, sentencing us as criminals.  That cannot happen to you unless you have no Jesus, unless there is no Jesus who suffered for the sins of the world.

 

But there is.  The one with all power has just been portrayed before our eyes, how He made Himself weak enough to be bound, beaten and mocked.  He was doing what our flesh was powerless to perform with His mighty power.  He was fulfilling in His flesh the Law of God with its demands.  It not only demands obedience, but punishment for those who break it.  And Jesus was fulfilling its requirements, as the forty lashes minus one fell on His skin.  With His divine power He was fulfilling what the Law demanded of every person in the world.

 

His weakness is your strength.  Through Jesus’ weakness, you have fulfilled the Law’s requirements.  Through His weakness, we who are by nature prisoners of sin gain the power to will to do what pleases God.

 

His humiliation is your honor, your golden crown, your royal robe, your fame.  Because you are the one God’s Son so loved.  And for you He allowed Himself to be humbled, so that your humiliation would be His.

 

Because of this love of your Lord, God the Father gives Himself to you.  All His power and glory are yours.  They are yours when He chastens you for your sins.  They are yours when you share in Christ’s weakness and humiliation in this world.  But crowds ignoring you, even crowds screaming against you, spitting on you, mocking you, condemning you to die, if God allows this, cannot take away God’s power and glory from you.  They can only do that if they can take away Jesus, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

 

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

 

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

What We Deserve. Wed. After Judica, 2018

Wednesday after Judica

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History: Calvary

March 21, 2018

“What We Deserve”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

They lead Jesus away to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the place where they crucify Jerusalem’s criminals.  Even on this occasion a great crowd follows Him.  And is usually the case with the people who follow Jesus, they do not understand Him.  The crowd of women who follow Jesus and the North African visitor to Jerusalem, Simon, who has been made to drag Jesus’ cross, weeps.  Jesus turns His face toward them, bruised by fists, cut by thorns, and says to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children…for if they do these things with a green tree, what will happen with a dry one?”

 

If they do these things to the Son of God, green with everlasting life, what will happen to you, who are by nature dry wood, dead in trespasses and sins?

 

Jesus did not come so we could feel sorry for Him.  He did not come for our pity.  He came to save us from what we deserve.

 

And so, about nine in the morning, they arrive at the place of execution.  They give Him wine mixed with gall, which is a poison, which perhaps deadens the pain of what comes next.  Another evangelist tells us that there was also myrrh in the cup, which is a painkiller.  Long ago David foretold this, though the passion history does not quote him: I looked for sympathy, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none.  They also gave me poison for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.  (Ps. 69: 20-21) Whether it was meant in mercy or malice, Jesus refuses the drink.

 

And they crucify Him.  As the nails are driven through His hands and feet, Jesus prays to His Father to forgive the ones who pierce Him.

 

In case we are forgetting why this is all happening, the enemies of Jesus, standing beneath His cross and mocking Him, remind us.

 

The people say, “Aha!  You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!”

 

Then the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!”

 

And the soldiers: “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 

 

And finally, at the bottom of the barrel, one of the two criminals crucified with Jesus: “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”

 

Saving is on everyone’s mind at the death of Jesus.  The four groups of people all tell Jesus, “Save yourself!  Then we will see that you are the Son of God and the King of the Jews!  Then you will be worthy of our allegiance!  Then our opposition toward you will change into admiration.  We will cast our vote for you.”

 

Jesus is taunted because all they believe that if Jesus really is the Son of God, worth loving and trusting, He should show it by saving Himself from the cross.  And the criminal adds that Jesus should also save him from the consequences of his deeds.

 

The world’s mind hasn’t changed at all in two thousand years.  Jesus isn’t worthy of our attention—unless He can provide us with a path to bliss and power right now in this world order.  Unless He can save us from dying, or pain, or the feeling of insignificance, poverty, and emptiness that still gnaws at us who live in the greatest material comfort history has ever known.

 

You can be so close and yet so far away.  It is right when people expect Jesus to save, especially here, at Golgotha.  Jesus is here to save.  He is here to save us from our sins.  And because that is why He is here, He cannot save Himself from the cross.

 

The other criminal grasps this as he hangs on the cross near Jesus.  Imagine hanging from your pierced hands and your pierced feet, dying slowly, in agony, like this man does.  What realization are you likely to come to then?  At that time people have a hard time thinking or concentrating on anything.  But this man realizes what most people never realize—We are getting what we deserve for what we have done.

 

He tells the other criminal, hanging mangled and pierced from the other tree: Look at us.  Look at where we are.  You and I are here because this is what we deserve for our lives.  We deserve to have this be the final verdict on us and all we have done in this world.  Don’t you fear God?  We’re here because we deserve this. But Jesus has done nothing wrong.  He is innocent, and suffers the same death as we do.

 

Can you imagine experiencing the pain and shame this criminal did and saying, This is what I deserve?  Is that what we here from parents and relatives when a kid murders classmates or shoots a cop?  No.  They say: “He was a good boy.”  And we probably would too if it were our kid.  Because we love them and cannot bear to face that the one we loved is evil.

 

Is it what we say when people criticize us, suggest we have failed, suggest we have done wrong?  I am getting what my deeds deserve?  No.

 

Of course, the criminal on the cross next to Jesus had probably beaten people, robbed them.  Left them lying bloody in a ditch.  Perhaps he murdered someone.  Probably none of us have done those things.

 

But we have stolen from God.  We have wasted the heartbeats and breaths he has given us to gather for ourselves, to hoard for ourselves gifts He gave to be used in thankfulness and trust in Him.  We have demanded that people treat us with honor and respect that we have no right to claim when all our lives we have thought and done what we know God has declared is worthy of death.

 

This is what we have deserved for our lives too.  This is how our lives ought to be summed up.  Not that we die looking back with pride and contentment.  But that we die condemned, in pain, in shame, in regret.  And after that, to be forsaken by God forever.

 

Otherwise, why is God’s Son, who has done nothing wrong, experiencing this agony?  Is God so unjust that He would allow this to happen to His Son, who never once displeased Him?  That He would even forsake His Son while He died cursed and mocked by men?  After His only Son had lived a life of perfect obedience to Him?  We don’t deal with our children this way even when they have turned out to be no good by human standards.  Would God deal this way with His faithful, ever-obedient Son?

 

No.  This man who has done nothing wrong, who is truly the Son of God, is dying to save us from what we have deserved for our deeds.

 

He isn’t dying to save the criminal or us from the pain with which God corrects us.  The pain of God’s correction is to spare us everlasting pain.  He lays His rod on us so that having been chastened, we become better.  So that we turn from our ways of straying like an errant sheep and direct our steps to walk with Him and His flock in the way of eternal joy.

 

No, He has come to save us from eternal pain, eternal shame, from an eternity of being abandoned.  From a condemnation that does not end.

 

This is the saving we need.  And that is what Jesus is accomplishing.  When you see Jesus’ agony and shame, you see your own.

 

He was right in what He prayed while these sinners pounded nails through His innocent hands: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

 

When the people, the priests, the soldiers, the criminals all said, “Save yourself, and we will believe you are the Messiah”—and when the world demands that Jesus prove Himself, and we also demand it—they, we, do not know what we are saying.  We think that if Jesus saved Himself from the cross, He would prove that He was the Christ, the Son of God.

 

But if He had saved Himself, He would not have saved you.  He would have been no Christ at all if He had saved Himself.  He would have done a miracle that would leave us unsaved, still in our sins.

 

We too have pounded in the nails in Jesus’ body.  We have spoken and thought what we wanted, without considering the consequences, like Jesus told Peter: When you were young, you dressed youself and went where you wanted.  But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will lead you where you do not want to go.  We went where we wanted.  We injured and insulted and hated the people Jesus bore on His own body.  And then we demanded, “Save yourself and us!  Get down from the cross and get us down too!”

 

Jesus did not save Himself from our hands.  He gave Himself into our hands, and while we did what we wanted, He went where we did not want to go.  He was numbered with the transgressors and died as one of the guilty, though He had done nothing wrong.

 

So when you come to Jesus with your life that can only come to this, to the place the criminals found themselves—rightly under God’s condemnation—and you dare to ask, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come into your kingdom,”—when you come to this church the next time asking, “Be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being,” Jesus says to you, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

It is a bold thing this criminal asked the man he knew was dying on a cross though He had done nothing wrong, when he himself had lived a life even other mere men condemned as evil.  “Let your innocent suffering benefit me.  Let my stealing and murder be at your expense.”  But that is what we say when we ask Jesus to forgive our sins.

 

And in response He says, “All my suffering is for you.”

 

“Today I save you by not saving myself.”

 

“And by the price I payed for you on Golgotha when I was forsaken by God, I declare the grace of God to you, and forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Jesus Seeks God and You. Wednesday After Invocabit, 2018.

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment

last supper godefroy.PNGVespers—Wednesday after Invocabit

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History—The Last Supper

February 21, 2018

Jesus Seeks God and You

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Gentiles, are under sin, as it is written: None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  Rom. 3:9-11

 

No one seeks after God, says St. Paul.

 

Not even one.

 

The priests are seeking to arrest and kill Jesus in secret.

 

Judas is seeking to betray Him for money.

 

And the disciples are seeking to be the greatest.

 

Who is seeking God?

 

What is Jesus seeking?  “You know that in two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 

 

Only Jesus is seeking God.  Jesus is the only one in this story seeking to do the will of God.  And His Father’s will is that He be nailed to a cross.

 

Lent began as a time for catechumens to prepare to be baptized on Easter.  They would be baptized into Jesus’ death.  So they had Jesus’ passion and His cross before their eyes.  And during Lent we are called to return to our baptism, to the death and life given to us there.  But to return to Baptism and to the Triune God who claimed us in it is to seek out the cross and its death, not metaphorically, but in stark reality.

 

Maybe you don’t like the idea of dying on a cross.  Maybe you would like to believe it’s not true that Christianity is like this.

 

St. Paul, quoting the psalm of David, says, “there is no one who seeks God, not even one.”  We seek the approval of the sinful world.  We seek to satisfy the desires of our flesh, to scratch our itch for praise and respect, pleasure and comfort. But no one can serve two masters.  The master we have by nature, whom we seek to please, is sin.

 

But Jesus our Lord seeks God, and in seeking God He also seeks us.  He knows that on this Passover in Jerusalem He will be the lamb who is sacrificed. But He is not running away.  He goes into Jerusalem, tells His disciples to prepare the feast, and then, in the course of the meal, gives them His body and His blood to eat and to drink.  He desires this.  I have earnestly longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

 

At the Jordan River His cousin John argued with Jesus that Jesus should be baptizing him and not the other way around.  Jesus should not be in the lower position, but the higher.  But John accepted Jesus’ word that it was necessary for Him to accomplish all righteousness.  So John plunged him beneath the water in which thousands upon thousands of people had been plunged before Him, to be forgiven their cursing, unbelief, lying, their innumerable sins against God.  And Jesus went down into the water with them, though He had committed no sin and knew no sin.  He went down into the water in which others left their sins and took them up.  He was numbered with the transgressors.

 

Then heaven opened to Him.  The Holy Spirit came down on Him.  The Father said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  How strange that the Father was pleased with His beloved Son when He was made sin for us.  By becoming sin for us, Jesus was seeking God.

 

Seeking God for us who could not seek Him ourselves.  A sinner who tried to come to God while he is still in his sins would only find an angry God, a consuming fire.  He would not only find heaven closed.  He would find utter destruction, eternal pain.  That’s why no one seeks God.  We run instead, like Adam at the sound of God’s footsteps as he and Eve were finishing putting on their fig leaves.

 

Our road back to God is a road Jesus alone can walk.  He must pave this road with His bruises and His blood.  He alone is able to bear the punishment for our sins against God.  He alone is able to endure the stripes justice requires for our refusing to hear Him.  The times we knew what His will was and rejected it.  The sins we committed in carelessness.  The impurity and disobedience that we did not choose but which is born in us.  All these have a price, and Jesus must pay it in agony.  This is why Jesus tells Peter, Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow after.

 

Everyone will follow Jesus into death.  That is certain.  But to follow Jesus to death, so that we can say with him, “Now I am glorified, and God is glorified in me”—that is not something we have the power to will.

 

No, He must give us a share in Him. He must serve us.  He must gird Himself like a servant and wash our feet.

 

Just like John the Baptist had done before Him, Peter resisted being served by Jesus.  You can understand why.  How demeaning it seems for Jesus—especially on the night of His death!—to behave like a servant instead of the Lord.  But He has much lowlier service He must do for us.

 

He must be handed over for our sins and rejected.  He must be tried and sentenced for the evil we have done, and give His life to pay for our sins.  He must even give His flesh to be our food and His blood to be our drink.

 

No one seeks after God, Paul said.  He meant no one born with Adam’s fallen flesh.

 

But Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit of the virgin, does seek God with His whole heart.  And with His whole, pure heart, He seeks God for you.  And with His whole heart He seeks you for God.

 

Knowing full well all your unfaithfulness, knowing it before it happened, knowing it intimately, better than you do, because He paid for it in stripes, in tears, in agony of soul.  See how He tells His disciples today: You are they who have continued with Me in My trials, and I appoint you a kingdom.  He knows full well they are about to abandon Him in His greatest trial, yet He speaks to them this way!  Because He seeks them, and He carries them and all their unfaithfulness as His own, and pays for it in full.  That is how the disciples are counted faithful.  That is how they came to sit on thrones with Him.

 

If you are to seek God’s glory and share in it, You must be served by this man.  You must have a part in Him, a share in His flesh.  You must be born anew of Him who does seek God, since in the flesh you do not and cannot.

 

And He has given you a share in Him.  He has baptized you with His Baptism.  You were washed with the water into which He plunged, and joined with Him who made full payment for your sins.  You seek God not by the law, but through faith in Jesus, the Son of God, who gave Himself as your servant, to pay for your sins.  And He serves you still.  He gives His very body that endured the cross to you to eat.  He places the cup of His blood of the new testament to your lips, pledging that you inherit the free forgiveness of your sins through His death.

 

You have a share, a part in Him.  You have communion with Him through the Sacrament of His death.  Through your participation in Him you are righteous, and seek God, and find His approval.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

 

Good Friday, Chief Service 2017. Why is This Friday Good?

crucifixion grunewaldGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)

April 14, 2017

Why is this Friday “Good”?

 

Iesu Iuva

 

My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’?  It doesn’t seem good.”  We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy.  It indeed does not seem good.  When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good.  The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good.  Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death.  Sin brings God’s anger and punishment.  God will not leave sin unpunished.

 

The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it.  It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”

 

Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word.  Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.”  He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost.  He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”

 

On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.

  1. It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
  2. But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.

 

1.

 

The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news.  There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17).  There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds.  Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.

 

Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news.  The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in.  A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.

 

The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not.  But most people do not.  There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them.  It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them.  Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.

 

That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”.  It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.

 

A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God.  The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law.  This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God.  You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them.  You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul.  The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You.  The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  (v. 4-6)  Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?

 

Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin.  Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.

 

But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us.  Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples.  Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours.  We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians.  We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.

 

In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us.  The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t.  The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.

 

This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it.  Such a person feels forsaken by God.

 

But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news.  A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God.  But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God.  And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.

 

And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this.  Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin.  The result was that He was immortal.  He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.

 

Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die.  We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God.  We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.

 

We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross.  Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light.  He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.”  And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid.  It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross.  It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death.  It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.

 

When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst.  He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful.  But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment.  Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son.  He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us.  It had to be drained to the bottom.

 

2.

 

All that is very bad news.  If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.

 

But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?

 

This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:

 

We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.

 

Our sins must be “put away”.  We must be “released” from them.  Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.

This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today.  He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.

 

When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.

 

When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.

 

He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.

 

Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse.  He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched.  God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us.  He is reconciled to us and at peace.  “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”

 

That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)

 

Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God.  Not as a fiction, a lie.  But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.

 

“It is finished,” says Jesus.  What is finished?  The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins.  It is finished.  Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.

 

Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel.  This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.

 

It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one.  Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst.  That water does not come from nowhere.  It comes from Jesus’ death.

 

 

Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace.  Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution.  Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.

 

Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.

 

This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.

 

So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day.  Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall.  Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.

 

Amen

 

SDG

No Condemnation in Christ Jesus. Wednesday after Oculi, 2016.

christ-before-caiaphas giottoWednesday after Oculi

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History III: Palace of the High Priest

March 2, 2016

“No Condemnation in Christ Jesus”

 

Iesu iuva

 

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

Turn Not From His Griefs Away. Wednesday after Reminiscere, 2016

February 24, 2016 Leave a comment

562px-Dürer,_Kupferstichpassion_02,_Am_ÖlbergWednesday after Reminiscere (Vespers/Final)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Passion History, Part 2: Gethsemane

February 24, 2016

“Turn Not From His Griefs Away”

 

Iesu iuva

 

Introduction

 

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.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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