Devotions & Essays, Sermons

A God Who Rises

“Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene” by Jan Cossiers

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11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that He had said these things to her. (John 20:11–18)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Behold the man who died and who now lives. His heart was stopped but again pulses with a new rhythm and vigor. His veins spilled their crimson contents all over the Golgotha ground but now course with a fresh supply of warm, red, oxygenated blood. His lungs were deflated and flat after that loud cry with which He yielded up His Spirit but now they expand and fill with the perfumed, stale, air of the tomb. His eyes were closed in death but now open and squint to take in the sites. His hands had been nailed but now they spread all ten living fingers open before picking up the grave cloths and folding them. His feet had dragged lifelessly as His body was placed into the tomb but now they reach to the ground and plant ten living toes into the cool dirt. His skin had cooled to the ambient temperature of the stone-and-dirt grave but now radiates heat and warmth, though it still possesses five distinct wounds from nails and a spear. His brain had been still and dead but now electrons dance and synapses and neurons sparkle. His stomach, which hasn’t eaten since Thursday, growls and suggests somewhat urgently that the Lenten fast is over. Behold, the man, Jesus, God and man, lives. He rises triumphantly from the dead and strolls out of the grave into His creation.

And Mary mistakes Him for the gardener. It’s an honest mistake, really. She was understandably confused. She showed up first, while it was still dark and the disciples were asleep. But she probably hadn’t slept for days. As soon as day began to break after the Sabbath had ended, she went to the tomb. When she saw that the stone had been taken away, dislocated from what she knew was its permanent resting place, she ran and told the disciples. She found Peter and John first, and the words came crashing out so quickly, it’s any wonder they understood her at all. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

They all went back to the tomb, Peter and John sprinting. John doesn’t bother to tell us whether Mary Magdalene ran or walked. But when the men wandered away bewildered, she was there. She stayed outside weeping, grieving at the double loss. First the One she called Lord was crucified. Now His body was missing. The angels are perplexed at her weeping. “Why?” Her distress is wrong, not part of her honest mistake. “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Then she turned around and beheld the Risen Lord. He asked her the very same question as the angels: “Why are you weeping?” and added, “Whom are you seeking?”

Of course, she supposed He was the gardener. This was an honest mistake. It’s not a mistake to confuse Jesus with a gardener. It’s a mistake to confuse Jesus with this gardener, the caretaker of the cemetery. He is no caretaker of cemeteries. In fact, He is quite the adversary to anyone who wants to keep cemeteries neat and orderly, who wants graves undisturbed, who wants peace and quiet maintained. There is a gardener, a caretaker for those things. But this man is not he.

There are many caretakers for the cemetery of the world. Maintaining this cemetery is the peculiar pastime of the world. I don’t mean, of course, the tending to real cemeteries or the peculiar business of operating a funeral home.

Ironically, the funeral industry thrives from shielding you from the stinging reality of death. First, there’s the cutting, draining, embalming, stuffing, plugging, sewing, and otherwise disguising the cold reality of a dead body to make it look as close as possible to the picture you provide the undertaker. Then there’s the casket, the liner, and the vault, because who wants to deal with the reality of ground that sinks as bodies decompose? And then the euphemisms: “He has passed on.” “She’s in a better place.” “He’s watching over you.” “Heaven needed another lady in its bowling league.” Finally, the funeral in the church has been replaced with the “celebration of life” in the mortuary. That’s all exceedingly odd and out of touch with the reality that death is a rupturing of God’s perfect creation.

It’s only in times of national emergency like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or pandemics that the terribleness of death is noticed and we don’t know how to deal with it when human lives (or at least some lives) become precious.  

It’s a sad fact that our culture often promotes death. The strong are encouraged to eliminate the weak. Mothers are persuaded that it is more convenient to kill their unborn children rather than shouldering the burden of being a parent. As soon as our elderly show some sign of slowing down, we want to scuttle them off to care facilities rather than take the time to grow old with them. And if our elderly are indeed too infirm to live at home, we do not take time out of our busy life to visit those who gave us life. Vengeance is yours. Suicide is noble. Divorce makes sense. Happiness at all costs. War is just. Kill or be killed. Efficiency is our idol. And nothing is more efficient than death.

The Didache, a first-century compilation of the teaching of the apostles, describes the culture of death like this:

And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, over-confidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.[i]

There is nothing new under the sun. Who has not bought into this evil way of thinking? Repent. Death does not become you.

The culture of death is not an American innovation, though we’ve made this idealized and idolized morbid production more efficient with every new technology we embrace. It is as old as creation, minus maybe seven or eight days. It was a culture of death that drove the first humans to rebel against the source of life, their Creator. “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” dyingly die, forever be more inclined toward death than life, see death as the unavoidable end to your lives, kill and fight, destroy both the Creator and His creation. You will die.

And then what happened? They fled from the gardener. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid, fearing for their lives. The God who had created them with His Word; who had scooped Adam out of the fresh, fertile adamah, or earth; who had planted a garden called Eden and put His humans in the garden to care for it and tend it; who still had the dirt of His creation under His fingernails, having indulged yesterday in the perfect Sabbath of His good creation, now strikes terror into the hearts of these be-your-own-gods rebels. And He should. He is life. They chose death. Adam became the first gardener of death, and the mere existence of the gardener of life made him afraid for his life.

Since then, the tension between Creator and men has been a clash of life versus death. But it didn’t stop the divine gardener from taking the occasional stroll in His creation, from tending His garden. So it should be no surprise to us that when the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, when the Creator took an extended stroll in His creation, He exercised the skill and patience of a master gardener as He walked the rows.

Behold the man who tends His garden, who, everywhere He went, pulled the weeds of blindness and paralysis, leprosy and death, unbelief and rebellion. Behold the man who sowed the seed of His Word, the news of the new, irresistible reign of life, swallowing up the regime of death. He promised life, but it would come through death—specifically, His death. The death of this man at the hands of the caretakers of the culture of death, the gardeners of a dying world.

And so when Mary Magdalene beheld the man who created the Garden of Eden, who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and who was dead and buried in a garden, she made the honest mistake of assuming that He was just another man, just another gardener in the gardens of death. But He is not.

He is a gardener, but of a completely different sort.

So here we are, at the dawn of His resurrection, in the fresh rays of a new dawn, basking in the glow of life, overcoming the shadows of death, and undoing a culture of death through sacrament and song, beholding the man who rose from the dead to obliterate death’s stranglehold in His good creation.

Join with Mary Magdalene in her pious mistake. Suppose the crucified and risen Christ; the grain of wheat fallen dead into the grave, buried in infertile ground, and broken forth in the bloom of new life; the eternal sower; the gardener of Eden; the new man, to be the Gardener. He is the gardener of His new heavens and new earth, the caretaker of the culture of new, resurrection life.

Behold the man who gives life. Believe in His bodily resurrection and your own, already begun in the waters of Holy Baptism, but not completed until His return. Behold the man who answers the culture of death begun by the first man by immersing Himself into it and dying at its hands. Behold the man whose death has destroyed death. Behold the man—the only man—with the authority to take His own life back up again. Behold the man who emerged from the grave and was immediately confused for the gardener. Behold the man whose resurrection means your resurrection. Behold the man who feeds you with the only body that rose from the dead in victory over death. Behold the man. And in Him, behold yourself, holy and whole, forgiven and free. In Him, behold the man or woman you are now and will be fully when He raises your very flesh from the grave.

Jesus’ resurrection is not just for His sake. As His death was for us, who are bodily dying as the consequence of our sin, now His resurrection is also for us, over whom death was thought to have the final word. Jesus rose bodily; His body and soul were knit back together eternally. And He promises the same bodily resurrection for us—not some disembodied rest for our souls with Him. Our lungs will breathe again. Our hearts will beat warm and strong anew. Our eyes will see; our ears will hear. Our lips will be freed from their lifeless rigor mortis to join the unending Te Deum of the eternal Bride of the resurrected Christ, His Holy Church. Our bodies will rise, as His is risen.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

This sermon is adapted from a sermon series by Jeffrey Hemmer published by Concordia Publishing House.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles], Ch. 5: “The Way of Death,” ANF 7:379.

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A God Buried

“So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:42).

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

It is important to note that despite speaking throughout the verses of our Gospel as “the body” of Jesus, at the conclusion of verse 42, John doesn’t say that they placed Jesus’ body in the tomb, but that they placed Jesus there. Jesus and His body are interchangeable. People do not have bodies; they are bodies. Bodies are not an accessory to our real selves, not a shell or husk waiting to be discarded in death. People are bodies and souls knit together by the Creator. The separation of soul from body in death—though souls rest with Jesus and bodies sleep in cemeteries—is always an unnatural disruption to the Creator’s design.

This is the reason for the incarnation of the eternal Word of God. God is embodied so that His body can be buried.

Behold the man, dead. Behold the One who was mocked as an impostor king and crucified under the sentence of making Himself to be a king. Behold the man whose reign was rejected by all people, whose closest disciples deserted Him, who was betrayed by one of the Twelve, and who died a criminal’s cursed death. Behold His dead, lifeless body.

Behold two unlikely candidates to carry out the Jewish burial rites for this true King of the Jews and of Gentiles too. Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy member of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin, and a secret disciple of Jesus. Presumably, he was afraid of what a public confession of Jesus as the true Messiah would mean for his position and standing in the community. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to Jesus by night and was told that he must be born again by water and the Spirit if he was to see and enter the kingdom of God. It was Joseph who had the political clout; he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and had his request granted. Nicodemus brought an exorbitant amount—seventy-five pounds—of myrrh and aloes to wrap the body in. Joseph offered his own new tomb in which to bury Jesus.

So with the perfuming ointment, linen to wrap the body, a freshly cut tomb in which no one had ever been laid, and the body of their crucified Lord, they came to do what was meet, right, and salutary. Behold the man whom they had followed, albeit secretly. Behold the care they demonstrated for His body, which stands in sharp contrast with the way in which Jesus’ torturers treated His body just hours before.

His work finished, on the seventh day of the week, God rested from His work of redeeming man, restoring creation, removing the effects of the curse. This is the final Sabbath. On Thursday, Jesus observed the last Passover, replacing the Seder with His new covenant, with the Supper. On Friday, Jesus was the last sacrifice, fulfilling the promise made by every innocent animal slain for the sins of men. On Saturday, Jesus fulfills the Sabbath. Even in the sleep of death, He keeps the Law perfectly. Not since God rested on the seventh day of creation has the Sabbath been so perfectly observed.

So may you rest in Him.

Behold the man who, while Joseph and Nicodemus were caring for His body, was caring for their bodies and souls, even while He was in the sleep of death. And He was caring for yours too. Jesus wasn’t buried for His sake any more than He died or rose for His sake. All of what He does, He does for you.

Jesus rests, He Sabbaths, because you do not. Who regards the hearing of God’s Word as a holy obligation and a blessed opportunity to rest in the finished work of Jesus, as the catechism instructs? If there is work to be done, games to be played, families to visit, or pillows that are too comfy to abandon, the Sunday morning resting in the Word seems to be the first thing to go. Or if the preacher is boring, the sermon too long, or the kickoff too early, even while your ears may be hearing the Word, you may not be resting in it, receiving it gladly, and learning it.

But Sabbath rest in the Word is not just for Sunday mornings (which have replaced Saturdays as days to hear the Word because Sunday is the day of resurrection). Sabbath rest is for your whole life. Sabbath is the opposite of American busy-ness, where we are always striving, working, and rushing, but never finishing.

The psalmist declares, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). Sleep is good. Rest is good. Receptivity to the Word of God is not just to be your Sunday morning posture but your daily habit. Behold the man who rests, sleeps the sleep of death for you. Behold the man who bids you rest in Him.

On this Holy Saturday, Jesus rests. And while He rests in His grave, He, in His perfect stillness, secures for you a rest like His. When someday we take your dead body to its resting place—the Greek word for “cemetery” means exactly that, a “sleeping place”—your pastor will bless the piece of ground where you will sleep your short sleep of death, praying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, by Your three-day rest in the tomb You hallowed the graves of all who believe in You, promising resurrection to our mortal bodies. Bless this grave, that the body of our brother may sleep here in peace until You awaken him to glory, when he will see You face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”[i]

Behold the man, who, while resting in His grave was also blessing yours. Behold the man who by His death has broken death’s power over His creation. Behold the man whose Sabbath sleep of death guaranteed that death is nothing more than a short sleep. So Luther said that a Christian should “despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the very bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa,”[ii] a place for a little nap.

So tonight we keep vigil. We stay awake knowing what the morning holds. No, not only that morning, with the lilies and the alleluias, but the other one, the eternal morning, the great Easter of our own resurrection, when the Lord who woke from the slumber of death and left the grave powerless behind Him will do the same for you.

Behold the man who woke from the sleep of death and will wake you with a word on that eternal Easter morning, the day He returns. Behold the man whose rest in death reduces death to just a light sleep for you. Behold the man whose body in the grave has made holy the resting places of all the blessed dead who die with faith in Him, who in death rest with Him. But behold the man who, though He makes cemeteries and graves places of serene rest now, will completely wreck them and make them the busiest, noisiest places when He returns to wake the dead. Behold the man who was dead for you and who rose for you. Behold the man who alone gives you comfort in the face of death. Amen

This sermon is adapted from a sermon series by Jeffrey Hemmer published by Concordia Publishing House.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Lutheran Service Book: Agenda, Committal (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2006), 128.

[ii] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 53, ed. Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 326.

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A God Who Bleeds, a God Who Dies

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).

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This sermon is based upon a series written by Jeffrey Hemmer and published by Concordia Publishing House.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Behold the man on the cross! This is His purpose. This is why God is man. This is why the eternal Second Person of the triune God has taken human flesh. Behold the man on the cross, bleeding, gasping, suffering, dying.

Behold the man! Behold His hands, which the night before were washing His disciples’ feet. Now they are pinned with nails to the rough crossbeam of this instrument of torture and execution. Behold the hands that scooped Adam out of the dirt but are now stained with blood and dirt. Behold the fingers with which He touched lepers, stuck into the ears of a deaf man, and picked up bread to declare it to be His body. Now they jerk uncontrollably every time He has to pull Himself up on the nails through His wrists to take a breath. But this is why God has hands.

Behold the man! Behold His skin that has been shredded with the Roman flagrum, with lacerating bone shards and bruising steel balls woven into the leather thongs to inflict the most damage to the skin and the greatest suffering on the one being beaten. Behold the skin of His back, which is now a bloody pulp that He must now scrape up and down on the cross as He struggles to breathe. But this is why God has skin.

Behold the man! Behold the knees skinned and bruised from falling under the weight of the cross He was for a time forced to carry out to this Place of the Skull. But this is why God has legs.

Behold the man! Behold His feet, nailed to the cross, bearing His weight as He dies. Behold the feet that walked from town to town as He taught His disciples, healed the sick, and preached the good news of man’s release from captivity to sin and death. Behold the feet that Mary anointed with a pound of expensive ointment, washed with her tears, and wiped with her hair. Behold the feet that are now bound in place. Behold the feet that must endure stabbing pain as they push up on the nail pinning them in place. Behold His heel, which in this act of dying is crushing the head of the serpent, destroying the kingdom of Satan, answering for mankind’s sinful rebellion. But this is why God has feet.

Behold the man! Behold His head, with the streams of blood flowing from each place one of the thorns on this mock crown has pressed through His skin. Behold the head that should rightly be crowned with majesty and glory surpassing every earthly king’s crown. Behold the head over which has been hung the sign listing the charge that brought this death sentence: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Behold the head that, like His forefather David’s, would have been anointed to make Him King. But this is why God has a head.

Behold the man! Behold His face, which has fresh swelling and bruising from the blows dealt first by the High Priest’s officer and later by the soldiers, jeering at Him to “Prophesy! Who is it that struck You?” Behold His eyes, which in the beginning looked at all He had made, seeing that it was “very good.” Behold the eyes that looked with mercy and compassion on the crowds, on His disciples, on the sick. Behold His lips, which spoke words of absolution but are now dry and cracked from a deeper thirst than you will ever know. Behold the cheeks that were kissed by His mother, struck by the temple official. Behold how His face contorts in agony. But this is why God has a face.

Behold the man! Behold His lungs as they slowly fill with fluid. Behold the lungs that breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils. Behold the lungs that in this hanging posture cannot exhale without the man pulling His whole body up on the nails to open His airway. Behold the lungs that expel one final breath as He cries, “It is finished,” gives up His spirit, and dies. But this is why God has lungs.

Behold the man! Behold His bones, which remain unbroken throughout this tortuous ordeal. Behold the reason every sacrifice, every Passover lamb, every bull for the whole burnt offering, every scapegoat, every ram, every turtledove had to be healthy and intact, with no broken bones or disfigurement, a perfect specimen of its kind. Behold the soldiers, who, with their clubs, shatter the legs of each of the thieves crucified with Jesus but refrain from doing the same to Jesus. But this is why God has bones.

Behold the man! Behold His side, into which the soldier thrust his spear, causing a river of blood and water to pour forth, confirming that He is truly and completely dead. His heart has stopped. His synapses no longer fire. Behold the deep sleep of death that has come upon this man on the sixth day of the week. Behold the material from the side of the crucified man that God will fashion into His Bride, the Church, and give her to Him when He wakes. Behold the side of the man, which disbelieving Thomas will be invited to shove his rude hand into. But this is why God has a side.

Behold the man! Behold His blood, which pours from His lifeless body, staining the wooden beams of the cross, spilling onto the dirt, reddening the soil, watering His creation. Behold the blood that He first shed when He was an eight-day-old boy, undergoing the sign by which all Jewish boys were made Israelites. Behold the blood for which the crowd thirsted and ironically asked for exactly what they needed, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). Behold the blood that was foreshadowed on every Day of Atonement when the blood of the sacrifice was splattered on the mercy seat, on the altar, and on the people. Behold the blood He gave to His disciples in the cup the night before, telling them its function: shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold the blood that proves that this God was also truly and fully man, a Brother in blood to us sinners. This is the blood by which this eternal High Priest enters once for all into the Most Holy Place, giving sinful men access to a holy God. But this is why God has blood.

This is no accident. Nor is it a tragedy. Jesus Himself had said, “No one takes it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18). This is why God is man: not to teach you how to be good, not to show you the right way to live, not to set a perfect example, not to impart His wise teaching. God is man so that He can die for men. He has a life so that He can lay it down in exchange for yours. Behold the man! Amen

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A God Who Loves

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[Jesus said:] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

“Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet” by Ford Madox Brown

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Children know the song “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” Every power is at His disposal. Every authority under heaven and earth is His. He has created everything. And He holds everything in His eternal hands. And now, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.”

Jesus holds the whole world in His hands. And what will He do with those hands? He will remove the clothes with which He, the eternal God, is garbed. He will lay them aside, take up a bowl of water, and use His divine hands to remove the sandals from the dirty, travel-worn feet of His disciples. And hold those feet in His holy hands. And wash those feet. He’s got the whole world in His hands. And He knows that the Father has given all things into His hands. So He takes into His hands the dirty feet of the men who have walked with Him day after day.

God has hands. This is not metaphorical language. In the person of Jesus, God joined to human flesh, God has hands. And feet. And eyes, ears, fingers, lungs, nostrils, teeth, legs, fingernails, and cuticles. And with these, He descends to take up the feet of sinful men into His hands.

You can understand Peter’s protest. His God should not wash his feet. This is scandalous—conduct unbecoming of a proper God. Gods should be far removed from their creations, distant from the creatures they created, especially if their creatures have rebelled and set themselves against the goodness and graciousness of the god. Gods should not become men, should not unite themselves with sinful humans, should not have human flesh—and hands—and should certainly not use those hands to take up and wash the grime away from between the toes of the sweaty, sandal-shod feet of those men who purport to follow such an incarnate God. “You shall never wash my feet!” So you would also protest, given the opportunity.

But then Jesus’ words, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me,” frustrate Peter’s pious pretensions. He relents, but he must have known viscerally that this was all wrong. Washing feet is not what the Christ should do, not what a god should do. This is slave labor, a servant’s task. If God descends to take human flesh and then stoops to the lowest position, the foot-washing place, the whole economy of human hierarchy is turned upside down.

As if that weren’t enough, Jesus then asks, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” And, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Good grief. As if Christianity weren’t hard enough to buy in to. Now, “Do as I have done to you.” And “as I have done” is taking the lowest, most servile position of the foot-washing servant. Love one another like that?

This is humiliating. You’ll abide with the command to love others to a point. “Love one another any way you wish” is the creed of American popular religion. But, “Love as I have loved you”? With a foot-washing, self-deprecating kind of love? No thanks.

You know what it means to love others as you wish to be loved. But to love as Jesus loves you? To love selflessly and sacrificially? That’s a tall order. But Jesus gives this new commandment, this mandatum novum—the reason we call today “Maundy Thursday”—on the night when He is betrayed, given into the hands of sinful men. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you.” Simple. Do this, Jesus bids. Love like this. Like I do. Love those who can never deserve it, those who hate you, who reject you, who are inclined toward your destruction. Wash their feet. Assume the posture of a servant. Or worse, absolve their sins. Give them forgiveness for sins; forgiveness they could never deserve. Love like that. Okay? “By this all people will know that you are My disciples,” if you have love for one another like this.

This new commandment He gives you: love like this. Love incarnationally. Love as flesh among flesh. Love as sinners among sinners. Love those who cannot and will not ever deserve your love. Love to forgive those who are completely unforgiveable. Love with your hands. Love in order to remove the filth, the guilt, the shame of your brothers and sisters. Love in order to get the dirt of your fellow man onto your own hands so that he might be clean. Love because your love will never be repaid. Love sacrificially. Love and never expect anything in return. Love as I have loved you, Jesus commands.

Okay, then. Who does that? No one. And yet, “As I have loved you,” is pretty absolute. Jesus loves perfectly and doesn’t wait for your love toward others to show His love for you. He loves. If foot washing were the extent of Jesus’ love, that would be difficult enough to emulate. But He doesn’t have hands just to take up His disciples’ grimy feet. He doesn’t have fingers merely as instruments to scrub between their toes. He has the whole world in His hands. And He intends those hands to be nailed to the cross. This is His love.

Behold the man who loves those who are completely unlovable. Behold the man who loves those who, in just a few minutes, will abandon Him, will flee to save their own lives. Behold the man who loves the unlovable, the rebellious, the sinful. Behold the man who loves those who could never deserve it. Behold the man who is God and who, in order to love His creatures perfectly and completely, has become man. Behold the man who loves the world completely and perfectly in His death on the cross.

If you want to love like this, like Jesus did, like He commands His disciples to love, you will never get there relying on your own deficient, selfish love. If you want to love like this, you’ve got to be loved like this. “As I have loved you” is here, on the altar. The fruits of Jesus’ sacrificial love are in His Holy Supper for you to eat and to drink. Behold the man who gave Himself in the perfect act of love. Behold the man who on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples as His own body. Behold the man who poured His blood into the loveless mouths of His disciples to forgive their sins. Behold the man, veiled in bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for life and salvation.

This feast of love fulfills Jesus’ command to love one another. Here, as you are fed and nourished with the body and blood of the only One ever to love like this, you are strengthened, as the liturgy says, “in fervent love toward one another.” Disciples who feed together on the same loving Lord are united together in love. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In order to love like Jesus, behold the man. On His altar, behold the man. On the paten, behold the man. In the chalice, behold the man. In the Supper, behold the man who loves you enough to forgive you freely, fully, week after week.

Except for now. We find ourselves quarantined from one another and separated from the Lord’s Supper for a time. We are on a sort of forced “Lenten fast” from Holy Communion. I pray that you are getting hungry for the body and blood of our Savior, hungry for the table fellowship of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Take a rain check. Make sure to join us when we are able to gather again.

As we wait for that day, we are learning. We are learning to be patient, to wait on the Lord and His good timing. We are learning that we do not live by bread, or even The Bread, alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God is extravagant with His Word, and He speaks to us in many ways—Baptism, Scripture, preaching, Absolution, Supper, and the mutual consolation and conversation of believers. Though we may be without one form, we are never without the Word.

We are learning that our idols have feet of clay and cannot withstand the Day of the Lord. Science may flatten a pandemic curve, but it cannot sustain an economy or a community, much less our spirits. Our leaders, whether in home, church, or society, are not our saviors; they are mere fallible morals who cannot save us from the ultimate threats of sin and death. Politicians and pastors are not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. Only God can ultimately save us and has, in the dying and rising of His Son.

We are learning that Christ is not only present in our gathering but also within us, in the very core of our beings, what the Scripture calls the “heart.” “I no longer live, but Christ lives within me,” wrote the apostle Paul. In the contemplative silence of social distancing, we find that Christ is truly “with us”—both among us and in us—now and always and unto the ages of ages.

We are learning to be Christ for others and to see Christ in others. The body of Christ in exile is the body of Christ in each of its members, a royal priesthood of believers. As Luther put it, we are to be Christ for one another and our neighbor, particularly our neighbor in need. And in our neighbor, we will also find Christ there to be served. “As often as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto Me,” Jesus said.

[Jesus said:] “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

There is a danger—the danger of assimilation, becoming comfortable with the new normal of exilic life. When the edict of Cyrus allowed the Israelites to go back and establish the walls of Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the return was not a flood but a trickle. The Israelites had grown comfortable in their Babylonian neighborhood and no longer hungered for Jerusalem. This will be our test as well. Will we become comfortable on our living room couches in this time of exile, or will we devote ourselves, to the Word and prayer, longing to return to the gathering and the Supper we once took for granted?

The Lord has sustained His people in the past, and He will sustain us in the same way—by His Word and the gift of prayer. Even if we never again gather in this life around Word and Supper, we know that our scattering ends in a final great gathering of the marriage supper of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.

Short of that Day, I hope to see you again soon, face to face. Amen.

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

The last portion of this sermon is adapted from a blog posted by William Cwirla. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

A God Betrayed

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21After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in His spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom He spoke. 23One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, 24so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom He was speaking. 25So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” (John 13:21-27)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Have you ever been betrayed? Betrayal, at its heart, is a break of trust, particularly a break of trust from someone close to you, someone you should most be able to trust, a family member, a friend, a colleague, an ally. The deepest hurts that I’ve experienced have been the result of the betrayal by someone close to me. Someone who should have had my back but who stabbed me in the back instead. “Et tu, Brute?”

The effects of betrayal can be brutal. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. And when you do sleep, your mind keeps playing over and over again how it all might have been different. In the worst cases, it manifests itself in a kind of PTSD. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising—the deepest wounds leave the worst scars. If you’ve been betrayed, it can make it difficult to trust others, even years down the road. It’s especially difficult to trust the one who betrayed you—and, in many cases, it probably would be foolish to let down your guard. There’s only one cure for the hurt of betrayal—the forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, let’s go to the night when He was betrayed.

Jesus tells His disciples He’s going to wash their feet. Peter refuses, “Lord, You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus tells him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Peter goes overboard in the other direction. “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus has to correct him again, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean.” Then He adds, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For He knew who was to betray Him; that is why He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

Not everyone shares the blessings that Jesus offers, because not everyone believes in Jesus. One of Jesus’ disciples has pushed Jesus from his heart and is about to betray Him. The Lord knows that. He had alluded to it another time (John 6:70-71). He knew it would come to this when He chose the Twelve. Therefore, He announces that His words of guidance and blessing do not refer to all of them.

But if Jesus knows it, why does He let it happen? Now, it is always dangerous to speculate about the mind of God, but in this case, He tells us why in Matthew 26:24. Jesus chose one disciple even though that one would eventually reject and betray Him because it fulfilled Scripture. Jesus didn’t choose this disciple to betray Him. That was his own doing in sin and unbelief. Jesus chose him because when he would carry out his betrayal, He would fulfill Scripture. Psalm 41:9 had recorded words that applied to the Messiah: “Even My close friend in whom I trusted, who ate My bread, has lifted his heel against Me.” That friend would deliver Jesus to His enemies. The time has come for those words to be fulfilled in Christ’s life. In all He does, Christ steadfastly obeys the Word of His Father and fulfills all messianic prophecies.

Jesus tells the disciples about it now as another sign to build their faith. When the betrayal happens, it will not change Jesus’ relationship with the rest of them, nor His mission for the world. He gives them His solemn words that whoever receives anyone He sends will actually receive Him. And whoever receives Jesus receives the Father who sent Him. He had told them that another time (Matthew 10:40), and now He reassures them on the eve of His crucifixion.

Who can imagine the grief Jesus feels in His heart as He thinks of the betrayal, the crucifixion, and the effect the next day’s events will have on the disciples? He is “troubled in His spirit.” “Truly, truly,” He stresses, “one of you will betray Me.” He says it plainly. They cannot mistake His meaning. They stare at one another, wondering which one of them He means. Not believing it could possibly be true of one of their brothers, each one praying to God it was not was not he.

How was it possible? One of those the Lord had chosen? One who had walked with Him and heard Him and seen His divinity and power with his own eyes? If this can happen, then anything can happen to any one of them.

The disciples understand this. They don’t profess their innocence. They know that if their Master says it, it is so. They are confronted with the unfathomable mystery of evil. No one can be sure of himself in this case. Everyone has to stand the test. They are willing to do it. They begin taking turns asking: “Is it I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22).

“Is it I, Lord?” This is the first question a disciple asks his Master when he hears talk of betrayal, even in the inner circle. He knows that only one thing is certain—the only one way to salvation is to hold on firmly to the Lord.

But Peter wants to know more. He whispers to John, who is closest to Jesus at the table. John leans back and asks Jesus about whom He is talking. Jesus tells him, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” Apparently only John and Jesus share this exchange.

Then Jesus breaks a piece of unleavened bread and folds it, as was the custom, and dips it into the dish to pick up a piece of meat. Then He holds it out to Judas, a sign of respect. The host would do this when he wanted to honor a guest.

Judas must understand the meaning of this. Jesus is offering him forgiveness, friendship, and fellowship. Everything can be as it was before. But Judas decides to go his own evil way. He takes the bread but not the outstretched hand. Judas looks away from Jesus and rejects His last offer of forgiveness. Satan enters him in that moment. Judas forfeits his last opportunity for reconciliation.

Jesus knows this but doesn’t draw attention to it. He says only, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” He says it so naturally that the others think He is having Judas go out to buy something for the festival or to given something to the poor from their little community purse.

So Judas leaves. The door opened for just a moment. “And it was night,” John says. He is alluding to something more than just the time of day. Judas goes out into the darkness, the outermost darkness that is eternally separated from God. This can happen even to those who are close to Jesus. They can turn down His last offer. They can harden their hearts to His final attempt to win them back.

This event teaches us what it means to receive Holy Communion in an unworthy manner. The Bible doesn’t speak about worthy and unworthy communicants. None of us is worthy enough to receive Christ and His gifts, but we can receive them in an unworthy manner. That means to do what Judas does: to sit with Him at His Table with a firm conviction in your heart not to obey Him, to go your own way—at least at some particular point. That’s when a person goes to Communion in unbelief and defiance or possibly in total indifference.

To receive it in the right way means doing what the other disciples do. They want to follow Jesus. They trust Him. There is a lot they don’t understand, but they know the truth is in Him. They have their share of infidelities. They will all fail in all their good intentions that same evening. But they know He is right, and they can go to Him for help. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night of His betrayal, institutes His Supper for people like them.

People like you and me. People who have betrayed our Lord on more than one occasion. Each time we’ve failed to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Each time we’ve misused God’s name or failed to call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Each time we’ve despised God’s preaching and His Word, failed to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Each time we failed to honor our parents and other authorities. Each time we’ve hurt our neighbor or failed to help him when we could. Each time we’ve failed to lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do. Each time we’ve sought to take our neighbor’s money or possessions or failed to help him improve and protect his possessions and income. Each time we have damaged or not protected our neighbor’s reputation. Each time we’ve coveted someone or something that God has not seen fit to give us. We’ve betrayed our Lord countless times, often for much less than thirty pieces of silver.

Judas would soon come to regret his little deal. But we must do more than regret; we are called to repent. To recognize that Jesus came for sinners like us. That this plan was God’s. And the price He paid would be so much more than thirty pieces of silver. He would be betrayed and denied by His disciples, forsaken by His heavenly Father, His blood shed for the sins of the world, even for the likes of you and me.  

Jesus, in His great mercy and love, keeps reaching out to us. Reminding us that He has redeemed us, lost and condemned sinners, purchased and won us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.

This is most certainly true.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

This Is the Lord’s Doing

“Entry of the Christ in Jerusalem” by Jean-Leon Gerome

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“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Due to attempts to curb COVID-19 with social distancing, the chances are that most of you who are hearing this sermon are not here in the same building as me, but are listening livestream or recorded on Facebook or our parish website from your own home. Sadly, there will be few palm branches waving today, and the pews will probably still be empty on Easter. Many of you have expressed thanks for having this opportunity to hear God’s Word, but you hope that it doesn’t go on for long. And that’s an understandable, even laudable sentiment, for worship is meant to be a physical, corporate activity.

Throughout history there have been other times when God’s people found it difficult to gather for worship for a season. Because of their idolatry and failure to repent, many of the people of Judah were hauled away to Babylon. For 70 years, they longed to return to Jerusalem to worship and offer sacrifices at the temple. In the meanwhile, the faithful continued to hear the Word of God and sing the songs of the faith. Though some returned and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, many remained scattered across foreign lands. In this Diaspora, the people developed worship practices that could take place in the home and smaller local assemblies.

Though certainly a sad turn of events for those who longed to gather for worship back at home, God used the Diaspora to spread His Word to most corners of the known world. The synagogue worship that we see Jesus and His disciples participate in the New Testament developed because of the necessity and desire to worship even though far from home. Much of our modern liturgical practices are drawn from traditions that go back to this synagogue worship.

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the early church remained headquartered in Jerusalem for the first few years. The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And day by day, they attended the temple together and broke bread in their homes, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Then there arose a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostle were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, and those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.

God indeed is able and does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He did in the Babylonian captivity and the Diaspora, and He will continue do so during our own “social distancing” as well. If nothing else, our recent “Lenten fast from worship” provides us with an opportunity to consider the place and importance of worship in our lives.

The word worship literally means to ascribe worth to someone or something. And this is certainly what we do when we worship God. We ascribe to Him worth. We confess that He alone is worthy to be praised. But true Christian worship does not come from us giving things to God, rather it comes from God giving to us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. This is why God came in the flesh—to give His life as a ransom for all. So Christian worship is God’s gift to us. He is the one who gives us our worship. He does this by giving us faith through His Word. So to worship God means to trust in His mercy, receiving from Him what He gives.

This is why we often call worship “Divine Service.” It is God serving us. We cannot properly worship God unless He first serves us. Therefore, we gather for worship. We gather around the Word of God, which reveals Christ our Savior and strengthens our faith in Him by His Holy Spirit. Even our hymns, psalms, and songs of praise speak of what Christ has done for us. They aren’t just us telling God how much we love Him. They are filled with the teaching of our Lord Jesus that comforts us with the forgiveness of sins bought by His very blood. To worship God means to receive from God salvation from our sins.

This has always been the nature of true worship. God’s people have always worshiped in this way. The psalms were the songs of the church, penned by David, Moses, Solomon, and certain priests in the temple as they were led by the Holy Spirit. They were written for worship and prayer. And they speak of the salvation that God reveals, delivers, and promises for the sake of Christ.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, the crowds worshiped Him. Their praises were comprised of the Word of God. In fact, the words that served as their songs of worship and praise came from Psalm 118. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These words would have been familiar to any Israelite on his way up to Jerusalem for one of the annual feasts. Psalm 118 was one of the songs of ascent the people of Israel would sing as they ascended to Jerusalem, up to Zion, up to the temple, the house of the Lord.

Psalm 118 was the last of the so-called Hallel psalms. Hallel is Hebrew for “praise.” It is where we get the word, Halleluiah, which means “Praise the Lord.” These psalms were sung in the temple while the Passover lambs were being slain and also sung in the homes as the people ate the Passover dinner: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!” This is how they worshiped—by trusting in God’s mercy that He reveals in His Word.

So when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, the crowds would have had this psalm pretty-well stuck in their heads. As they waved their palm branches and laid their cloaks on the ground, they sang “Hosanna!” the Hebrew word meaning, “Save us!” This comes from this psalm, too: “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” They saw Jesus as the Lord, the Son of David, who came to be their King. As the Prophet Zechariah foretold, they beheld their King who brings salvation. And so they sang, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They worshiped Jesus by receiving the salvation that He was bringing.

And how would He bring this salvation? He would bring it with humility, mounted on a donkey. He would ride in as a humble King, not with force and armies, but with peace. The Prince of Peace comes into Jerusalem to bring salvation. Salvation from what? From political unrest? From bondage to the Roman Empire? No, these things were only outward struggles. Jesus came to bring salvation from our real enemy, which proceeds from our own hearts. He came to save us from our sins.

Jesus, the Son of David, came to lead us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. And this path didn’t lead to the king’s palace. It doesn’t lead to Capitol Hill or to the White House. It led to the cross—to the altar of God—where Jesus would give Himself as the sacrifice for sins. So, as the people confessed this from the Word of God spoken by the psalmist, they worshiped Him. So this is how we worship—the same way the crowd in Jerusalem worshiped—by receiving from Christ, our King, salvation from our sins.

The people also shouted these words from Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” These were words that the priests in the temple would sing to the people who brought their sacrifices. He who comes in the name of the Lord is the one who brings the lamb for the sacrifice. So the people, trusting in their King, called Jesus the one who comes in the name of the Lord. In other words, they called Him the one who brings the Sacrifice. He was bringing Himself as the Lamb for the burnt offering. This is how He would be our King. This is how He would become our righteousness. This is how He would become our salvation, just as the psalm goes: “I thank You that You have answered me and have become my salvation.”

Jesus would become our King by being rejected by His own people, just as the psalm sings: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He would reveal His salvation as our righteous King by giving Himself up to death, rescuing us from the wrath of God that comes against our sins. By this sacrifice He would bear the darkness of our sins in order to give us light through His Word.

Just as the psalm also sings, “The Lord is God, and He has made His light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!” Our Lord—our King—gave Himself to be bound and brought as a Lamb to the altar of His cross. He is, as we just sang in our preceding hymn, “Paschal Lamb, by God appointed, All our sins on Thee were laid; By almighty love anointed, Thou hast full atonement made. All Thy people are forgiven Through the virtue of Thy blood; Opened is the gate of heaven, Reconciled are we with God.” To worship is to receive this through faith, to cling to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, which pours from the side of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

This is why we sing the words from Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” We acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of the heavenly hosts. Heaven and earth are full of His glory, yet He deigns to meet us sinners on this altar in His very body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. So, we also sing, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”

Many people argue that how we worship really doesn’t matter, as long as it’s done to God’s glory. They will say that it isn’t necessary for us to hold to the way our fathers in the faith have worshiped, because the style is not what matters. But they miss the point. We retain the historic liturgy of our church not simply because we like the style or that it is “our way” of giving glory to God. No, we retain the liturgy because it clearly confesses the Gospel and it connects us to Christians all around the world, throughout the centuries. This song has been sung by Christians during the Service of the Sacrament for over 1500 years. When Martin Luther reformed the liturgy, he only removed the parts that obscured or attacked the purity of the gospel. But he kept this part in because it so beautifully confesses the Gospel, and until maybe a generation ago, all Lutherans everywhere sang this song for that very reason. So to remove this song from the Service of the Sacrament is to remove the comfort that generations of Christians have received as they belted out, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest!”

But we don’t remove it. We don’t get bored by it. We keep this song in our worship, because this is how we worship: We welcome our Lord who came in the name of the Lord to give Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins, and He now invites us to eat and drink the body and blood that won for us salvation. This is a part of the liturgy that has always been sung by Lutherans, because it expresses what we receive through faith and hold on to in confidence. Our Holy Lord and God, who has come to take away our sins, comes to save us.

So remember what you are praying when you sing, “Hosanna!” You are praying, “Save us!” You are asking for His salvation right now. The sin that haunts your conscience today is the sin that Christ bore on the cross 2,000 years ago, and He comes this very hour to blot it out from your heart. Your sins against God. Your sins against your neighbor. Your neighbor’s sins against you. This is the salvation that your King comes to bring you in this Sacrament.

And for those times, like today, when you can’t gather with your brothers and sisters to receive His body and blood? The King still comes to you in His Word. Remember His promises: “I am with you always to the end of the age.” “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there I am in the midst of you.” Your King comes to you in His Word. And by His great goodness and grace, He provides many ways to bring that Word to you.

Once again, the Church finds herself in Diaspora, scattered, this time by disease. As those early Christians did when they fled to the corners of the earth to escape persecution, let us carry our faith with us so that, even though, for a time, we may not gather in our church buildings made with hands, we may still meet with Christ, God’s dwelling place among His people. Be constant in prayer. Be constantly in your Bible, hymnal, and Catechism. Be constant in sharing the love of Christ with your neighbors, especially those who are in need. Let the Word sustain you, and through you let the Word shine upon all those you meet.

We pray that we will soon be able gather together with the Lord and His salvation. While we wait, we trust in the Lord’s timing and His good and gracious will. We therefore also pray and sing: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Amen.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life Even Now

“The Resurrection of Lazarus” by James Tissot

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Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the Last Day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’” (John 11:21-26).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Due to “social distancing” a lot of people have been binge watching shows on streaming services like Netflix, Disney +, and Amazon Prime. One of the video features of Amazon Prime that I’ve found useful is X-ray. X-ray allows you to pause a film and find out more information. When you press pause, a menu pops up that allow you to move deeper into what is happening. X-ray helps you find out more about the actors, identify the soundtrack, or get background information on the scene. It is a way of entering more deeply into a movie.

I would like to do that with our Gospel for today. Pause it for a moment and enter more deeply into what is happening.

Our text is the account of the raising of Lazarus. That’s what we call it: The raising of Lazarus. No spoiler alert needed here! Indeed, this is the climax of the story: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. And that is a very significant part of the story. But if you pause the story… let’s say at the moment when Martha first speaks with Jesus… then you find it is not just about Jesus raising Lazarus or the fallout with the Jewish religious establishment that hastens Jesus’ crucifixion.

Now, the story is about Jesus comforting Martha. If you were to title this scene, it might be, “Jesus comforts Martha on the long road to the Resurrection.” And that has much to say to you and me, now, at this point in time. You see, while the Resurrection on the Last Day is our greatest comfort and hope, we spend most of our lives, here and now, on the long road to the Resurrection; and so what Jesus does for Martha, how He comforts her in her sorrow and mourning and distress, can be encouraging for us today as well.

When her brother Lazarus became ill, Martha sent word to Jesus. She asked for Jesus to come. Unfortunately, it took a while for Him to appear. Now, when Jesus finally does arrive, her brother is dead, and her life is filled with sorrow.

If you were to freeze this scene, you would see Martha standing there on the road with Jesus, looking to the past and looking to the future, wanting to be anywhere but in here and now. Martha knows what could have been: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” And Martha knows what will be: “I know that he will rise again in the Resurrection on the Last Day.” But what could have been and what will be do not change what is right now. Her brother is dead. Her Lord is late. And her life is filled with sorrow.

This moment for Martha is familiar to us. It is where we spend most of our lives… on the road to the Resurrection. When we look at the past, we know what could have been. When we look to the future, we know what will be for us in Jesus. But right now, we stand in the middle of doubt and despair. What could have been and what will be do not change the present moment in our lives.

Then Jesus speaks. He says to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Notice the use of the present tense. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus does not point to the past—I was the Resurrection and the Life—nor to the future—I will be the Resurrection and the Life. No, Jesus speaks about the present. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus takes the power of Resurrection and the promise of Life and buries it in His own flesh. This Jesus, the One who is speaking to you right now, He is the Resurrection and the Life for you even now.

What this means is that before Lazarus walks out of the tomb, before Jesus is raised from the dead, right now, as Martha stands there in the middle of that long road to the Resurrection, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for her. He has come to be the Resurrection and the Life for her even in sorrow.

In this moment, before Lazarus is raised from the dead, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Resurrection and the Life? It means the Resurrection is a hand that can be touched, a voice that can be heard, a tear that is shed, and a holy conversation that happens with Jesus in the middle of sorrow.

What Jesus teaches us is we do not have to wait until the body comes out of the tomb to participate in the Resurrection. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now. We do not need to silence the suffering, to mask the mourning, to placate the pain. Instead, we can receive them as holy. And, that is what He gives us: Moments of holy conversation. He chooses to bring the wonder of His Life to us now, as we walk the long road to the Resurrection.

So, today, let us pause for a moment in the story—our story, your own story. Let us enter more deeply into what is happening, here and now. Whenever you are on that long journey to the Resurrection, Jesus has come to be with you. He is the Resurrection and the Life, even now, filling your present days with His love. And what Good News is that for times like these!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even as you consider your own mortality or mourn those who have died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ. You have His promise: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though He die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” It is true for the saints who have gone before us, and it is true for you.

Be on guard, then, against the devil’s temptations which would steal this life away. Be aware of the error of Martha, who thought that Jesus’ power was great but limited, really only good for working wonders where life remained. In doing so, she thought Jesus weaker than life rather than actually being Life. You will constantly be tempted to believe that Jesus is good for helping out in this life, but nothing more than that.

The danger here is twofold. On the one hand, you’ll have no hope for eternity, because you’ll think that Jesus is only good for improving this life for as long as it lasts. On the other hand, you’ll be terribly disappointed in Jesus because life tends only to get harder and more difficult as times goes along, and you’ll think that Jesus’ power to improve things is very low indeed.

It is not Jesus’ power that is low, but your expectations. He has not come to make life a little sweeter on your way to eternal death and grave. He has come to deliver you from eternal death and grave. In His will and wisdom, that may not mean an easy life here at all. But it does mean that He will raise you up from this world of sin and death to life everlasting. Commit all things to the Lord, of course, including your needs of daily bread for this life; but know and rejoice most of all that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of loneliness and isolation. Jesus promises: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:16–19).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of anxiety and fear. Hear His comforting, reassuring words: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:31-33).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of sickness and disease. Illness and disease are the consequences of sin, but Jesus “Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

If disease should seek to harm you, Jesus’ words from our text are ultimately true for you as well, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of Man may be glorified through it.” Jesus has overcome sin, sickness, and death. Even if illness should seem to have its way for a time, Jesus has the last Word. He will bring healing, if not in this life, then in the Resurrection.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even in the midst of your burdens and cares. Hear His invitation and promise: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now! Offering Himself to you through His means of grace.

In the water and Word of Holy Baptism, He works the forgiveness of sins, rescues you from death and devil, and gives salvation to all who believe this as the words and promises of God declare. Hear His promise: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).

 Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Hear His promise: “Take, eat; this is My body… Drink of it, all of you, for this [cup] is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26–28). In the bread and the wine of His Supper, Jesus offers you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.

Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life even now!

Hear His promise: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:22-23). Through His holy Word, He shows you your sins, calls you to repentance, and speaks to you His absolution through the voice of His called and ordained servant: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.