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Glory of Christ Hidden in the Humble

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“Palm Sunday” by Octavio Ocampo

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“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

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

“Behold, your king is coming to you!” Were you to hear such a glorious announcement, what would you look for?

Or to make it a little easier to imagine: Let’s suppose the president of the United States is coming to town. You pack up your family and drive to the route on which you suppose that he would travel to his speaking engagement. Your family sets up their chairs at the side of the road and you wait. Others gather, many holding welcome signs and American flags.

Time slowly passes and the excitement builds. Your son notices that the traffic has begun to thin out on the road. Police officers have started to direct traffic at intersections. A helicopter flies overhead, and you wonder if that is a sign that the president is on his way.

Ten minutes later, the road is eerily empty. Occasionally a police car zooms by with its lights flashing. The president must be on his way. He will be here soon, but not yet. The highway is empty again for a while.

Suddenly, you see two police cars in the distance coming toward you. They drive by and a swoosh of air hits you in the face. Then, far off, you make out some vehicles. The excitement builds and you think you can see…

Well, what do you think you would see? After all, this the president of the United States, and he is coming to town. You know what to expect. You have seen motorcades on television. The power, the honor, and the glory of such a prestigious office is manifested in the limousines, SUVs, law enforcement vehicles.

On this glorious day of the majestic entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, God Himself enters into His glory. The very Creator of all that is, the omnipotent power of the universe, the One who was, is, and always will be, begins His triumphal trek to His most glorious and honorable day on earth. How does He enter? Like the president of the United States? Like the conquering king of a Middle Eastern dynasty? Like an A-list celebrity on the night of the Academy Awards? No.

In our scenario with your family at the side of the road, would you expect to see the president and his motorcade drive by in a rusted-out mini-van? An old Ford Tempo? Perhaps a wood-paneled station wagon? Of course not! But how did God enter into the glory that you and I see and believe? He entered on a donkey! The prophet Zechariah announces: “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9).

This is our Savior? Why would God ride in on a donkey? Why would He do such a thing? Because this is exactly how He said He would come. God would do such a thing for the very purpose of His coming—salvation. The salvation of His people, the salvation of the world. The Righteous One would become the Unrighteous One. The Blessed One would be cursed. The Sinless One would bear our sin. The holy must become unholy to save us from our sins. The glory of God comes in Christ’s humility and servitude. He humbles Himself to take our sin and suffer the consequences of the eternal wrath of God as His own punishment.

But unbelievers and the world in which we live look for a triumphal entry. They look for limousines and well-armed motorcades. Or given the day and age of that first Palm Sunday—war horses and iron chariots, escorted by soldiers and accompanied by personal attendants. The world wrongly assumes a majestic and glorious entrance that reflects the honor and power befitting the Creator of the universe like any other powerful ruler.

The unbeliever, though, sees with his eyes and not through faith. The sinner looks and lusts for the excitement and honor found in the power of an earthly king. That is true of our Old Adam as well. We sinners want to win! We seek a popular Jesus that attracts more and more people or an eye-candy Jesus who makes us feel happy and important. But alas, this thinking is an entry not into Christ’s glory, but rather an entrance into hell. It is a road to the tomb with no chance of a resurrection into the presence of the Christ. Our sin—and our sinful nature!—is ever before us.

Yes, even we believers, who confess the suffering and death of our Lord for our sins, we, too, yearn for a Jesus of glory who would be popular and successful. We sinfully seek a kingdom builder of wealth and power and numbers so that we might have bigger churches for the sake of recognition or influence or just the simple hope of survival for a few more years. A Jesus who will make our church great again. A Jesus who will make our own lives great again. A Jesus who will return us to the glory days.

However, Jesus, the Lowly One, calls us not to glory, but to lowliness and repentance, to have the same humble mind as Jesus, who emptied Himself of His glory, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Following in our Savior’s footsteps, we carry our own crosses and bear one another’s burdens. Our new man rejoices in the glory of the lowly and humble. The believer rejoices in the poor, the sick, and the needy. The believer rejoices where only faith can see the glory of God: in suffering and death.

We poor sinners need the glory of the God who died. We need a God who suffered. We need the glory of the cross. That is the irony of the Gospel. It is a scandal to sinful thinkers. That is the hidden truth that eyes cannot see, but only faith can believe and confess. The glory of God that saves us is, ultimately, the death of God!

The glory of God that saves us is in the scandal of His conception, the humility of His birth and His life, and His suffering and endurance of the wrath of God—all of this in our place. Our sin did this to Him. Your sins, your hidden sins, your silly sins, your big sins, in fact, your entire sinful life was given to Christ. He endured what we could not. It is really insulting—shameful, even!—that God Himself gave up the holiness, power, and glory in exchange for our sinful, lowly, and suffering existence. However, there is where we see the glory of God. There is where we see the extent of His love and grace.

Well, then, how do we see the glory of God in our lives? We do not—that is, we do not see His glory. Rather faith confesses and sees the glory of God where He has told us He hides it. Our eyes do not see the glory; our faith does.

“How does that work?” you ask.

God’s Word teaches us where to see His glory. In the lowliness of this sinful world, God hides His glory. Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem was humble and lowly—swaddling clothes and a manger for a bed. His entry into Jerusalem was humble and lowly—riding on a donkey. His death was humble and lowly—crucifixion, the cursed death reserved for slaves and the most dangerous criminals. That is how Jesus accomplished the work of salvation—His glory hidden in humility and lowliness. In the same way, Christ’s glorious and triumphant entry into your life hides in the reality of your humble, everyday life.

God has called you according to your vocation to do what you do. He calls you to be a mother or father, a son or daughter. God calls you to be a teacher or a student, an employer or employee or retiree, a neighbor or friend. He calls you in so many ways, and you do what He has given you to do—love and care for your neighbor, that person who is in need of your love—for there is the glory of God.

“But, Pastor, it doesn’t look like the glory of God. It looks like, well, normal daily life. At best, it is mundane and routine, but it is often more draining—emotionally, mentally, and physically—sometimes, it’s more overwhelming, or just plain scary than it is glorious.”

That’s it! Now, you’re getting it! The glory of God is generally found in the in trials and troubles, in humility and servitude through your daily call. It’s not flashy or popular. It’s not big and powerful. It rarely makes the nightly news or social media. It is most often found in the normal grind of daily life. However, it is still the glory of God.

Getting the children up and ready for school reveals the glory of God. Loving your wife and caring for her needs is the glory of God. Washing clothes and changing diapers is the glory of God. Going to work and bringing home money to support your family is the glory of God. Giving your neighbor a ride to church or the grocery store is the glory of God. Praying with your neighbor who has just gotten a bad report from the doctor is the glory of God. Reading a book to your grandchildren or great-grandchildren is the glory of God. Picking up your room without making a fuss when your mother tells you is the glory of God.

How can this be? Because our Lord makes your work holy by His grace and His call for you to be His own in your Baptism. He gives you the faith that receives the holiness Jesus earned on the cross. Therefore, you are holy through faith in Christ. All the works done for your neighbor are holy and done to God’s glory.

The glory of God is seen through the eyes of faith trusting in God’s Word. As Christians, we confess our Lord and His glory in our normal, sometimes painful and hurtful life. Christians also understand that God and His glory come into our lives in the least of these Christ’s brothers—in the poor and the sick, in the lonely and in the hurting, even—and especially—in death.

Our Lord’s death on the cross is His greatest glory. There in all humility He served our most desperate need, the payment of our sins. On the triumphant day of entrance into Jerusalem, our Lord Jesus sat on a donkey in humility. In that triumphant entry, He entered the way of the cross. That entrance took Him to His most glorious moment: His death on the cross.

Through the glory of the cross, our Lord gives to us and teaches us to see His glory in the hidden reality of our faith. When we turn to our lives and see them in faith, we see the glory of God in our suffering, in our humility, and in our servitude. He calls us to love Him and others. But once again, our love for God is hidden in our love of our neighbor. When we love our neighbor, we love God.

So the love of God and His mercy come to you hidden in the waters of your Baptism and in the eating and drinking of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood. These bring the glory of the kingdom of God to you for your salvation. Like the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they are lowly, humble, and simple means. But there is exactly where He brings us to the triumphal entry into His kingdom, in everlasting joy and blessed righteousness. Through these humble means the Lord strengthens you in faith toward Him and fervent love toward one another. By them you have forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. Indeed, through these means and for the sake of the glorious death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son 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.

 

This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Ronald R. Feurhahn, published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 16, Part 2, Series B, Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

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Theologians All: Of Glory or of the Cross

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“The Three Crosses” by Rembrandt

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And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:37-38).

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

Fellow theologians. Yes, that’s right. I called you a theologian. Regardless of the level of your religious training, you are a theologian. All of us are theologians. Being a theologian just means thinking and speaking about God. And it is impossible to go for long without thinking about God. Things happen. Accidents. Tragedies. Death. Disaster. Disease. Disappointment. And there is also good fortune. Unexpected success or escape from danger. Experience of great beauty or pleasure. Sheer grace. Chance encounters that determine our lives. Love.

With each of these things—good or bad—we begin to wonder. God pops into our thinking and conversation. We may cry out in agony, “Why God?” or in relief, “Thank God!” or in praise, “Thank you God!” Or we may just use God’s name to curse. Sooner or later we are likely to get thinking about God and wondering if there is some logic to it all in our lives, or some injustice. We become theologians. Then the question becomes: What kind of theologian will we be?

Actually, there are only two kinds of theologians: theologians of the cross and theologians of glory. In comparing the two, we find the theologian of the cross looks at the adversity and suffering in the world and recognizes it as a consequence of sin. He further prays to God in faith and trust, and says, “not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord.” And he knows that, come what may, he is the baptized and redeemed child of God, and trusting in Christ the crucified, he bears all the crosses that the Lord lays upon him and rejoices in the promise of eternal life.

The theologian of glory, on the other hand, views life as quid pro quo—you get what you give. Adversity and suffering are a direct punishment for either unbelief or weak faith. Strong faith means earthly wealth and prosperity—health without suffering, joy without sorrow. If you’re a true believer, you’ll have no earthly cares because your every wish is God’s command, and you can simply tell Him to remove all thorns and crosses, and He will do it speedily.

We’ll get into the consequences for each of these theologies a little later. For now, consider the disciples of Jesus—James and John—and decide what kind of theologians they seem to be when they come to Jesus with a request. “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left in Your glory.”

Imagine your favorite boss gathering you all in the breakroom to tearfully announce he is stepping down because he has a terminal disease, and you have the nerve to pull him off to the side to ask him if he’d be willing to recommend you to management as his replacement. Talk about insensitive!

But even their starting premise exposes their glory theology: “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” This is a textbook example of how the modern theology of glory treats God. One uses God as a means to an end—for health, happiness, and all other personal purposes.

Jesus responds: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Such language might recall the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, but here Jesus is using it as figurative language for what is going to happen to Him. Jesus refers to His passion and crucifixion as drinking from the cup and being baptized.

You might remember the Old Testament references to someone drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. This is what Jesus is talking about—the cup of suffering and a baptism of blood. He does not come right out and ask James and John, “Do you want to come and be crucified as I will be?” But perhaps that would have been easier for the disciples to understand. At this point, they still do not accept that Jesus must be tortured and killed. They seem to think He’s going to establish His eternal Messianic kingdom with a wave of His hand!

The inability of the disciples to comprehend and accept the passion and death of our Lord is a consequence of the theology of glory, and it continues to show itself today. While the theologian of the cross accepts suffering and turns to the Lord for strength in the certain hope of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the theologian of glory is in spiritual danger when he encounters suffering, because he has been led to believe that suffering will not be a part of the Christian life.

And each one of us is a glory theologian by nature. Even when we have Jesus’ teaching about bearing our crosses and being persecuted for His name’s sake, we still respond to trials and adversity with despair, shock, and we ask “Why? Why, O God, are You placing this upon me?”

Our Old Adam also wants us to believe that our conduct as God’s children will somehow insulate us from hardship. This is what makes the theology of glory so deadly, for it is often far more subtle than the obvious examples.

Anyone who is familiar with the words of Jesus should be suspicious of those who preach of the excitement of the Christian life. We’ve all heard those enthusiastic types who talk about how your life will be changed forever when you receive Jesus into your heart. There are those who truly believe that becoming a Christian will solve all your financial difficulties, fix your troubled marriage, and make you a better person in general. And in the end, it creates a false sense of security because it teaches you to believe that God owes you something.

But what happens to such a Christian (who, by the way, may truly have a living and saving faith) when he receives word that he has a terminal disease—or loses a loved one—or loses all his worldly possessions in a natural disaster or house fire? Will faith built upon such a faulty foundation stand in the storm?

The Scriptures reveal the consequences of this glory theology. One need look no farther than Jesus’ disciples, who gathered together and hid in fear after He was crucified. That first Good Friday did not end in quiet reverence and hopeful anticipation of the first Easter morning. No, there were followers of Jesus who were left in the depths of despair because they expected the kingdom of glory to come without suffering, and they thought all was lost because Jesus had died.

The Lord Jesus told James and John that they didn’t know what they were asking when they said they wanted Him to grant them whatever they requested. And it is the same for you today. When your theology of glory trumps your theology of the cross, you begin to expect the Lord to grant you your every wish, and you expect Him to explain Himself when He lays crosses upon you. But when your crosses appear to outnumber your blessings, you will be tempted to despair and to doubt your Lord’s provision for you. Your Lord has promised to grant you everything you need, but not everything you want.

Christ Jesus is not a means to an end. He is The End. And He has taught you how you are to pray. No prayer for temporal blessings should be rendered to God without including, “Thy will be done.” For prayer, itself, is communion between the Christian’s believing heart and his Lord. And the believing heart will seek only that which is in accordance with the holy, just, and perfect will of God.

The nature of one’s prayers, however, is only the beginning of the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. James and John started out with a request for a “blank check,” but upon further questioning from Jesus they revealed their greater error of seeking glory without crosses.

Dear Christians, do not be deceived. Do not expect a Christian life that is free from serious illness, strife, and suffering. For if that is the theology you embrace, you will have no place to turn when you do hear bad news from your doctor, your banking statement, or your newspaper. For the theology of glory, the bad news of life chokes off the good news of the Gospel. Glory theology does not deal sufficiently with our sin or its effects. Sin is an inconvenient sidebar—a slight bump in the road. Or it is looked upon as a sign that one does not have true faith.

But glory theology rears its ugly head in the most disgusting manner when it tells the Christian that his suffering is a result of his weak faith and secret sins. It has little use for the suffering and death of Jesus, for in glory theology, Jesus did His thing 2,000 years ago—He died for our sins and is our Savior, but now we can focus on more pertinent things like how He can help us run a better business, fix our broken relationships, and teach us how to be healthier.

But once again, Christ Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end. And He is the one and only focus of the theology of the cross. Theology of the cross keeps its eye on the ball, who is the crucified and risen Christ. And He is the Christ who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. It is the Christ who is not your self-help guru, but the Christ who shed His blood and died for your sins and was raised again for your justification.

This Christ did not say, “Believe in Me and I’ll grant you your every wish and desire,” but rather said, “You will be hated and persecuted for My name’s sake, and you will suffer and perhaps die for believing in Me.”

What are we to say to this? “Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints!” Rejoice, dear Christians, when you face trials and sufferings for they drive you to the cross. They force you to focus on the only source of true comfort, peace, and hope—Christ and Him crucified for your sins.

Jesus said that anyone who would be His disciple must pick up His cross and follow Him. But He also promises you blessed and eternal rest in Him at the end of this life. Christ Jesus, your Lord has already conquered sin for you, and has defeated the greatest and final enemy, death itself. And this He has done so that He might promise you full forgiveness of all your sins.

As God’s children, you will indeed drink the cup of suffering as long as you are on this earth. You will be harassed by the unbelieving world, you will face trials and hardship, and you will be tormented by conscience and contrition over sin. Yet Christ Jesus has promised to give you peace from these crosses. He forgives you of your iniquity—He absolves you of your sin and separates them from you as far as the east is from the west. He invites you to His altar, where He gives you the visible and tangible promise in His body and blood that were given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

Furthermore, He invites you to come to Him at all times and places through prayer, in the knowledge that all of your crosses, whether they be sickness, bereavement, doubt, or fear, are all temporary and are placed upon you to re-center your focus and life on Him.

And remember, when you ask God to remove these things from you, that Jesus Himself prayed the Father take the cup of suffering away from Him, and He did not. Had the Father granted His dear Son His request, He would not have gone to the cross—and where would that have left you now?

Remember also, that St. Paul, when he suffered from a certain thorn of the flesh, asked the Lord three times for relief, and God said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” And God did not remove the suffering from Him.

God’s grace is sufficient for you, dear Christian, for in it you have the sure and certain promise: “You are forgiven of all of your sins.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son 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.