Sermons, Uncategorized

The Gracious Heart of Jesus

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[Jesus said:] “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:20-21)

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

According to John, it was the last thing Jesus said in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. After teaching His disciples many things about Himself, the world, and things to come, Jesus concludes His last evening with His disciples in prayer to the Father. And He concludes His prayer with the words in this text. As the saying goes, you can learn a lot about a man by listening in on his prayer. I would submit to you that you can learn so much more listening to the prayer of a man who knows that he will soon die.

And Jesus is headed to meet His death. In the next verse after our Gospel, John tells us that Jesus goes with His disciples across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas, who betrays Him, leads a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees to meet Jesus and to arrest Him.

What can we learn about Jesus through this prayer? It helps to pay close attention to the details. Notice that in these final petitions, Jesus isn’t praying for the world. Neither is He praying for the disciples. No, in our text, Jesus is praying for those who would believe in Him through the apostolic Word. In other words, He is praying for you, me, this congregation, the whole Church.

What does Jesus ask the Father? What does He want for (and from) us who follow Him? We find that in three clauses in verse 21: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Jesus first prays that all believers may be one just as Jesus and the Father are one. That’s really close! But that’s not all. Jesus also prays that these believers would be “in us.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t only desire for His people to be close to each other, but also close to Him and the Father. Indeed, the only real unity is unity around and in the triune God. Those first two clauses beginning with “that” help us understand the content of Jesus’ prayer.

But the third clause, the one that begins “so that” does something else. It is a purpose clause, and it points to the ends of this unity. Jesus desires that, through Christian unity, the world might believe that He was sent by the Father. Note that Jesus doesn’t pray for the world directly. Instead, He prays for the world through the unity of His people. The unity of the Church is a witness to the world. It is fundamental to the Church’s mission.

But an honest reflection would show that Christian unity is lacking these days. There’s the fragmentation of the Church into so many denominations—even so many church bodies that claim Lutheran heritage. There’s the biting and devouring that takes place between members of our own denomination. Closer to home, we may find the temptation to think only of our own congregation’s wants and ignore the need of the larger body of Christ. Or a lack of concern individual members of our congregation have for one another. Each of these hurt our Christian witness to the world. But they also hurt our fellow saints.

In a most perverse way, the devil will use affliction to tempt you away from God. We should know better: it was the afflicted and downtrodden whom Jesus especially sought out, who most joyously heard His Word because they knew this world only breaks you eventually. Sometimes, the hits keep on coming in the form of sickness, injury, financial loss, family troubles, grief, and more. Satan will use them to make you curl up in a ball in the corner, to turn your face to the wall—to separate yourself from sadness. That’s where isolation happens—divided from Christ and His body, the Church. The devil works hard at this one, because he knows how comforting the Gospel will be if you hear it at such a time. Remember that the Lord is your strength, and it is in His means of grace that He delivers grace and life to sustain you—even in the worst of trials.

This is a time when Christians often fail each other: when people are afflicted, the temptation is to leave them alone—because we don’t know what to say, we want to “give them space,” or because being with sad people makes us uncomfortable. The same is true for those who, because of health, can no longer make it to church. It’s a lonely existence. The inaction of others leaves the one who suffers isolated and alone—and the devil will use that to convince them that they are separated from God, too; that they are no longer part of the “one in Christ.” The Lord uses us as His hands and voice: let us not cease in visiting and caring for those who are in deep distress. And let’s not be afraid to let others know our needs.

If Jesus is all about restoring oneness, then the devil is going to be all about fostering division. That is what sin does: it divides. It shatters. It fragments and isolates. Plenty of sins divide and separate. Pride will have you alone on your pedestal, considering others below you and not worth your time. Greed will have you gather possessions to yourself, not friends or family. Lust will have you view others as objects to be used, not as fellow people for whom Christ has died. Many sins entice you to hide in a room with your sin, all alone. They work to destroy friendships, marriages, families, and congregations by division and subtraction.

All of that separation is awful enough, but it distracts us from what is worse: sin separates you, divides you from God. It keeps you unholy, and an unholy you cannot be one with your holy Savior. If you cannot be one with Him, all that is left is the ultimate, eternal separation of death and hell

It’s a problem that’s been going on ever since the Fall in the Garden. The Bible tells us that the first Church was in perfect unity with God and with one another. Adam and Eve were perfect, sinless, and holy. Furthermore, they were created in the image of God. Because God is righteous, they were righteous too. They reflected His glory. Furthermore, they could be in His presence. They could walk with God in the Garden. They could look upon His face. There was no shame, no guilt that would make them run away and hide.

Sin changed all that. As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin and heard God walking in the Garden, they ran and hid from Him. When He asked what they had done, they blamed Him and each other. They were no longer one with God. They would no longer be as one with each other, because they would always have selfish, ulterior motives in dealing with one another. Because of their sin, God cast them out of the Garden, away from the tree of life—but not before He promised that the Savior would come and deliver them from death and devil. The Savior would come and reverse the curse of sin. He would bring people back to God by removing their unrighteous sin and make them holy once again.

The Savior is Jesus, the One praying in the Gospel. Remember what happens next: Jesus will be arrested and hauled out of the Garden of Gethsemane. He’ll be put on trial and sentenced to death for being guiltless. Then He’ll be taken from the city to the Place of the Skull, and He’ll be crucified.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their sin. When the Passion of our Lord begins, He’s removed from a garden, too—because of His holiness. Where Adam was sentenced to death by God because of His guilt, Jesus is sentenced to death by man because of His innocence. Where God grieved at the sin and separation brought about by Adam, man rejoices to be separated from the Son of God when He dies on Calvary.

Jesus is undoing what Adam did. He’s taking Adam’s place to undergo Adam’s punishment: not just physical death, but far worse. He’s fully forsaken by God on the cross. That’s what it means when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son of God—one with the Father from eternity—suffers the ultimate separation from oneness with the Father. In other words, He suffers hell on the cross before He is restored to His Father again.

All of this lies less than a day away as Jesus prays this prayer; and listen again to what He prays about you: “That they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:21). Jesus prays that you would be one with God and one another again, like Adam and Eve before the Fall into sin.

 In His prayer, we get a glimpse into the gracious heart of Jesus. Not only does He desire unity in the Church and unity with God. He does what it takes to make it happen. You see, there’s only one way for that prayer to be answered, and that is for Jesus to suffer the ultimate separation from God in your place. That’s what the cross is about. For Christ, separation and condemnation. For you, redemption. Restoration. Reconciliation. One with God and one another again.

Look around you here, and you will see a miraculous gathering of people. Not many in numbers, certainly; but more than that first two-member congregation. The Lord Himself has gathered you together, and it is He who keeps you together—who keeps you one with one another, His whole Church, and Himself. And He tells you how He does in our Gospel for today.

In His prayer, Jesus calls you “those who believe in Me through [the apostles’] Word.” He’s given you His Word, and His Word makes and keeps you one. Faith comes by hearing His Word, which He gave to us through His prophets and apostles. His Word is the means to gather us together, and His Word is His means to keep us together, one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins of ignoring His Word in favor of our sinful, divisive desires.

Jesus has given you His glory. He prays to His Father, “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one.” The glory of Jesus is foremost the cross, for that is the ultimate act of love for us, that is where we best see the gracious heart of Jesus.

Jesus has given His cross to you and it didn’t hurt you any more than three quick splashes of water. In Baptism, Jesus joined you to His cross, His death and resurrection. Without that, you’d have to die your own death for sin, isolated from God forever. But because He’s shared the glory of His cross with you, you are now one in Him. That is why we gladly repent of our sins that would separate us from His life and lead us death, for Christ has opened to us the way of salvation.

Furthermore, Jesus prays, “I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus has made His name known to you: He has made known to you that He is the Savior of all nations, forgiving you all of your sins. He’s put His name on you—marked you as His own! You are not left as individuals trying to find your way to an unknown God through any variety of religions. And with His name, the Lord has also made known to you His will. He tells you that He has gathered you in, forgiven your sins, made you one with Him by His sacrifice. That’s why we gladly repent and confess our pursuits of other gods that cannot save, including our own desires and wishes, for salvation is found in Christ.

Jesus has given us His Word, His glory, and His name. It is in these gifts that we best see the gracious heart of Jesus for you and me. It is by these gifts that He has made us one. It is by these gifts that He keeps us one.

I give great thanks this day, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to be united in Him and with you. This is all the Lord’s doing, and so you can be sure: you are one with His body, the Church, and one with Christ: for His Word, His glory, and His name are all summed up in these words: you are forgiven for 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.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

In the Presence, Glory, and Rest of the Lord: Sermon for the Funeral of Lorraine Scheerhoorn

Click here to listen to this sermon.Lorraine Scheerhoorn

“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

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

As you’ll read in her obituary, Lorraine confessed publicly the faith into which she was baptized in the Rite of Confirmation at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Trosky on April 2, 1944. On that day, Lorraine promised that she would “continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.” By the grace of God, Lorraine kept that promise; she fought the good fight of faith and has received the crown of eternal life.

On the day of her confirmation, Lorraine received this verse, Exodus 33:14, a promise of God, that she wanted you to hear today: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

What an excellent text for the Christian life and death of one of God’s saints! As we should do with any and every Bible passage, we’ll first consider this verse in its original context, and then apply it to our lives on this day in which we recall all the blessings that the Lord bestowed upon His daughter and our sister-in-Christ, Lorraine.

As the Lord first spoke these words to Moses, Moses had just come down from Sinai with the two tablets of the Law, written by the finger of the Lord, only to find the people of Israel worshiping and sacrificing to the golden calf. When God threatened to wipe out the Israelites and start over again to make a new nation through Moses, the prophet interceded on their behalf. The Lord relented, telling the prophet there would still be punishment for those who had sinned against Him, but Moses was to continue leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land.

The Lord and Moses had a very special, unique relationship. We are told: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” We see this, in the conversation between himself and the Lord recorded in our Old Testament reading. Moses wrestles with the Lord in prayer much as Jacob had once done, not wanting to let the Lord go without first receiving a blessing.

Relying on this close relationship, Moses says: “You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’” Moses then pleads for greater information concerning the Lord’s intentions as far as Israel is concerned: “Show me now Your ways… Consider too that this nation is Your people.” In other words, “I am to be Your leader of Your people, please let me know your intentions concerning them.” We see how Moses approaches the throne of the Lord’s grace “boldly and confidently,” as Luther encourages us in His explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism.

The Lord reassures Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Moses receives what he asks for! The Lord promises that His own personal Presence will continue to be with His people. Moses holds the Lord firmly to this word of assurance. “If Your Presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here,” he says. “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

These words of Moses, although stated as questions, are actually the words of a believer who clings to the Word and promise of God. He approaches the Lord in the spirit of the psalmist who declares, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26).

Once more the Lord reassures Moses: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” Moses is overcome with joy. In this joyful mood he proceeds to make one more daring request. He says to the Lord, “Please, show me Your glory.”

Although Moses had communicated with the Lord “face to face” (Exodus 33:11), he had not seen the Lord’s glory in its total splendor. Moses wants to see God in all His holiness, His majesty, and perfection.

But the Lord cannot comply with Moses’ request, as He Himself states: “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” As a human being cannot look into the light of the sun without being blinded by its brilliance, so likewise sinful people living here on this earth cannot behold the glory of a holy God without being destroyed. Believers also are sinful human beings. They cannot know God fully or comprehend His ways. They cannot dwell in His holy light. Only in eternity will the veil between a believer and the holy God be removed, and “we shall see Him as He is.”

The Lord, however, does not become angry with Moses because of his unusual request. He rather says to him, “I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” What a beautiful reminder lies in these words! For us human beings here on this earth, the Lord’s glory rests in that name by which He has revealed Himself to us—the I AM WHO I AM, the Lord of the covenant, the God who in His Word has revealed Himself to us above all in His mercy, His compassion, His free and faithful grace!

Moses boldly asks for a direct vision of God’s glory, but God tells Him He will show him more—He will send His goodness. God will reveal more in His character than in His glorious appearance. The Lord then grants Moses an unusual experience. The Lord puts Moses into the cleft of a rock. While passing by, the Lord covers Moses with His “hand,” that is, with His protecting power. After passing by, the Lord lets Moses see His “back,” that is, the reflection of His glory. The Lord reveals to Moses as much as He can in the circumstances. The important revelation as far as Moses is concerned is the proclaiming of the Lord’s name.

There are times in our own lives as Christians when the pressures of this earthly existence weigh heavily upon us. Life’s problems and disappointments mount with increasing fury. The death of loved ones causes us pain and sorrow. The weight of sin wears us down. Our own responsibilities never seem to lessen in intensity. “How much more can we be expected to carry?” we ask. We wrestle with the Lord in prayer. We long for some kind of added reassurance that He is truly there, according to His promise.

With Peter we declare, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” But isn’t there more than mere words? Heaven seems so far away. “Show us Your glory,” we say with Moses. We want the Lord to give us some tangible sign of His glorious Presence.

God gives us something better!

In Christ, we have better than a sign. We have God’s Presence with us. We have God’s glory veiled in human flesh. We have God’s promised rest. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. God sends us His goodness.

In our Gospel for today, we hear: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17).

The truth be told, because of sin, none of us deserve to be in God’s glory and presence. None of us deserve God’s goodness or promised rest—not Lorraine, not you, not me, not anyone. These gifts are given to us solely out of God’s grace and mercy, without any worthiness on our part, but for the sake of the perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who came to earth as one of us, who covered Himself with human flesh and lived among us in this fallen, dying world.

Jesus lived the perfect, obedient life that Lorraine, you, and I would not, indeed, could not live. Jesus gave His life on the cross for the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world—Lorraine’s, yours, and mine included. Jesus rose again from the grave giving us the certain hope of our own resurrection to eternal life. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf, even as He has promised to be with us always in His means of grace.

God, in His mercy and goodness, still condescends to come to us poor, miserable sinners in ways we can receive Him. Luther writes: “[God] says, ‘Man shall not see Me and live.’ Therefore He put before us an image of Himself, because He shows Himself to us in such a manner that we can grasp Him. In the New Testament we have Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, absolution, and the ministry of the Word” (AE 2:46).

God’s Presence was with Lorraine throughout her life. On the day she was baptized in May 1930, the Holy Spirit came to live in the temple of Lorraine’s body, bringing forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Holy Baptism, Lorraine was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all her sin. She was buried with Christ into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, she too might walk in newness of life. United with Him in a death like His, she shall certainly be united in a resurrection like His.

Regularly throughout her life, Lorraine entered the rest of the Lord as she made time to hold God’s Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it in the Divine Service, Bible study, and daily devotions. The Lord came to be with her in His Supper, feeding her His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of her faith. As Lorraine confessed her sins, Christ spoke forgiveness to her in His Word of absolution. And when Lorraine prayed, she could do so with the certainty that God heard her prayers for the sake of Christ, and she could speak with the Father as Moses did; that is, “as a man speaks to his friend.”

In His means of grace—His Word and Sacraments—the Lord brought His promised rest to Lorraine throughout her life, up until the day of her death, when she entered His glory, His Presence, and rest for eternity. She now lives in the Presence of the Lord with all the saints who have gone before, looking upon His glorious face unhindered by sin. Having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, they serve Him day and night. He shelters them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore, for the Lamb will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

One day, by God’s grace, we will join them there.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, may God grant this to us all. 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

The Glory That Comes from Man… Or God?

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Procession_in_the_Streets_of_Jerusalem_(Le_cortège_dans_les_rues_de_Jérusalem)_-_James_Tissot
Jesus’ Triumphal Procession into Jerusalem” by James Tissot

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“Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:41-43).

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

The news spread quickly that Jesus was in Bethany, and large numbers of people headed there to see Him. With the influx of pilgrims in Jerusalem getting ready for the Passover, it wasn’t long before a great crowd had gathered. No doubt, their curiosity was doubly piqued, since they would also be able to see Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead. Realizing they were losing the battle for public opinion, the chief priests decided to kill Jesus. They would do whatever was necessary to end Jesus’ popularity. They added Lazarus to their hit list, for many Jews believed in Jesus because He had raised Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus had arrived in Bethany on Friday. The dinner at Mary and Martha’s, the anointing by Mary, and the gathering of the crowd took place after His arrival, with the Sabbath intervening. On the next day—Palm Sunday—the ever-growing crowd learned that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. They cut palm branches and went out to the road to meet Him, receiving Him with all the pomp and circumstance of a king as the Jewish leaders feared they might.

The people hailed Jesus with words from Psalm 118:25-26: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” This was from the Hallel, sung as part of the Passover feast. For centuries, Jews had sung it in anticipation of the Lamb of God on His way to be their sacrifice. But they weren’t thinking of sacrifice that day; they received Jesus as Israel’s King.

It happened spontaneously, but it was foretold years earlier. Jesus rode a young donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The messianic King from David’s line entered Jerusalem amid the praise and glory of the crowd.

The Pharisees cursed their bad fortune. Every threat they had made, every trap they had set, every accusation they had leveled, hadn’t accomplished a thing. Jesus was, on that day, more popular than ever. The Jewish leaders reacted as we often do when we realize we are no longer in control—frustrated and fearful. “Look, the world has gone after Him,” they exclaimed in classic hyperbole.

To the Pharisees, “the world” meant primarily the Jewish people. But Christ came for the whole world. Even then and there some Greeks were among the crowd. They singled out Philip from Jesus’ disciples and made their intentions known: “We wish to see Jesus.” Philip told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Up to this time, Jesus had insisted repeatedly that His hour had not yet come. But now, He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

What Jesus came to do He likened to a seed of grain. That seed remains nothing but a lonely seed unless it is planted. But when it is buried in the ground and dies there, a plant grows from it and bears fruit. Similarly, Jesus would not bear the fruit of His mission until He first died. All His miraculous signs had no eternal benefit without the miracle of the cross and the empty tomb. The Son of Man had to die for the spiritual harvest to come, the harvest of souls for eternity.

When Jesus warns against loving our lives, He means putting this earthly life first. When we believe in Jesus and have eternal life in Him, worldly living loses its attraction. Everything worldly carries sin’s taint. Only in Jesus does the good life, eternal life, become ours. It would be better to lose this earthly life than to lose Jesus. Our faith in Jesus, however, carries a price. We must follow where He leads. We face sacrifices. We risk the scorn of others. But we do so with the promise of the heavenly Father’s honor and with praise and thanksgiving for His Son.

Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die. As true man, He was troubled by what He faced. The triumphant procession did not change the reality He knew was coming. He already felt the burden we associate with Gethsemane. He opened His soul for us to look in. Jesus was not a robot, heading for the scrap heap without feeling. As true God, He did not simply switch off all sorrow and suffering. His sufferings would be intense beyond measure because of our sin. Still the God-man never wavered from His assigned path. He had come from heaven for this very purpose, prepared for this time. He was there to bring glory to God.

Jesus turned attention from Himself to His Father, praying, “Father, glorify Your name.” The Father answered Jesus’ prayer aloud from heaven. His name had been glorified and would continue to be glorified. By sending His Son in the flesh and through His Son’s miraculous signs, the Father received glory (John 1:14). In the events to come, Christ’s work of salvation—His death, resurrection, and ascension—would most assuredly glorify God’s name further.

The crowd needed to hear the voice as a sign that a truly cosmic event was being set in motion—the confrontation God had predicted in Eden (Genesis 3:15). The judgment of this world would be based on the outcome. The judgment is an ongoing process, as people either in faith accept, or in unbelief, reject Jesus as their Savior. The ruler of this world, Satan, would be driven out as the Seed of the woman emerged as the risen victor. Jesus would break the devil’s power over us.

For all this to happen, Jesus was headed for death by crucifixion. He told the people as much, using an image most of them would have understood, at least in principle. He would be lifted up from the earth on a cross. That lifting up would affect all human beings. Through it and His subsequent exaltation, Jesus would draw all people to Himself. At the cross, all people must invariably accept or reject Jesus as Savior. There are no other paths.

This crowd had just hailed Jesus as the Christ in the line of King David, and now they heard Him talk about Himself as the Son of Man, saying that He must be crucified. They searched for understanding. They believed from Scripture that the Christ would be eternal but assumed that meant He would set up an eternal kingdom on earth. It didn’t make sense to them that the Christ would die. Rather than try to explain away their doubts; He called for them to trust in Him. They didn’t need all their questions answered just then. They needed only to believe.

Still, not all who were gathered that Palm Sunday believed in Jesus even though He had done so many signs in their presence, including the raising of Lazarus. This too, fulfilled messianic prophecy. Isaiah had prophesied this unbelief, and Jesus had quoted him elsewhere to show why many Jews didn’t recognize His messianic claims. They were locked away in their own unbelief.

Isaiah prophesied these things because He had seen the glory that comes from God. In his vision, Isaiah saw the Messiah’s great suffering to achieve our salvation and the Messiah’s glory, restored in the resurrection and ascension.

Many rejected Jesus, but some, even some of the leaders, believed in Jesus. Sad to say, the Pharisees succeeded in intimidating them, so they hid their real views for fear of being put out of the synagogue. They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God in Christ.

We should not be surprised at this faintheartedness. Our own lives display it today. How often do we Christians fail to confess our faith because we fear the reaction of those around us? How often do you and I love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God?

The fact is, we really have a hard time understanding glory as God defines it. We’re used to glory in human terms. A person finds glory when he is surrounded by power, strength, and prestige. When someone is glorious, he seems invincible. That’s hardly the appearance of the beaten, bloody Man hanging on the cross.

But God measures glory in a different way. In God’s terms, glory is achieved by doing His will. Something none of us is capable of doing ourselves. Not perfectly. Not all the time. But Jesus does, and He does it in our place.

Against all appearances, God is glorifying His name at the cross because Jesus is fulfilling His Father’s plan of salvation, dying the death of sinners so that sinners can be raised to eternal life. That hill outside Jerusalem is a more glorious mountain than Sinai; on Mt. Calvary, Christ defeats sin, death, and the devil.

When the Greeks wished to see Jesus, Jesus pointed them to the cross. That is where the Son of Man is glorified. As a pastor, it is given me (and all pastors) to point you to the cross, time and time again. We do so with reason, because there is your salvation. There you will see the glory that comes from God.

In Christ, you have much more than what the world appears to offer. The world’s glory consists in displays of power, popularity, wealth. All of them are so fleeting. Look how long it takes for the cheering crowds of Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to turn to chants of “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday. How quickly a celebrity can go to persona non grata with one rumor of scandal. How quickly wealth can disappear with a bad investment or shaky economy.

Jesus’ glory is to do His Father’s will. His death is glorious, because by His death He saves you from the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature. Furthermore, He continues to accomplish His Father’s will, visiting you by His Word and Sacraments, working in you forgiveness, life, and salvation.

This is a world of trouble and anxiety because this is a world of sin. You’ll be tempted to love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. In the midst of trouble, trial, and temptation, Jesus visits you with that glorious forgiveness. Where you might be frustrated at your station in life, He calls you His child and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. He reassures you that this time of tribulation will pass and that He will use it for your good and for His glory.

Remember that glory in times of grief. There is little in life that is more heart-breaking than the death of a loved one. Like all people, Christians must also endure grief. But with the grief, they also have the hope of the grain. In the midst of mourning, you know that Christ was put to death and buried in a tomb. You also know that He rose from the dead three days later. You also have the confidence that He is the firstfruits of those fallen asleep, and He will raise His people to everlasting life. Those who have died in the Lord are delivered from suffering; and because they have died in the Lord, they will be raised up to eternal glory on the Last Day.

Remember that glory when troubled by guilt. The devil still accuses; but since he has no access to the throne of God anymore, he whispers the accusations into your ear instead. He would abuse your conscience and try to convince you that, despite Jesus’ death, you still stand guilty before God. He seeks to make your guilt appear far more real than the cross. But the devil has been lying since he first slithered into Eden, and his accusations are falsehood at the foundation. Have you sinned? Yes, that much is true. Do you still stand guilty before God? No, because Christ has died to take away your sins. The true blood of Christ has covered and removed evidence of your sin before God. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The glory that comes from God is found in the cross, because that is where the Savior saves you. By gloriously fulfilling His Father’s plan for your salvation, Jesus takes your sins away and give you eternal life. He rescues you from tribulation, from guilt, and from death. He declares you His holy, innocent child, and makes you an heir of eternal life. Because of His death, the risen Lord now utters these glorious words to you: 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.

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Preparing for Departure

moses-sees-the-promised-land-from-afar.jpg!LargeClick here to listen to this sermon.

“And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

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

Moses’ long life was marked with mountaintop experiences. At the age of eighty, God spoke to him out of the burning bush on Horeb, the mountain of God, and called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1ff). On Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to Moses out of the thick cloud and gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20). When Moses came down from the mountain, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Exodus 34:29-35).

In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. The mountain traditionally identified as Mount Nebo is located about 12 miles east of where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, and it rises more than 2,600 feet about sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world, 1,300 feet below sea level. What a dramatic view the Lord gave of this land that Moses longed to see for many years!

By inviting Moses to view the extent of the land, the Lord showed one last act of kindness to this special leader of His people. But maybe it was more than that. Biblical precept, as well as later Roman law, let a man view land he was about to possess. Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of giving Moses a legal guarantee that the men and women he led for so long would really inherit the land, though he would die before it happened.

The Lord had a far better promised land in mind for Moses. The writer to the Hebrews included Moses among the believers from the Old Testament era who saw the Lord’s promises fulfilled by faith, not by sight:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13,16).

The account of Moses’ death is simple but mysterious: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-Peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

The final measure of Moses’ long life was that he was the Lord’s servant. What better epitaph could be placed under a man of God’s name on his tombstone than “Servant of the Lord!” As Jesus defines true greatness for His disciples: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Regarding Moses’ departure, there is much mystery. It’s not clear whether we should translate “He buried him” or “He was buried.” Some have proposed that the Lord Himself buried Moses; that’s possible, but it can’t be proved definitively by the text. There’s an additional air of mystery in the words, “no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” If the Lord buried Moses, some have suggested that his body may not have suffered the physical decay that unavoidably follows death. In his epistle, Jude makes a passing reference to a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over Moses’ body (Jude 9). According to legend, when Moses died (by the kiss of God), the Lord delegated Michael to bury his body, but the devil tried to claim the body for himself. At least one version of the legend adds that Moses’ body was later “assumed” into heaven, accompanied by angels.

However intriguing this notion may be, we can’t speak with certainty. And anyway, Moses also wrote Psalm 90, and it’s more likely that the death he described as the common experience of all people was what he suffered too:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:3,5,6,10).

Moses lived well beyond eighty years. Yet even at 120 years, his eyesight was keen and his physical strength unimpaired up until the day that he died.

Moses’ service to the Lord was unique because he enjoyed a more intimate relationship with the Lord than any Old Testament prophet before or after him. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). The Lord explained this special relationship to Moses and Aaron:

If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6–8a).

Before his departure, Moses spoke of a prophet who was to come: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Little did Moses realize that the climb to the top of the mountain on the day of his death would be the precursor of another climb up another mountain to proclaim the departure of that even greater Prophet for the salvation of the human race.

That’s where we find him in our Gospel. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John along as He goes up onto a mountain to pray. As Jesus prays, He is transfigured and appears in heavenly glory. Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Him. We don’t know much about the specifics of the conversation. Luke doesn’t give us a verbatim account, but he does tell us they spoke concerning “His departure.” The Greek brings more to mind. They talked about His “exodus.”

This was not the first time Jesus talked about His departure in Jerusalem. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus spoke of His death and resurrection (9:21-22). He also spoke about the death of all who would follow Him (9:23-25). The connection between these departures and the Old Testament Exodus are obvious and worth noting. As God’s central act of deliverance before Jesus, the Exodus from Egypt meant liberation from bondage and hope for a future. Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem accomplished this and more for all who depart in faith in Him.

Which brings us back to the conversation on the mountain on the day of Transfiguration. What do you suppose that Jesus spoke about with the prophets? While we can’t be sure, I think that we can imagine the types of things they may have discussed. Perhaps Jesus told them about the difficulties He was preparing to endure in His passion. Maybe they asked Jesus how He was going to do it.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about how the disciples—including the three with Him—would all run away. About how they would promise to stay with Him, but then how their fears would rise up and about how He would suffer alone.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about why He was willing to endure the coming sufferings: Maybe He spoke of His love for creation, His love for all people, His great desire to restore all things. Maybe He let Moses and Elijah in on the secret—that by dying and rising He would conquer death for all time. Maybe Jesus was helping the two of them see this had been His plan from the beginning and how they (Moses and Elijah) were part of a much larger story.

Or perhaps Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about how His departure—His death and resurrection—would affect our departure.

Most of us probably do not like to think about our own departure—our exodus—very often. We are too busy living to spend much time thinking about dying. But death has a way of forcing its way into the conversation. Sometimes it sneaks up on us suddenly; other times it lingers, slowly sapping life away. A few, like Moses enjoy a long vigorous life. But death always enters the picture.

Which makes this Sunday a good opportunity to prepare to not only enter the season of Lent, but also to die well. In three short days, we will be reflecting especially on our own death on Ash Wednesday.

As your pastor, my most important duty is to make sure you are ready for the day of your death. So, I must ask you: Are you prepared for your departure?

I’m not talking the practical aspects of getting your day-to-day affairs in order like purchasing enough life insurance, updating your will, or pre-planning your funeral. Those are all important details, especially for your loved one, but they’re not near as important as having your spiritual affairs all in order.

Death is inevitable. You and I must prepare for death, so we may meet it without fear and the danger of eternal ruin. It is a sad truth that we can get so wrapped up in ourselves and the attainment of our own goals, that we not only fail to take our coming death into account, but actually invite God’s wrath by the way we act and live. And day by day, month by month, year by year, we think and talk and live having no concern for the eternal consequences. And one day it’s too late.

The hard truth is: We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into the promised land of heaven and into the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed… by what we do and by what don’t do… by what we say and what we don’t say… by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year, the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. No, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. God the Father sent His Son into this world to take your place on the cross by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins… every one of them. With His holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, Jesus has made all the preparations for your departure from this life and into the promised land of heaven.

God baptized you into His death on the cross and your death became His death and His death became your death. You died on the day of your Baptism. You were crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer you have lived but Christ living in you; and the life which you live in the flesh, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Galatians 2:20). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day. Neither death nor devil nor grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted you your first resurrection when He baptized you with water and the Word. You were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so you also have walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure from this world, for your own resurrection, and for eternal life in His presence.

The eternal blessings of God because of His Son’s life, death, and resurrection are yours by faith in Christ. Salvation is by God’s gift of faith and not by mans’ good deeds. Faith itself is God’s work that the Holy Spirit gives through the Word. The Lord works faith in your heart as you hear the proclamation of the Gospel. God grants you faith to believe in Him.

The Lord, through Word and Sacrament, sustains and strengthens the faith that He began in you throughout your life. As you receive the very body and blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, you are strengthened in faith toward God and in service to your neighbor. Each time you leave, fully prepared for your departure, that is, to depart in peace, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for 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.

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Glory of Christ Hidden in the Humble

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“Palm Sunday” by Octavio Ocampo

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“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

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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.