Sermons, Uncategorized

A God Buried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So may you rest in Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sermons, Uncategorized

A God Who Bleeds, a God Who Dies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The King Who Serves and Saves

“Christ on the Cross” by El Greco

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“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put in on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

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

“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” the people demanded. Their request had to come like a vicious kick to the gut. Samuel had served Israel long and well as their judge. But the years were taking their toll. No longer could he maintain the grueling schedule he once had kept as a young man. So Samuel appointed his two sons, Joel and Abijah, to assist him.

Sadly, the sons were not as unselfish as their father and not nearly as devoted to duty. They used their office for personal gain and, for a price, perverted justice. It’s difficult to explain their actions. You wouldn’t think that Samuel would be one to neglect the training of his children. After all, he had grown up alongside Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, and had seen firsthand what such permissive parenting can lead to. But it appears Samuel’s sons simply had given in to those temptations that so commonly beset those in public office.

By the time the elders had arranged a meeting with Samuel to discuss their concerns, their minds were already made up. “Behold, you are now old and your sons do not walk in your ways,” they said. “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel asked for time to think over their request and to discuss it with God in prayer.

Understandably, Samuel took the people’s request personally and regarded it as a rejection of himself. God reassured Samuel he was not the one they had rejected. The people had forgotten they already had a King. The Lord God was their king, enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim. In calling for a king like all the nations, they were rejecting the kingship of God.

An earthly king might have used a show of force to put down such a rebellion; but our patient, loving God relented. “Give them a king,” He told Samuel, “but let them know up front the consequences.”

Samuel warned the people: “If you get a king, instead of your king helping you and serving you, you are going to make matters worse for yourselves… for you are going to serve the king, not the other way around. He is going to want your money. He’s going to want your property. He’s going to want your sons and daughters. And he is going to want you to bow down before him. The day will come when you will cry out for relief from this king you have chosen.”

And that is exactly what happened. God gave the Israelites a king. And he was just like the kings all the other nations had. He demanded to be served. He demanded their money. He demanded their property. He demanded the service of their sons and daughters. And he demanded them to bow down before him.

For 400 years they had a king. First Saul, then David, then descendants of David. Some, like King David, were men after God’s own heart, most were usually worse than the one preceding. Those kings led the people to worship other gods. They led the people to make peace treaties with other nations who were God’s enemies. They permitted people to harm their neighbor and said nothing. And those kings were usually getting something on the side to keep their mouths shut.

Because of the disobedience and rebelliousness and injustice of the kings and the people, God eventually took away their land and left it mostly empty around Jerusalem. The people of Judah were taken away in exile to Babylon for seventy years. Even when they were allowed to return, they had no king. For 600 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, until the time of our Lord, there was no son of David who ruled as king. Even Herod, who had taken the title for himself, was no king, but a puppet put in place by Rome as governor of a small portion of the region of Galilee.

Now, a thousand years after the glory days of King David, the people of Judea were waiting for another king. They wanted a king to give them back what David had—a little bit of real estate where they could be safe. Self-rule free from the dictates of a foreign conqueror. A king like all the rest of the kings of the world—only one they could call their own.

When Jesus came, He said, in effect: “My kingdom is not of this world. I am not the kind of king you want, but I am the kind of King you need. I have not come so that I can bring some glory to you, so that everyone else will do your bidding, and work for you, as the people once did for Solomon. I have not come to keep your belly filled with bread and fish so that you can sit back and do nothing.

“The problem that you have is much deeper than having a roof over your head, beautiful clothes on your back, wonderful children, and someone to serve you. From the time that your first father and mother sinned, you have rejected God as your King. Oh, occasionally, when it was fresh on your mind, you would celebrate God’s love and deliverance. But very quickly you would forget again that He is a king who saves you and serves you and bids you to do the same for your neighbor. And you would go back to your old sinful, selfish, and rebellious life.

“Such treasonous behavior carries the threat of capital punishment in earthly kingdoms. But I am going to suffer the consequences of your sin and rebellion. I am going to suffer your death, destruction, and eternal damnation, so that you don’t have to, so that I might be your King.”

Christ’s coronation as King is most shocking. Human beings kill God the Son. The Jews do so, claiming Jesus committed blasphemy by saying He was God. And that was the truth. He did claim that. The irony was that they did not know that He was telling the truth. The Gentile governor, Pontius Pilate, who didn’t know what truth was, puts Jesus—the Truth—to death, because he wants to save his own skin and keep on playing king, as if his were the final authority.

But even more shocking is that King named Jesus willingly suffers eternal death. The Crowned Prince is punished by His own Father in the place of subjects who are unwilling to be ruled by anyone, not even by a loving king, their God. Jesus goes to the cross because He wants to be our Lord and must go into battle against the powers which hold His own subjects captive—the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.

Jesus yields His Spirit to His Father and He declares publicly that everything needed to bring every human back into His kingdom has been done. It is finished. All of that brokenness which humans experience over against God, self, and others, all of those problems, all of the blindness and deadness and being at enmity with God, with ourselves, and with each other, is at an end.

The once crucified King comes to us, offering forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life, solely out of His mercy and grace. And the only thing we have to bring to Him is our sins. But that’s okay—that’s exactly what He wants from us!

We are summoned to stand before our almighty God, that we might confess what in us caused our Lord’s death, what wickedness in our hearts moved Him to love us sinners. We are asked to examine our heart: “Where have I sinned? Where have I rejected what You are and what You have done for me, O Lord, my King?” We are called to ask Him to open our eyes to see and to confess the many ways in which we wish God would be a different kind of God. We are called to lay our sin-filled lives before His cross, that we might go forth, washed in the blood of the Lamb, freed, restored, and alive.

Jesus wants us to acknowledge what we really are, who we really are. We are poor miserable sinners who justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. We are by nature sinful and unclean and have consistently sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. We have rejected our King!

But even on this Good Friday, our King does not want us to go away with our heads hung low, in fear and in shame and in doubt. Even, and maybe especially this day, He wants us to go forth in joy knowing that the Creator and Lord of the universe loves us so much that He would give Himself up to a horrendous death because He wants us to be with Him forever. He does not say, “Go away from Me,” but says, “Come unto Me, you who labor and are heavy laden. I can give you rest.”

Jesus really is a King who comes to serve and save us! He gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation as He makes us His sons in Holy Baptism. He feeds us His own body and blood for our forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith. Through His called and ordained servant of the Word, He speaks words of forgiveness and life. Then, He who took up His cross tells us that, for the joy set before us, we can follow in His footsteps, enjoying the challenge to love as we have been loved.

So go forth in the peace of the Lord. Your King Jesus reigns. Crucified, risen, and ascended to the Father’s right hand, He lives and reign to all eternity on behalf of His Church. He intercedes for you before the Father, and comes to you with forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. For His sake, 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.