Monday, April 20, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Easter 3 (April 20-25, 2015)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: John 10:14-15 - “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #709 “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
Hymns for Sunday: 463, 709, 540, 740, 735, 525

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 23
What kinds of “shepherds” are there in this world? How is Jesus different than them all? Why?

Tuesday:  Ezekiel 34:11-16
How did Jesus fulfill – and still fulfills - these words? 

Wednesday:  1 Peter 2:21-25
What did Jesus do for His sheep, for you? Why (v. 24)?

Thursday:  Acts 4:1-12
What was the content of apostolic preaching? Why?

Friday:  1 John 3:16-24
How did God love us? How do we love one another?

Saturday:  John 10:11-18
How does Jesus describe Himself and His work? What makes Him different than the hired ones?

The Catechism: The Creed: The First Article (Part 1): I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  . . .

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all college students finishing up classes, for peace and faith and safe travels home.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for Lutheran Bible Translators.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.


Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Easter 3 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Raised to a New Life”
Text: Acts 3:1-21; Luke 24:36-49; 1 John 3:1-7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

We don’t know much about this man. We don’t know his name or the names of his parents. All we know is that he had been born lame (Acts 3:2) and had been unable to walk for over forty years (Acts 4:22). And that everyday some kind people carried him to a gate of the Temple so he could beg. So he could, with every person going into or coming out of the Temple, lower his eyes and raise his hands and beg for mercy. That was his life.

I wish I knew how many gave him help. I wish I knew if they were like us, like me, suspicious of those people I see on street corners or Metro stations, with cardboard signs, asking for my help. How many passed by looking the other way? How many pretended not to hear or see? How many thought ill of him, that he would just use their money on drugs or drink, and so justify their lack of compassion? Yet everyday the man was back, eyes down and hands up, begging for mercy. That was his life.

Until one day, Peter and John approached his gate. The lame man did as he did for everyone, but instead of filling his hands, Peter filled his ears and said: I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk (Acts 3:6)! And he did. And from that moment he clung to Peter and John, as the first reading today began. He would not let them go, those who had given him not just healed legs, but a new life.

And soon a crowd gathered, for the man was causing quite a scene. For he was not only walking, but, we are told, he was leaping about and praising God (Acts 3:9). This was not proper Temple behaviour and etiquette, and so people were running to see who or what was causing such a commotion. And so with a great crowd of people now gathered around him, Peter preached. Just as he had preached to the lame man, so he preached to the crowd. They hadn’t done this amazing thing, Jesus did. Yes, that Jesus! Of Nazareth. The same Jesus they had rejected and traded for a murderer, the same Jesus they had crucified and thought was dead, the same Jesus whose grave was empty because - their leaders were telling them - His body had been stolen to perpetuate His hoax - guess what? That Jesus was alive, risen from the dead, and still doing powerful things, like making men lame from birth walk. A dead Jesus couldn’t do that. Peter and John were witnesses of His resurrection, and now these people were witnesses of His living power. 

Now, we’re not told, but I’ll bet you could just about hear a pin drop at that moment . . . because of the lumps in their stomachs and throats. They had Him crucified and now He’s back? What’s He going to do to them? What will be His revenge on them? For that’s what people do; that’s what they were used to. An eye for an eye. But that’s when Peter tells them: no revenge. He has come back to forgive. You! Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Or in other words: Jesus was raised, Jesus raised this man, and He wants to raise you too. 

Peter knew that and could preach that because not that long ago, he had been in the very same place as those in that crowd. We heard it in the Gospel from Luke today. The twelve had let Jesus down, they had denied Him and run away, and so when He appears to them they are startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost and perhaps wondering what Jesus would now do to them. But no revenge; no chastising or finger shaking that they should have done better, been stronger. No. Instead, there is forgiveness and peace for them. And Jesus then opens their minds, to clean out all the sin and junk, all the fear and despair, all the worldly and wrong thinking, and fill it with His Word and truth and love. That just as He was risen from the dead, and now they had been raised from their sin and fear and doubt, so now they go out and preach, proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins . . . in his name to all nations. That Jesus is not dead, but alive and well, and continuing His life giving work. Only now through men, through words, through Sacraments. But the same mercy, the same forgiveness, and same new life. He will ascend, but the work will go on, when they are clothed with power from on high.

And it has, and it is! For the gate of the Temple is now here, at this font, where perhaps your parents or friends brought you to receive the mercy and forgiveness and new life of Jesus.

The gate of the Temple is now here, at this pulpit, where your ears are filled with the preaching of the living Jesus and all that He has done for you. That by His Word and Spirit your minds be opened and all the sin and junk and wrong thinking be cleaned out and you instead be filled with His Word and truth.

The gate of the Temple is now here, before this altar, where you come with your eyes cast down to the ground in repentance and your hands lifted up for mercy, to receive from Him what you need the most - and given in those wonderful words: I forgive you all your sins.

And the gate of the Temple is now here, at this table, where the risen and living Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, the new food of the new life that starts now and never ends.

And thus just like that lame man, you have been raised to a new life. He was over forty years old when it happened to him - for some of you it may have been forty days, forty hours, or even forty minutes after your birth; for others maybe more than forty years. But no matter how old or young, it is the same Jesus, the same power of His resurrection, His same mercy and forgiveness given to us sinful beggars, that we may have - and live - a new life.

And that new life is what John is encouraging in his letter, the Epistle that we heard today. He starts out: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. That’s who you are, he says, so don’t go back. Don’t go back to the old, to the sin, to the world, when you have been given what is better; what lasts not just for a time, but for eternity. You are children of God, the most high God, the creator of all things! You are the dead raised, the sinful forgiven, the old made new. You have been raised from doubt to faith, from despair to joy, from captivity to freedom, from fear to confidence. You may look the same and feel the same but you are not the same. You have been raised, just like that once-lame man, to a new life. To have - and live - that new life. That new life from, and in, Christ Jesus.

And so, John says, don’t abide in sin. No one abiding in Christ abides in sin. 

You know, the first time I read that I got the same lump in my throat and stomach as the people in the Temple when they saw the power of Jesus’ resurrection and learned that He was alive. Because I still do sin, in my thoughts, my words, my deeds, my desires. Try as I might not to, I still do. But John said that no one abiding in Him, in Christ, keeps on sinning. So does that mean . . .

But then I read earlier in this same letter from John: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1:8). And then: If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1:10). And then I remembered the struggle of St. Paul, when he said: For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:19). And he got so frustrated with himself that he finally said: Ach! Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death (Romans 7:24)

That sounds like just at that moment it was Paul at the gate to the Temple, eyes down and hands up. He was a sinful, spiritual beggar who needed a new life, just like us. And then he points us to the answer, just like Peter and John did to the lame man that day and to the people in the Temple that day: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25)!

The new life that we need Jesus is alive and here to give. Not so that we can abide and remain in sin, as if sin doesn’t matter and Jesus’ forgiveness means I have a “Get out of hell free” card in my back pocket, and so I get to continue to do whatever I want, all the sin I want. No, John says, that’s not who you are anymore. That’s not the new life and new heart and new mind Jesus has given you. We’ll fall into sin, no doubt about that. As long as we have this sinful flesh there will be times when temptation gets the better of us, and even when sin just impulsively bursts out of us. But we’ll not abide there, won’t stay there, ‘cause that’s the stuff of death, not life. 

You see, John’s words there are prescriptive, not descriptive. Children of God, he says, don’t remain in sin, don’t abide in sin. Don’t stubbornly stay there. Instead, when sin knocks us down, once again lower your eyes and put up your hands, and say: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. And He is. Always ready to forgive, always ready to raise us up again with His life, always ready to restore and refresh us. To set us free again, that we live the new life He has given us, forgiving, serving, and giving, in the places He has put us, in the callings He has given to us.

And maybe, just maybe even making a commotion once in a while, like those disciples after Jesus appeared to them alive, and like that once-lame man so filled with joy. For your Saviour is alive! His resurrection is powerful, and He has raised you to a new life. Your sin cannot condemn you, satan cannot have you, and the grave will not be able to hold you. Things will not always go your way in this world and life, but you have a God and Saviour who has promised to be with you through it all, to keep and preserve and provide for you, and to bring you to everlasting life. Is that not a reason to leap and rejoice? Is that not a joy to share with others? Is that not a life worth living? Indeed it is! 

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!
Risen with life for you.

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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Easter Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“From Despair to Joy”
Text: Exodus 15:1-18; Luke 24:13-35

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

The reading from Exodus that we just heard is the song of joy sung by the nation of Israel after the Lord led them safely through the Red Sea.

Mere hours before, they had been camped on the western shore of the Red Sea, and they were in despair. For on that shore was Egypt. And not just Egypt, MAD Egypt! Pharaoh had had a change of heart about letting them go, and pursued the people of Israel with his chariots and horses and the best of his soldiers. So Israel was frightened and in despair. What would happen now? Would they be slaughtered? Would they be taken back to Egypt and made subject to an even harsher slavery? That time on the western shore of the Red Sea was an uncertain and desperate time.

But then they watched with amazement as Moses stretched forth God’s staff over the waters and they miraculously parted, allowing Israel to cross the Red Sea on dry ground. And then once they had crossed, they watched with equal wonder and awe as God closed those waters back up while the Egyptian forces were still crossing, swallowing them up and drowning them. And suddenly, there on the eastern shore, there was nothing but rejoicing and exaltation in their God. What had looked hopeless and like sure defeat, God turned into a great victory and deliverance.

And that is the story of Easter. That the cross which looked hopeless and like sure and utter defeat, God turned into a great victory and deliverance. Delivering us not from the Egyptians, but from a pursuing army far worse - the forces of sin, death, grave, and hell, seeking to enslave and devour us.

But for those two disciples walking back to Emmaus that Easter Sunday night, they were still on the western shore, in despair. For the image of Jesus arrested and bound, of Jesus mocked and whipped, of Jesus strung up on the cross, of Jesus dead and his lifeless body buried, had been seared into their minds. Kind of like that song you hear that sticks in your head and no matter how much you want to get it out, you can’t - that image of the dead Jesus was in their minds, and they couldn’t get it out. There on the western shore, the enemy had won. Death had won. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. But all we see is that Pilate, the Jews, and the grave have won. And all is lost.

So Jesus comes to them. He doesn’t let them recognize Him at first. He wants to lead them through the Sea, as it were, from despair to hope, a hope based on the Word and promises of God. And so, Luke tells us, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. Jesus teaches them that things had not gone horribly wrong, as it looked and as they thought, but that this was God’s plan all along. He teaches them that the cross is not a place of defeat, but victory, He teaches them that God is greater than their fear and despair, and to put their confidence and trust not in what the see, feel, or think, but in the Word and promises of God alone. That alone is our infallible guide. And as they listened and learned, they say later, their hearts burned within them. Burned with the fire of faith and hope, enkindled by the Word of God and the Spirit that works through that Word.

And then Jesus has one more surprise for them - He opens their eyes and allows them to see who He really is. That though they did not know it, Jesus had been there with them all along. And He would continue to be with them, now and forever, in the breaking of the bread, which is Luke’s name for the Lord’s Supper. And right at that moment, those two disciples had arrived on the eastern shore. They crossed over from death to life, from despair to hope, from doubt to faith, from sadness to joy. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they sang the Song of Moses and Israel from Exodus all the way back to Jerusalem. For they knew that Christ was risen! He had won.

And that is the source of our joy as well. How often we are like those two disciples, like Israel on the western shore. We look around and all we see is doom and gloom. Problems, troubles, pains. Our friends betray us and sin against us, nothing seems to be going right, all I get is grief. My own sins won’t leave me alone and Jesus sometimes seems a million miles away. 

But our God specializes in turning defeat into victory, into taking us through our seas of trouble to the shore of triumph and rejoicing. That is what Easter is all about. That in Jesus, we have been delivered from all that threatens us. Our sins have been forgiven, our graves have been opened, our death has been defeated, hell has been invaded, and satan has been crushed. All by Jesus in His death and resurrection. And if that’s true - and it is! - then what can man do to me? What do I need fear? Why do I despair? The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. For Christ is risen! He has won. And for you, His baptized and beloved child, there is nothing He won’t do for your good.

Maybe, though, like those two disciples, He’ll keep your eyes closed for a while and prevent you from seeing, so He can teach you and strengthen your faith. But if He does, joy comes in the end, when He enables you to see. When you look back and see that even in your most fearful and desperate times, you had nothing to fear and He had been with you all along. 

And if you’re not in that situation, maybe you are one who can hurry back to Jerusalem and help those who still are. Take the message of Jesus’ victory over all our enemies to those still on the western shore, still stuck in sin and despair, and given them hope. Speak God’s Word and promises to them, and point them to their Saviour. Don’t worry if you don’t see results - that’s not your job. The Word does its work. The Spirit enkindles faith and makes hearts burn. You just take your joy to them and show them life on the eastern shore - the joy of our Lord’s salvation. The joy of living in His promises. The confidence that we have in Him. 

For that is what Easter is all about, long after the bunnies and baskets have been put away and the candy eaten. For still Jesus is revealing Himself to us in the breaking of the bread, in His Supper, and giving us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And He won’t stop, until He leads us through this life to the shore of the next, His heavenly kingdom, the promised land with the feast that has no end. 

So as we sang earlier:
Let us give praise to Him with endless joy;
Death’s fearful sting He has come to destroy.
Our sin forgiving, alleluia! 
Jesus is living, alleluia! (LSB #466, refrain)

For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
Alleluia!

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


Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“I Know That My Redeemer Lives!”
Text: Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives (LSB #461) we just sang. We know . . . but those women did not. They went that morning looking for a dead body; expecting a dead body - a corpse which still needed its final preparation for a proper burial, for there hadn’t been enough time on Friday. Everything happened so suddenly they didn’t even have the spices at that time. Now they had bought them and went to that awful place. 

They didn’t know how they would get to that body - who would roll that enormous stone away, or even if the soldiers would allow such a thing. Even when they get there and find the stone already rolled away, and an angel, appearing as a young man sitting in the tomb tells them the good news of the resurrection, they were too confused to rejoice; they were too astonished to understand or think straight. They simply did not know what was happening or how to put all the pieces together. Death they knew, death gripped their minds and hearts, death and its sadness and grief.

You’ve been there. You know exactly what they were going through. When you get that phone call telling you a loved one has died. When you stand at the side of a hole in the ground and watch your loved one lowered into it. When you hear of another massacre of Christians in the name of a false god. Death grabs you by the throat. Sometimes its sudden and sometimes drawn out. Sometimes its expected and sometimes not. Sometimes the dead one is old and wrinkled and sometimes so young. But it always grabs you by the throat. Like those women, death we know, death grips us, death surrounds us, death and its sadness and grief.

But today we look death in the face - death in all its horrible, destructive terror - and say: I know that my redeemer lives! As those women and the disciples would soon come to realize, Jesus’ tomb was empty not because some grave robber or gardener had come and taken His lifeless body somewhere else, but because death could not hold Him. Death could not hold the one who (as Isaiah said) swallowed up death. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and so when Jesus paid the wages of sin in full, atoned for sin in full, then death was stripped of its power and Jesus rose to life again. Death is no longer the terrible, final, unconquerable end for all men and women - it is now a servant of Jesus Christ!

Should the women and disciples have known this? At least of Jesus’ resurrection? Perhaps. This was all in accordance with the Scriptures, Paul said. Predicted and spoken of in the Old Testament. The resurrections of the dead foreshadowed this. The sign of Jonah pointed to this. The Psalms and Isaiah and other prophets spoke of this. Jesus Himself told His disciples three times that He would die and rise again (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). This was God’s plan all along, now, finally, accomplished. Sin, death, grave, satan, and hell all now lay defeated. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

And so notice how St. Paul now talks of death. He says that Christ died and was buried, but after that he says that now some have fallen asleep. For that’s what death is for us now. It’s finality defeated it has been transformed into a sleep for us. And so as we sing in one of the evening hymns in our hymnal: Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed (LSB #883 v. 3). When you’re united to Jesus, you fall asleep in death and wake up in Paradise. 

And you are united to Jesus. For as we remembered last night, your baptism united you to Christ in His death and resurrection. He joined you in your death to provide for you a resurrection. And He promised it to you in those waters when He gave you His forgiveness and promised you everlasting life. And so when faced with death you can say: I am baptized! Death does not own me, Christ does. I am baptized! Death is not the end, life is. I am baptized! My sin cannot condemn me for Christ forgives me. I am baptized! And there is no hell strong enough, no grave deep enough, and no devil terrible enough to separate me from my Redeemer. I know that my Redeemer lives! His grave is empty, and so will mine be.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives, the hymnwriter then added. Comfort not only to face death but to live life. To live not afraid of what tomorrow may bring into my life, but knowing that if I have a Redeemer, a Saviour, who has taken care of my greatest need, then He will be with me in all my other needs as well. Or as we’ve been praying in the Great Litany all through the season of Lent: In all time of our tribulation and in all time of of our prosperity (LSB p. 288). Now we usually don’t think of needing our Saviour’s help in our times of prosperity, though we may acknowledge Him as the Giver of such times and gifts. But maybe it is especially at those times that we need Him and His presence most of all, for how easily can ease and comfort and wealth and success cause us to forget about Him and cause us to cling to these things as false gods; as if our lives depended on them

But as we remember today, our lives depend on no one but Christ alone. Our life now and our life forever. Our life from birth and our life after death. Or again, as the hymnwriter put it: He lives and grants me daily breath; He lives, and I shall conquer death (v. 7).

Daily breath. He gives it and one day He will take it away. He is the Lord and Giver of life, we confess in the Creed - only He. We think we are. We try to control it. We want to define how we live and when we die. But that is not up to us. Your Lord created you here and now, to be His blessing to those around you, and in His time He will close your eyes in the sleep of death, gather you to Himself, and give you rest. His empty tomb preaches that to us today. For it wasn’t Pontius Pilate, the Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, or the sealed tomb that had control of Jesus’ life and death. He did. He had the authority to lay down his life, and He had the authority to take it up again (John 10:18)

And because He did lay down His life for you on the cross and today take it up again in His resurrection, you have nothing to fear. That was the message of the angel to the women: Do not be alarmed, though they were. And we sometimes are too, and how much joy and life that fear robs us of! Jesus has come to restore that joy and life, that no matter what this world and life throw at you, no matter how difficult things become, no matter what doubt, despair, or uncertainty descend upon you, you can look it all in the face, in its terrible face, and say: I know that my Redeemer lives!

And one day, you and me, we’re going to be like Israel when they arrived at the eastern shore of the Red Sea. On the western side, they were filled with fear and dread because they saw Pharaoh and his chariots and army come to get them. But once they passed through the sea to the other side and looked back and saw the waters of the Red Sea crash down on Pharaoh and his army and utterly wipe them out, they rejoiced with the song we sang in the Introit: 
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
    the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
    and he has become my salvation (Exodus 15:1).

That’s our song - of faith - now, because of Christ’s triumph. But one day, when we get to the other side of eternity, we’re going to look back and see how Christ has completely swallowed up all our enemies. And that truly, all along, we had nothing to fear. 

And that you might the more confidently believe that, your Lord comes to you today, here in His Body and Blood for you to eat and drink. Not His dead Body and Blood, but His living Body and Blood, born of the virgin Mary, hung on the cross, laid in the tomb, and now risen from the dead, He puts here for you now by the power of His Word. A feast even better than Isaiah’s rich feast of the best of meats and the finest of wines. Better than any feast to enjoy now for a time. For this is a feast that gives forgiveness of sin, life from the dead, and salvation from the enemy. That you may know. That you may believe. That you may be confident. That you have no fear. That your song - not just on Easter, but each and every day - may be: I know that my Redeemer lives!

I know . . .
For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!]
Yes, He is risen indeed, for you.

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

Vigil Homily

Jesu Juva

“In Between, but Not in Doubt”

Tonight is a night unlike any other. It is a night “between.” We are between Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection to life. We are between the fulfillment of the old and the inauguration of the new. We are now rejoicing in our Saviour’s triumph but not yet in its fullness. We rejoice, and we anticipate an even greater joy.

And so tonight is a perfect night to celebrate baptism. Because our baptism into Christ is what pulls all of this together. In baptism, as we will hear, we are united with Jesus in His death and in His resurrection. It is for the drowning of the old man in us, and the rising of a new man, a new creation. In baptism, we receive Jesus’ triumph over sin, death, and the devil, and begin to live a life that will not end even now . . . but not yet in its fullness or completeness. We rejoice in these baptismal gifts now, and anticipate and even greater joy when our Lord Jesus comes again in glory.

So tonight we’ll feast on the Word of God. More Word tonight than any other service. We’ll hear stories of the old and mark how they teach of us Jesus and how He has made all things new. We’ll remember our baptism and that we wear the sign of the cross. And then we’ll look forward to the feast that awaits us tomorrow, even as we know that feast is but a foretaste of the feast to come.

And so as I remind you each year, we gather tonight in this vigil not to mourn the dead but to await the living. We gather as the wise virgins to await the coming of our bridegroom.

And also each year we hear the same story as the last of all: The three young men in the fiery furnace. It seems to me with each year that goes by how much more timely that story becomes. For just this week some armed thugs in the name of a false god assaulted a college campus in Kenya and basically did the same thing as King Nebuchadnezzar - any who were not willing to bow down to and confess their god were not thrown into a fiery furnace, but shot. Room by room then went in their murderous rage until not three, but nearly 150 lay dead.

Yet both the three young men, and the nearly 150 young men and women, knew this: that whether they died or not, their Saviour, our Saviour, would deliver them. Whether the flames burn or not, whether the bullets hit their targets or not, our Lord is greater than any king, weapon, or threat on this earth. Our Saviour is greater than even death itself.

That is what those three young men made known to King Nebuchadnezzar that day, and what we make known still today. And while the Lord took them through those flames that day, one day later died. Was it from flames or sword or old age? We do not know. But the Lord was no less faithful then as He was that day in the fiery furnace. For though they died, yet shall they live. Our Lord was with them still and took them with Him through death to life again.

And it is so for us. Our Lord is with us and protecting us from danger and harm every day, but one day we too will die. Whether it be from flames or bullet, knife or old age, we know not. But this we know: even then our Saviour will be with us, taking us through death and to our rest and life eternal. Our Lord is faithful and He will do it. He promised us so in baptism, He strengthens us in that promise with His absolution, He feeds and strengthens us with His Body and Blood, and the flames of hell stand no chance against those great gifts.

So let us hear now the Word of God. Listen in all these words for Jesus, how they all point to and talk of Him. Hear of His goodness and faithfulness, now and forever. And know that He is all this for you. Until the not yet becomes the now when our Bridegroom appears and takes us into the feast and joy that has no end.

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


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Good Friday Evening

Jesu Juva

“His Love for You”
Text: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 2 Corinthians 4:14-21;
John 19:17-30

If you were God, if you were almighty and could do anything, what would you do? Tonight, we see how God chose to use His power - to die for you.

Is that not a most remarkable statement? Perhaps we hear it so much we’re used to it. But realize again tonight what exactly we are marking - that the God who is so powerful, so great, and so mighty, who created all there is simply by His Word, who holds all time and all life in His hands, freely chooses to become weak for you and die. And not just die, but to die your death. A sinner’s death. A criminal’s death. A most agonizing and humiliating death. Everyone’s death, that everyone may live.

Could He have chose to use His power to simply wipe out what He had created? Yes. He did somewhat once with a flood. But to wipe out all . . . His love would not let Him do. You see, that’s the thing. In this world you have those who are mighty but not loving - we call them tyrants. You have those who are loving but not mighty. But when you combine all power with perfect love, you have God. The God of life. The God of the cross.

And so we remembered at Christmas His weak and humble birth. As He grows, He accepts the weakness and limitations of man - hunger, thirst, sorrow, temptation, rejection. Then in loving and willing weakness He allows Himself to be arrested and cruelly abused, as Isaiah said tonight: despised and rejected by men, and stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He who holds all universes in His hands is crushed for our iniquities, and He doesn’t even speak in defense or objection. Oh how we and our world today would cry out! The unjustness and unfairness! Trying to get what we can. Not Him. He will give - give Himself for us. He will be weak with us. He will be low with us. He will die with us. And Jesus is never so strong as when He is hanging on the cross in loving weakness, for you. 

And with His death He reconciles you to God. You and all people, alienated from God by sin. For as St. Paul said, He became [that] sin for us. Another most remarkable statement that we perhaps do not appreciate the enormity of. He became sin, the sin of all the world, and the sin offering, the perfect lamb and the scapegoat. All your sins on Him, and then He pays their wages: It is finished, and He bows His head and hands over the Spirit, His Spirit. To you.

And so, Paul says, the love of Christ controls us. This love. It is not fear of a powerful God that controls us, but the love of Christ, the love of God become weak for us. The love so lavishly poured out for us in all His life and in His passion and death, as the readings, hymns, and even the darkness, so abundantly portray for us tonight.

And yet how often does the love of Christ not control us. When we lose sight of this love of the cross, when we take our eyes off of it, and go our own way. Our sinful way, when we are controlled not by the love of Christ, but by laziness, rebellion, stubbornness, selfishness, despair, doubt, and our love for the things of this world. 

And so we gather this night to repent of all that and to see once again the sacrifice that atoned for all those sins, every single one, none excluded, and so gives us hope and life and the love that we need. The sacrifice of the 
Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer, 
Ever patient and lowly, [Him]self to scorn didst offer.
All sins [He] borest for us, Else had despair reigned o’er us:
Have mercy on us, O Jesus! O Jesus! (LSB #434)

And He does, have mercy. For He hangs there on the cross not because of some miscarriage of justice and not because of the control of the Romans or the envy and hatred of the Jews, but because He is merciful; beause He is giving Himself for you; because He lays down His life for you; because He loves you. Powerfully.

Powerful tonight His word of forgiveness.
Powerful tonight His word promising Paradise.
Powerful tonight His leaving His mother to the care of His disciples, that leaving Father and mother He hold fast to His Bride, you.
Powerful tonight His cry of forsakenness for you.
Powerful tonight His thirst for your salvation
Powerful tonight He finishes His course.
Powerful tonight He entrusts Himself to His Father and breathes His last.

This is not the end of His life, though. He will live again. On the contrary, this is the end of the power of our sin, the end of our condemnation, the end of our death. This is the beginning of the new creation, for the seed that falls into the ground and dies arises from the ground to grow - and is still growing. And we, baptized into Him, grafted as branches into Him, the true vine, are new creations in Him. His forgiveness and love controlling us, that if we could do anything . . . we would do as He did: lay down our lives for others, those God has brought into our lives, who need our love.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us now hear again His loving words spoken from the cross. Powerful words. Not really His last words, for His third day is coming and He will speak again. 

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


Good Friday Noon: The Way of the Cross


The Way of the Cross


I. In the Garden

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)


Meditation:
        The time had come. Jesus had just celebrated His last Passover with His disciples in the upper room. They had eaten the Passover lamb, but the real Passover Lamb was about to be sacrificed - on the cross. The Old Testament was being fulfilled and coming to an end and the New Testament was now beginning. So even as they ate the old meal, Jesus gave them the new one - the Supper of His Body and Blood. Now the time had come for Him to give His life for the life of the world.

It would not be easy. For though He was God, yet Jesus was also a true man, and faced all the trials and troubles, the temptations and fears that we go through. And He was about the drink a cup that none of us could drink - the cup that contained the entire world’s sin, the entire world’s shame and disgrace, he entire world’s rebellion and curse - from the greatest evils to our petty everyday sins. He would drink the cup of God’s wrath and judgment against them all, all the way down to the dregs. Think of the fear we have of even one of our sins being found out. Jesus took them all.

And so what does He do? What does He do in the face of such an enormous sacrifice? He prays to His Father. He prays the prayer He taught us to pray, saying Thy will be done. He could have escaped; but He will not. His Father’s will was His will. His love for His Father and for you is too great. For this He was born. For this He was baptized. To the cross He would go.

And we too, when faced with trials and temptations, struggles, doubts, and fears, can pray as Jesus prayed. Because joined to Him, His Father is Our Father. Because of Jesus, the sin that separated us from God separates us no more. But what is even greater, just as Jesus prayed then, so He is praying now - for you. For you in your trials and temptations, your struggles, doubts, and fears. He prayed alone, but you never do.


II. Faithful and Faithless

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. Now the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:57-75)

Meditation:
There were two trials going on here . . . at the same time. One official, the other unofficial. One where the only testimony was false testimony, the other where people spoke the truth. One where the truth is told, the other where it is denied. One in the council, the other in a courtyard. One where the innocent is declared guilty, the other where the guilty runs away. Jesus will not save Himself. Peter, gripped with fear, thinks of nothing else.

But did Peter save Himself? Had not Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it” (Mark 8:35). So what have you done Peter? Have you really saved your life, or lost it?

Then the rooster crowed. It preached to Peter. He realized what he had done and wept bitterly. Jesus had, in compassion, arranged it that way, to call Peter to repentance. For to forgive Peter is why Jesus would not save Himself. And also to forgive you and me. For the times we deny, when we run away, when we think only of our own lives and reputations, when we are afraid of the truth. 

Think of Peter - one moment, he was drawing his sword in the face of Roman soldiers coming to arrest Jesus, and the next moment he is cowering in fear before a servant girl. Isn’t that a description of us? Bold one moment and afraid the next? Faithful one moment and doubting the next? So let us also be like Peter in weeping and repentance for our sin. And not rely on ourselves, but on Jesus. For just as Jesus looked upon Peter in compassion, so He looks upon us. For He would not have any sinner perish, but all turn to Him and live. So that not when the rooster crows, but when the final trumpet shall sound, we will rejoice to see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. And be saved by Him who would not save Himself.

Hymn #435  “Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain”


III. Condemnation

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. (Matthew 27:1-2, 11-26)  

Meditation:
The Son of God is traded for a murderer. The Son of God is condemned to die, while the murdered is set free. It doesn’t seem right. And it’s not. For sin has turned everything upside-down. 

And yet, this is right. For here is a picture of exactly what Jesus has come to do - take our place as a criminal on the cross. He came to trade places with the worst murderers, the worst thieves, the worst abortionists, the worst pedophiles, the worst terrorists, the worst liars, the worst hypocrites, the worst adulterers, idolaters, and cheats - to trade places with you. To die in your place, that you may be set free and live. And this He has done. Barabbas represents you and me.

And so the Son of God takes our place; the cross is what we deserve. And by faith, we take His place. By faith, we are forgiven and made sons of God. By faith, we receive a throne, not a cross, and life, not death.

But there is something else that is said here. The people call out: “His blood be on us and on our children!” They meant that they would take the guilt for this. But Jesus turns this upside-down as well! For in laying down His life, He takes all guilt. His blood on us will be for us not a condemning, but a cleansing flood. His blood sprinkled on us in Baptism and Absolution, and given to us in His Supper now washes away our sin and guilt. And this forgiveness is for all - even those who shouted crucify that day, and who called for Barabbas. Jesus sheds His blood for all. Yes, let His blood be on us and on our children, yes! Let us receive the forgiveness of the one who took our place, and shout His praises.


IV. Bearing the Cross

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. (Matthew 27:27-32)

Meditation:
What did Jesus think? What did He think when they throw an old scarlet military cloak over his shoulders and back, so raw from flogging? What did He think when they twisted a crown of thorns and pressed it down over His head? What did He think they gave Him a mock scepter, spit in His face, and kneel down in fun before Him? If they only knew to whom they were doing this! What did He think? He loved them. He desired to lead them to God. He wanted them to be forgiven. And perhaps some were. Perhaps some of these same soldiers were the ones who, when Jesus died, confessed: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

What love Jesus has, even in the face of hate. That is His love for you, O sinner, as well. For when we sin, are we any better, any different, than these soldiers?

Then when the soldiers were finished and tired of their game, they lead Him away to crucify Him. And they force a man named Simon to carry His cross. Was Simon just in the right place at the right time? Or was it the wrong place at the wrong time? After this, we are not told anything more about this Simon, or what effect this day had on his life. But perhaps this is no accident. Perhaps here we are to think of ourselves. For, the Scriptures tell us the cross will come into our lives as well - God laying it upon each of us, not as punishment, but to teach us and train us in the faith. To compel us to bear the burdens of others in love. To kill the old, sinful men in us, and conform us to the image of Christ. In this way, the cross is not a burden, but a gift. A loving God working good in us, just as with that first cross there was a loving God working good for us. That we too confess Him as the Son of God, our Saviour of love.

Hymn #426  “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”


V. Weeping and Mocking

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. (Matthew 27:33-44)

Meditation:
They took His clothes and divided them. This loving God, who clothed His naked and shamed children in the Garden of Eden, and who clothes us now with His righteousness, would hang in naked shame upon the cross.

Then they hang the charge above His head: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Quite right. And this was not the first time Israel had rejected her King. After God had given them the Promised Land, they pleaded through the prophet Samuel for God to give them a king just like all the other nations. God was their true king, but with Him they were not satisfied. Yet though they reject Him, God does not reject them. Though they are faithless, He is faithful. Now, when Jesus comes as their King, they reject Him again. We have no king but Caesar! they said. Really? But let us not look down on them; we too are guilty of this. For all sin is rejecting God as our King, and putting ourselves on the throne instead. The Shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.

And so He hangs, a naked, rejected King, His throne a cross, His attendants two criminals. And He would not come down. For this was necessary. It was necessary for this Temple of God in human flesh to be destroyed, so that it could be raised three days later! He would not come down. He could; He won’t. He remains faithful, even unto death. He would trust God to deliver Him. For if He had come down, the door to glory and life would be shut to us forever. But Jesus had come to open the door of the grave. To open the door of Paradise. For you.

VI.  Dying Prayer

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” (Matthew 27:45-49)

Meditation:
The pain grew worse as time went on. The nails sending piercing waves of pain through His body. As He hangs, bones strain against tendons and ligaments, and each breath is harder and harder to gain. But greater than any physical pain is the sin of the world, now bearing heavy upon Him. Your sin and mine.

Now the darkness descends, and Jesus cries out to His Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is not a cry of desperation, but a prayer of faith. For in the midst of His pain, Jesus turns to the Word of God that has been on His lips and in His heart all His life - the psalms. So that even as He is forsaken, with the sin of the world upon Him, yet He knows God is His Father and is faithful and hears His prayer.

We cannot comprehend this moment of the cross; what Jesus was going through. We cannot comprehend it because He endures it so that we never will. And we never do. Though it may seem at times as if we are forsaken of God, stricken, smitten, and afflicted by Him, we are not. Though it may seem at times as if God doesn’t see our need, or care about our hurt, or hear our prayer - He does. Though God sometimes tests us, He never forsakes us. There is no reason for Him to. Jesus endured this for us, so now, for us, is only the love and mercy of our heavenly Father.

This we believe. Not what we see, not what we feel, not what seems to be happening in our world or lives. This we believe - the Word of our Lord from the cross. For His Word is truth. 

Hymn #420 (vs. 1-3)  “Christ, the Life of All the Living”


VII. Death and Burial

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:50-61)

Meditation:
The prophet Isaiah says an interesting thing. He says that Jesus’ resting place will be glorious (Is 11:10). Which sounds quite strange, for graves aren’t glorious. Graves are terrible. They are monuments of sin and separation. They are places of sadness and grief, not glory.

That is how Joseph and the women felt, as Joseph did one last loving deed for Jesus. How heavy their hearts must have been as they took Jesus’ lifeless body down from the cross, wrapped Him, and laid Him in the tomb. That’s always the hardest part - the last part, the laying our loved one in the ground. It is so final and there is nothing after that.

Except for Jesus! For Jesus’ tomb will be glorious, for it is truly only His resting place, and soon it will be empty. His body will rest on the Sabbath Day, fulfilling it once and for all. A day of rest after the violent struggle against sin He did in our place. But then He will rise to life again, victorious over sin, satan, death, and the grave! He will burst the bonds so powerful over us, and leave them tattered and destroyed in His resurrection. Just as He said He would. 

And just as He promised, we, too, will rise from the dust of death. We, too, will rise victorious on the last day. For as Jesus went through death to life again, so will He take with Him all who belong to Him through death to life again. And that day will be a glorious day, when all sorrow and sadness flees, replaced by joy and praise.

It is finished, Jesus said when He died (John 19:30). Truly, it is finished. All that is needed for our forgiveness, our life, our salvation has been done. Our Saviour has redeemed us and there is now nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39). On this Good Friday, we remember that. On this Good Friday, we celebrate that. That this is not a day of defeat, but of victory. Sin, death, and hell have done their worst, but have lost - and we have won. 


And so to our Saviour Jesus Christ, our Great Redeemer, be all glory, honor, and worship, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. AMEN.