Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Resurrection of Our Lord (April 21-26, 2014)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: John 20:29b – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #458  “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”
Hymns for Sunday: 458, 471, 637, 467, 472 (tune: 426), TLH 202

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

Monday:  Exodus 15:1-18
What did this song celebrate? How does it also point us to the work and victory of Jesus for us?

Tuesday:  Acts 13:26-33
How are Paul’s words a model for every Christian sermon?

Wednesday:  John 21:1-14
How does Jesus provide for His disciples? Had He done this before? Why is it important to do it again now?

Thursday:  Acts 5:29-42
What gave the disciples their great courage? How had Gamaliel’s words in v. 39 just been fulfilled?

Friday:  1 Peter 1:3-9
What does Peter say Jesus’ resurrection means for you?

Saturday:  John 20:19-31
What does Jesus give the disciples? What does He then tell them to give? How will they do this?


The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Third Petition – Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also. How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the joy of Jesus’ resurrection to come to all people in faith.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance, for our congregational treasurer, Carris Vondal.
+ the Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our synod’s Board for International Mission.
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!

The Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Angel and the Word of Life”
Text: Matthew 28:1-10 (Acts 10:34-43; Exodus 15:1b [Introit])

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.

There’s an angel again, at the tomb. A messenger of God. The angels are always around Jesus. There to announce Jesus’ coming to Mary, there at Jesus’ birth, there with Jesus in the wilderness, there with Jesus in His agony in Gethsemane, and now at His empty tomb. They would have been there with Jesus to prevent His arrest. For Jesus had told His disciples: Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53)? But He did not make such an appeal. Better the one angel at the empty tomb than twelve legions preventing it. Better for us. Jesus had come for this battle, the battle of the cross. The battle against sin, darkness, death, devil, and all the forces of hell. To fight this battle alone. Himself. 

And for a time, it seemed as if the forces of hell had won. Even though Jesus had told His disciples numerous times that He would be killed but rise again on the third day, seeing Jesus on the cross, then seeing His lifeless body being taken down and then laid in a tomb made it tough to remember such words. Or if they remembered them, to believe them. For as you well know, death and graves are so cold and dark and sad and final . . .

So it was in that sad numbness of heart and mind that the women went to the tomb that first day of the week. It must have been a joyless Passover for them, the day before; a just going through the motions. Perhaps like that first holiday you go through after a loved one has died. You do all the same things, the same traditions, but it’s not the same. There’s a hole, a void, a certain aching joylessness that’s hard to overcome. So it probably also was with the women . . . until they got to the tomb.

For they’re not the only ones there. Oh, the guards they expected, but not the angel! And they expected dead Jesus, not guards that had become like dead men! This was a most unusual and unexpected scene. 

But notice: the women did not tremble and become as dead like the guards. Yes, the guards who were the trained soldiers, who were the brave and hardened ones, who were ready to fight and die for their country, trembled. But we are not told the women did. Why not? What was the difference between the soldiers and the women that caused such different reactions?

The Word of God.

The angel who descended from heaven and caused the earth to quake, whose appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow, came down and sat on the gravestone and said nothing to the guards. He just sat there in His awesomeness and they were terrified. 

But to the women - who saw the same thing as the guards - the angel spoke. He spoke the Word of God. Do not be afraid, he said. It’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay! For I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, he has risen, as he said. And though they still have fear - who wouldn’t at such a sight? - it is not the paralyzing fear of the soldiers - it is fear with great joy. For they do not just see what they do not understand - they hear the Word of God. They hear the good news that Christ is risen! They hear the Word of God that gives life and the good news that gives joy.

And so it is for us still today. Without the Word of God, if God were to remain silent, there is only confusion, fear, and death. But with the Word of God, with the good news of a resurrected Saviour and His victory over sin, darkness, death, devil, and all the forces of hell, there is joy and life. It is the Word of God that makes all the difference in the world. The Word of God made flesh that did it. And the Word of God that proclaims that truth now to us. That Jesus has gone before us in the fight, the incarnate God goes through death and to life again, and so you need not be afraid. 

For as the angel once said: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. All people, for as Peter said: God shows no partiality. Or as Paul put it: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor 15:22). So good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:10-12).

Just as the angel once announced that, so now he announces (and I paraphrase): Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is risen this day from the grave a Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign for you, you will see him no longer wrapped in grave cloths and lying in a tomb - he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.

And this is the message that is proclaimed to you today, to give you joy and life. 

That when your sin weighs heavy upon you and you feel its awful, condemning weight, you hear the message: Jesus is risen! Your sin is forgiven.

That when the darkness of despair, or loneliness, or hopelessness, or suffering seems to be engulfing you, you hear the message: Jesus is risen! He lives to give you hope and light and love.

That when death suddenly appears on your doorstep coming for you or for a loved one, and seems so cold and dark and final, you hear the message: Jesus is risen! Death has been defeated. The grave could not hold Him, and it cannot hold you.

That when the devil whispers in your ear that you are unworthy, that your sins are too great, that its all a hoax, all a myth, all untrue, you hear the message: Jesus is risen! The tomb is empty. He is victorious.

And that when all the forces of hell and this world seem arrayed against you and your life is a mess and nothing seems to be going right, you hear the message: Jesus is risen! That’s what the cross looked like, too. But I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously. He has triumphed gloriously, for you!

This is the message, this is the Word of God, that makes all the difference in the world. That we not only be no longer afraid to die, we no longer be afraid to live either. And I think that’s sometimes even a bigger problem - being afraid to live. Isn’t that the fear that so gripped the disciples now? And for us, too, so often. Afraid to live in my situation, afraid to live with my suffering, afraid to live with my disease, afraid to live with the bad news I just received, afraid to live when I don’t know what the future holds. Afraid to live with my spouse, afraid to live without my spouse. Afraid to live with my child, afraid to live without my child. Afraid to repent, afraid to forgive, afraid to grow up, afraid to grow old, afraid to leave, afraid to stay, afraid to serve, afraid to give, afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to say the right thing, afraid of the news, afraid of no news, afraid that maybe I’m going to screw it all up . . . or that I already have. 

For you, then, is this message of good news and great joy! Do not be afraid! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! And because He lives, you also shall live. What you fear, whatever you fear, is not greater than He. For He who has defeated all your enemies has promised to see you through whatever comes in this life as well. Even death. Truly, in Christ, you have nothing to fear.

Which doesn’t mean you won’t still have fear. Especially at death. You will. You’re human and your sinful nature is still clinging to you. The women at the tomb still had fear as well - but at the same time, with great joy. Which sounds like our funerals, doesn’t it? Fear and sadness, yet with great joy. That’s faith. Living in a world of sin and death with great joy and hope in Christ Jesus.

And so the women, in their fear and great joy, having heard the Word of God, quickly depart to tell the disciples . . . when another unexpected happens: Jesus meets them. And I must say, our English translation here next is, quite frankly, terrible! It says that Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” The word is actually the word for joy. Rejoice! Be full of joy! He says. And with Him, they are. God’s Word gives what it says. This day has transformed everything. Jesus is full of joy, and so too they. And so too you. You who have heard the message and now meet Jesus in His Supper, not taking hold of His feet like the women, but taking hold of Him by eating His Body and drinking His Blood. For here is where He is for us today, with the same joy, with the same life, with the same love and forgiveness. The you be full of joy. That you be full of life.

And as we do, guess what? The angels are here! But we don’t just hear them now, we sing with them! Singing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth (Isaiah 6:3)! The song of heaven. The song of those raised with Christ in baptism, and who now look forward to our resurrection with Christ to a life that will never end. That’s you. So come and receive the pledge of your Saviour, the forgiveness, life, and salvation given here for you in His Body and Blood.

And then like the women, go and be an angel, a messenger of God, to those in trouble, those in fear, those who don’t know. And tell them the joy and hope that you have. That:

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead, 
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 
(John Chrysostom, Easter homily c. 400 AD)

The first-fruits - which means there’s a lot more empty tombs coming! Which means that’s the future of your tomb as well. For this is our triumph day! This is our day of joy and life! For yes: Alleluia! 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.

Easter Vigil Meditation

Jesu Juva
“The Night of Victory”

We get lots of God’s Word tonight, as we gather not to mourn the dead but to await the living. Some of this word is familiar, some is not. Some is long, some is short. But in all of it we hear of God’s goodness - creating, saving, providing, gathering, and delivering. And that’s what we celebrate this night. For all the Word of God points to and proclaims and finds it’s fulfillment in the mystery of this night: the Passover of our Lord. His passing over from death to life, so that we who were born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) might live as well. Live as we pass over with Him in Holy Baptism, which we also remember and celebrate this night.

For this is the night. The night of our victory. The night which ends all night, for Jesus, the Light of the world (John 8:12) lives, never to die again. 

And maybe it’s the last reading that is always read on this night that really highlights that for us. The story of the three men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3). It’s one of the longer stories, and filled with repetition, as we hear about the king, the satraps, the prefects, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces . . . against just three young men. Not good odds. And what they refused to participate in was come pretty awesome worship. All the people were there, a huge horde, with a grand orchestra: horns, pipes, lyres, trigons, harps, bagpipes, and all kinds of music. It just didn’t get much more impressive than that! And as these things are repeated over and over it gives you the impression of these three young men against the world, against all human reason and pomp and power.

And yet the three young men win. Because with them is another, one who in appearance was like a son of the gods. For He was the Son of God, come to rescue His children from the flames of death and hell.

So it is with us. This is the night. The night we remember, as we confess in the creed, that Jesus descended into hell - not as part of His suffering, but as part of His victory. That like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we fear not the power and flames of death and hell, and like Job, know that our Redeemer lives. And that against Him, all human, all worldly, all demonic reason and pomp and power is nothing. 


So we rejoice this night, the Church with the angels and all creation, in the triumph of our King. We will feel and smell once again the oil of gladness in our baptismal remembrance, and we will sound forth our Alleluia once again. For this is most good, right, and salutary. This is the night. The night the light breaks the darkness, life breaks death, and the separated are reconciled. Thanks be to God!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday Evening Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Love So Amazing, So Divine”
Text: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; John 19:17-30

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Yes, that is what this day is all about. The mercy of our triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for you. Every deed done, every word spoken by Jesus, filled and dripping with mercy. The mercy of God toward us sinners. The mercy that is ours because the wrath is given to Jesus. He is stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for your transgressions, and crushed for your iniquities. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. To crush His only Son. For you. For you.

Why? 

I will tell you the answer again, but it will be as mysterious now as it was before and has ever been: because He loves you. Not with the kind of love we mostly see in our world today. Love that is an emotion that comes and goes. Love that is really quite about selfishness. No, God’s love is so different than what we see in the world today that there really is only one way to describe it: that He gave His Son for you. That’s a circular argument, I know. But it’s the best we can do. 

But let’s go a little deeper: that’s true no matter who you are. There have been some pretty bad characters in our world, in history. And you? Well, we like to think ourselves not so bad; pretty respectable in the grand scheme of things. Maybe we don’t deserve an A, but not an F either. But really? Think of what you’ve done this past week, or even just today. Think of the anger, the stubbornness, the pride, the refusal to repent, the lust, the despair, the selfishness . . . and more.

When a crowd (of those who I’m sure thought of themselves in much the same way we do) was ready to stone a woman caught in adultery, Jesus said to them: Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7). We should use that same standard today, when we are feeling superior; when we think ourselves and our sin not so bad. But to do so, let me paraphrase Jesus: let whoever among you who thinks he’s not as bad a sinner as someone else be the first to let your every sinful thought, every sinful word, every sinful dream, every sinful act, every sinful desire, every sinful little nugget of your life be broadcast for all the world to see. Who’d like to go first? Not me!

Let that broadcast flash through your mind for a moment . . .  Now you are ready to pray: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. On me, a sinner. On me, a wretch. On me, miserable me.

There was one there that day, though, who could have thrown a stone. He didn’t because soon that stone would be hurled at Him. And all our stones, too. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace. He was made sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Hail Jesus, full of grace. Grace, for you. Mercy, for you. Love, for you. 

Behold the life-giving cross, we said earlier tonight. That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? Crosses didn’t give life, they took life. Except for one. The one on which the perfect one died, the sinless one, the one who should not have died, but did. His death gives life because His death conquers death. Because in His death, Christ was reconciling the world to God. Christ was making things right again and providing the forgiveness of all sins. Every single one. Even all of yours. 

So when you hear Jesus say tonight: Father, forgive them, that’s you. When you hear: Today you will be with me in Paradise, you again. And when you hear: It is finished, that is the beginning of your life. For that is the completion of your salvation, your setting free from your slavery to sin, your slavery to the past, your slavery to past regrets and mistakes. So that at the end of the service tonight, we can sing: Lord, let at last Your angels come, to Abram’s bosom bear me home, that I may die unfearing (LSB #708 v.3), because you know He will; you know they will; you know it’s true. You will not die forsaken - because of Jesus, you will die with the angels of God on the ready to bear you home.

So tonight Jesus is glorified. He is not shamed - man is shamed. Look at what we’ve done! Look at what we’ve done to the Lord of life. 

But tonight, Jesus is glorified. And glorifies you. The blood that flows from Him washing you clean, and the Spirit He breathes out in death breathing new life into you. 

So look upon Him tonight, and in His death see your death. And then as we celebrate His resurrection, see in His life your life. A life that will never end.

Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend. And I will praise Thee without end (LSB #708 v.3).


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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Noon Meditations

The Way of the Cross


I. In the Garden  (John 18:1-11)

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

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Meditation

Peter, why did you draw the sword? Didn’t you see what just happened? The first time Jesus said “I AM,” Judas and the band of soldiers and the officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees - the whole crowd with their lanterns and torches and weapons fell to the ground. At simply Jesus’ word, His powerful word, they could not stand. They could not do anything. All earthly weapons are useless against the powerful Word of God.
But then it happens again. The hunters want their prey. But this time, there is no falling down. And it can be for one reason only: Jesus allows it to be so. He allows them to seize Him and bind Him. Even these cords, like Samson of old, He could have easily broken off and set Himself free. But He will not. For He will drink the cup the Father has given Him. And what cup is that? The cup of God’s wrath against the sin of the world. And He would rather drink it than we drink it. He takes our place, that we may be let go. That we may be forgiven.
So you see Peter? To draw your sword and fight is to lose. For Jesus to die is to win. That is your victory. You do not understand that now, but you will. You will.

It is a hard lesson to learn, though. For how often are we like Peter, relying on the weapons of this world rather than the strong and powerful Word of God? Put your swords away. Put your anger away, your revenge away, your hatred away, your bitterness away, and instead forgive. Forgive as you have been forgiven. For still today, the powers of this world cannot stand against the Word of God. Satan and his minions still fall at the word of Christ. That is our weapon. 

Jesus, the great I AM, the almighty God in the flesh, now gives Himself into the hands of sinners. For you. For them. For the life of the world. And not one of His own will be lost. Not then. Not ever.



II. Before the High Priest  (John 18:12-14, 19-24)

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

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Meditation

Jesus spoke openly to the world. In the day, in the light, no secrets, no subversion. He had nothing to hide. He was all truth, all the time. It was, in fact, the ones questioning Him that were being secretive and in hiding. They have Jesus arrested at night, under the cover of darkness. They call an illegal meeting of the council at night, in secrecy. They want to get rid of Jesus in the easiest and most expedient way. That’s what Caiaphas had said after all: it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. They question Him, but it’s a ruse; they have really already made up their minds.

But even more than this, Jesus doesn’t just do everything in the light, He IS the light of the world (John 8:12). But those who love the darkness hate the light. Those who do evil will not come into the light. Those who are wicked will seek to extinguish the light. But they will not be able. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). That will be true also while Jesus is hanging on the cross. All three of the other Evangelists tell us that at 12 Noon, when the sun should be at its highest and brightest, there was instead darkness over the whole land. It was the time of darkness, evil, and sin. 

But never did the light of Christ shine brighter than in those moments. Never did His love burn hotter than when He stayed on the cross, suffering for the sin of the world. Suffering for you and your sin. When not the hand of a soldier, but the hand of God would strike Him. Because of you. For you. And this is what He taught in the synagogues and in the temple - that He, the Messiah, would do this very thing. He spoke the truth, and it is fulfilled.


Hymn #437  “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed”



III. The King and His Kingdom  (John 18:33-38)

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

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

Meditation

What is truth? That is a question many ask today. Some ask honestly, truly wanting to know the truth. Some ask skeptically, thinking the truth really unknowable. And some ask mockingly, believing there is not one truth but many truths; or in other words, that the truth is whatever you want it to be. And if that’s so, then the truth really doesn’t matter. The truth is sacrificed on the altar of my desires.
But, Jesus says, the truth is why He was born. The truth is why He has come into the world. To bear witness to the truth. That we may know the truth. That we may know Him. For Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
So there really is truth, Pilate. But are you listening? Are we? Or are our ambitions, our fears, our desires, our pleasures, our wants, making us deaf? Deaf to the truth of God’s Law, deaf to the truth of our sin, deaf to the truth of our Saviour? It happens, doesn’t it? 
The good news is that Jesus gives hearing to the deaf. His Word goes forth from the beginning of creation to the end, that all people may know the truth. The truth that sets us free (John 8:32). The truth that our bondage to sin, our captivity to the grave, and our oppression by the evil one is being broken by our Saviour. Now. That there be a new king, a new ruler. One who does not act in sin and deal in death, but who reigns in peace and promises life. A new king and a new kingdom - not of this world, which is passing away, but a kingdom that will never pass away. 
So yes, Pilate, Jesus is a king. He is, in fact, your king. For He is not just the king of a nation, for a time, but the king of the world, the king of creation. And though you do not know Him now, you will, on that day when every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11a)
That is the truth, Pilate. He is standing right before you.



IV. Condemned  (John 19:1-16a)

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. 

Meditation

When Adam plunged the world into sin, the ground was cursed and would no longer only grow good plants, but now thorns and thistles. Those thorns of sin now adorn the head of God’s Son.
When Adam plunged the world into sin, the hand of brother was raised against brother, as Cain jealously put his brother Abel to death. Now, the hands of sinners are raised against God’s Son.
When Adam plunged the world into sin, he tried to cover himself and hide his shame. Now, God’s Son is arrayed in a mocking purple robe to shame him.
All this, and yet Pilate says: I find no guilt in Him.

Behold the man! Yes, this is the depths to which man has sunk. And in these depths, there is Jesus!
You see, that’s the good news for us today. Do not feel sorry for Jesus. He wants to be there. For you. That’s why He does not speak. That’s why He does not object and proclaim His innocence. The Son of God becomes a son of man and lowers Himself all the way to our depth of sin and death, so that we sons of men might become sons of God and be exalted all the way to the heights of heaven. He takes our place that we have His place. So do not feel sorry for Jesus. Be grateful! And live this new life He has given you. This new life He gave so much to give you.

So finally, Pilate sits down on the judgment seat and passes judgment on Jesus. One day, the tables will be reversed. On the Last Day when Jesus the crucified and glorified will be the one sitting in judgment. But you need not fear that day. For you already know the judgment that will pronounced upon you, child of God. For on that day Jesus will say of you: I find no guilt in Him. For He took all your guilt away. He took it that day to the cross. That even though you die, yet shall you live, in Him, forever.

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



V. On the Cross  (John 19:16b-22)

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

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Meditation

What I have written I have written. In Aramaic, in Latin, and In Greek. So that all could see it and read it and know it. Pilate would not change his sign listing the charges against Jesus just because the Jews didn’t like it. What I have written I have written.

So it is with the Word of God. What is written is written and will be done. Jesus goes just as it is written of Him.

The One promised to Adam and Eve, who would bruise the serpent’s head.
The One promised to Abraham, who would bless all nations.
The One promised to David, who would be an eternal king and sit on the throne forever.
The One prophesied by Isaiah, who would suffer and die for all people.
The One propheised by Hosea, who would rise on the third day.
The One whose way John the Baptist prepared, the angels announced, and the Spirit anointed.
That One now hangs on the cross, going just as it is written of Him.
No longer enthroned in love between the Father and the Spirit, but now hanging in hate and scorn between two criminals.
But here, too, He is enthroned in love. His love for you.

And His work of the cross now written not in three languages, but in a multitude of languages - that all the world may know. Here is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, the Lord of the Church, the Son of God. Dying for you. That in His blood, you and your name be written by Him in the book of life. That on the Last Day, what is written is written and will be done - and you enter into that life that will never end.



VI.  Blessed Words  (John 19:23-27)

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

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Meditation

The Scriptures often speak of Jesus as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. Despite what is being said of and done to marriage in our day and age, it was and is and always will be God’s idea and institution. That a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his bride, and the two become one flesh (Matthew 19:5).
That is what is happening now with Jesus. He left His Father in heaven to become incarnate, to become man. He is now leaving His mother, entrusting her to the care of His disciple. And He is holding fast to His Bride, to you. Holding fast to you in love. 
That’s why He will not come down from the cross. He loves you more than His own life. He will stay, to make His Bride His. To make your sins His. To make your condemnation His. To make your unrighteousness His. To make your faithlessness His. To make your death His. And then also to give you what is His. His atonement yours. His blessing yours. His righteousness yours. His faithfulness and obedience yours. His life yours. For so it is with men and women made one flesh - what’s mine is yours and what’s yours in mine. So it is with you and your bridegroom, made one flesh.
Just before that, the soldiers divided up His clothes - one of the benefits of being on this duty. And one lucky soldier even got the expensive and fine tunic that Jesus wore. But you - you get even better than that. And not just one of you, but all of you. For Jesus has won for you the beautiful wedding dress of His love and righteousness, put upon you in the washing of water with the Word, in Holy Baptism. That you be splendid and glorious, without blemish. Perfect Brides, in perfect love - the perfection and love of Jesus for you, who in His resurrection will take you to His home, to live there, with Him, forever.
Hymn #453 (vs. 1-2, 6-7)  “Upon the Cross Extended”



VII. Death  (John 19:28-37)

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

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Meditation

You don’t hear it in the English, but in the Greek it is there. John wrote that Jesus said “I thirst” in order to fulfill the Scripture. And after receiving the sour wine, Jesus says: “It is finished.” But the Greek word there, translated as finished, is the same word as fulfill. It is finished because all is fulfilled. All the Scriptures have now ben fulfilled. Jesus would not stop, would not die, until they were. Every jot and tittle, every last word. And then, and only then, when they were, when our redemption and salvation was completed, would Jesus bow His head and give up His Spirit.
And then we hear a remarkable thing: that when one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, at once there came out blood and water. Science has offered technical explanations for why that was, but the church has always seen in this a link to the life-giving Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Just as Adam’s wife Eve received her life from his side, so Christ’s Bride, the Church, receives her life from His side. For only in His death is our life. And so in His death come the water and blood that wash us clean from our sins and give us life.
And even here, too, is Jesus not stopping until all is complete, all is fulfilled, all is finished. For still today, the resurrected Jesus is working to save all people. And He does so by giving the benefits of His cross to us in His Word and Sacraments. And He will not stop until it is finished. Until His children from every nation, tribe, people, and language are gathered into His kingdom. And we will look on Him whom they have pierced, glorified, in Paradise.

So we are not sad this day. Serious, yes. Sad, no. We gather in quiet peace and joy. Because we know the meaning of this day. We know this is the day our Saviour made everything good again. This the day of our salvation. So to our Saviour Jesus Christ, we give all thanks and praise. To our Great Redeemer, be all glory, honor, and worship, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. AMEN.

Holy Thursday Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not a Lifeless Calf - A Living Lamb”
Text: Exodus 24:3-11; Hebrews 9:11-22; Matthew 26:17-30
(with a little Exodus 32 thrown in too!)

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

They were fresh out of Egypt, the people of Israel. Not many days had passed when they arrived at Mt. Sinai. Fresh in their minds were the memories of what happens to those who harden their hearts against the Lord. They had seen the desolations carried out through the plagues in Egypt. They had seen Pharaoh and his army drowned in the Red Sea. So when Moses speaks the Word of the Lord to the people, they say yes! All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do. Yes, yes, YES! We don’t want that to be us.

And then Moses throws blood on them. Gross, right? But they had just seen that too. On the doors of their houses in Egypt. That was the blood of the covenant God made with them, that when the angel of death swept through the land, he would not sweep them up in that last and final and greatest plague. And now blood was being splattered and smattered on them. Not on the doors of their houses but on the doors of their hearts. The blood of God’s covenant of peace and fellowship, or communion, with them. 

And thus at peace with God, Moses and Aaron, their assistants, and seventy of the elders of Israel, as representatives of all of Israel, ate and drank with God. Things were good.

And then it all fell apart. Just as quickly as it came, so did this peace and fellowship vanish. They did as Pharaoh had done and hardened their hearts. For when Moses took a little too long up on Mt. Sinai, they built a golden calf - an image of the animal whose blood had just been splattered on them. And the cry went up: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” And they worshipped and sacrificed, and partied and played (a word which probably has sexual overtones) before the image in the name of the Lord (Exodus 32:1-6).

A golden calf. A calf with no blood. But as the author of Hebrews told us tonight: no blood, no forgiveness. And no forgiveness, no fellowship, no communion, with God. And even if it was a image of the animal whose blood had just been splattered on them, that blood could not save. That blood was the blood of a substitute, a foreshadowing of the real blood that would be poured out for the forgiveness of the sin of the world. They got it all wrong, which is what always happens when you depart from the Word of the Lord.

Well the Lord saw what had happened, and so said to Moses: I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them (Ex 32:9-10). But Moses interceded for the people, and so instead of God consuming them, they had to consume their god! Moses had the golden calf ground up into powder, put into water, and had the people of Israel drink it (Ex 32:20). For the anger and vengeance of God was upon the people.

But tonight we remember the beginning of a new covenant. For we are the stiff-necked people. We are the violators of God’s Word. We are the ones who depart from the Word of the Lord and worship gods of our own making. Not golden calves, perhaps, but all kinds of people and things and ideas that become our idols, forbidden images and lusting, fearing, loving, and trusting in what is not the one true God. That’s us - who need to repent. That’s us - who, like the people of Israel, justly deserve the anger and vengeance of God upon our sin. 

But for us, too, the author of Hebrews says, a mediator has stepped in the gap between us and God. Not another Moses, but better - the Son of God Himself. The last and eternal high priest. The last and eternal tabernacle. The last and eternal sacrifice, who would offer up Himself and His blood - the blood of God - for the sin of the world. To purify us body and soul. That we sinners and rebellious ones have peace and fellowship with God, an eternal redemption, and an eternal inheritance.

And the institution of this new covenant happened when all that happened to Israel in the Exodus and at Mt. Sinai was fresh on the minds of the disciples; that day when they would remember how the Lord brought them out of Egypt and saved them from death: the Passover. And Jesus said: this is my blood of the covenant. And they were to drink it - the blood of their God! But now not in vengeance, not as punishment. This blood is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. To restore fellowship and communion with God.

But not just that - He also gave them bread to eat and said this is my body. Just as Israel ate the manna in the desert to sustain them in their journey, so the new Israel would eat this new bread to sustain us in this life. Just as Israel ate the lamb that had shed its blood in Egypt for them to deliver them from death, so the new Israel eats the Lamb of God who shed His blood for us to deliver us from death. New food and drink for a new covenant. A new covenant not just to remember the past, although that is part of it. But a new covenant for here and now. For the present. That we here and now have forgiveness from, and fellowship and communion with, our God. Our God who brought us out of our slavery to sin, passed us through the waters of baptism, and is leading us to the land He has promised us - a promised eternal inheritance in heaven.

And there, we will no longer eat and drink the body and blood of God, of Jesus, as we do here and now. There in eternal peace and rest, we will be as Moses and the others on the top of Mt. Sinai: we will behold God, and eat and drink with Him in His feast that will have no end. 

That is the other part of this meal that we remember and rejoice in tonight. It is a remembrance of the past, and it is a reality for us here and now. But it is also an anticipation of the future - of that feast we are waiting for and are looking forward to in heaven. That time when, as Jesus said, I will drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.

And so truly, this meal bridges the gap of the centuries, between Jesus’ earthly life and the day of His return. It unites us with Christians of all times and places who passed through the waters of baptism with us, and eat and drink this meal with us. But most importantly, it unites us to Christ, for the very same body and blood that hung on the cross is the body and blood now given to us, only with this one difference: it is not a dead body and blood, no carcass or lifeless golden calf - but the real resurrected body and blood of Jesus. His living and glorified body - once dead on the cross, once laid in the tomb, but now living and giving to us the life that we need. Life in the forgiveness of our sins now, and the promise of a life that will never end. 

That is the miracle, the mystery that we ponder this night. And even better, receive. That on the night when He was betrayed, Jesus took bread and took wine, and when He had given thanks, gave us the new covenant in His body and blood. To make us one with Him who made Himself one with us. That eating and drinking this bread and wine, this body and blood in faith, we say now: It is I! I, not the sinner or betrayer, but I, child of God. I, the forgiven. Because of You - the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

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