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The Women's Witness of the Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

    There is a feature of the Easter account that we all know very well, but that we don’t always understand the significance of.  And it is this: the first witnesses of the resurrection were women.  Now with our 21st century ears we hear that, and it doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy.  But in the 1st century this would have really stood out.  For women were not considered to be reliable witnesses.  Jewish rabbis at the time explicitly said that the testimony of a woman, especially in a court of law, was not to be considered valid.  While this was not Jesus’ stance toward women, it was the thinking of the time.  So what can we learn from the fact that in every one of the four Gospels, it is the women who are the primary witnesses of Easter?

    First of all, this helps to authenticate the resurrection of Jesus, that this is a real, historical event and not some legend.  After all, if you were going to make up and invent a story, the last thing you would do at that time would be to give women such a prominent role in your tale.  And, in fact, those who rejected and mocked Christianity in the first century often pointed this out about the Easter story, that it was based in part on the unreliable testimony of hysterical women.  The idea of bodily resurrection was something the first century world already scoffed at, and this feature of the narrative just made it an even easier target for lampooning.  null

    And yet the early Christian church didn’t adjust their story to make it more palatable to the world.  They didn’t take out the part about the women and jump right to the men, to Jesus’ later appearances to the disciples.  No they stood by the women.  They didn’t even photoshop Mary Magdalene out of the picture–the one who, if she wasn’t formerly a prostitute, certainly had a shady past.  And yet there she is, not just in the background but prominently featured particularly in John’s account of Easter.  The early Christian community stood by the account we have in the Gospels from the very beginning.  They didn’t change how the story happened because this wasn’t a concocted story in the first place.  This is how it actually occurred, and no amount of rejection or persecution could make them deny this life-changing truth.  

    And there is another thing we can learn from the women being the first witnesses of the resurrection.  Their central role in this points to the fact that Jesus’ resurrection is the undoing of the fall of mankind.  You recall how in Genesis, it was Eve who was tempted by the devil in the Garden, and after she succumbed and ate, she passed some along to her husband with her and he ate.  Though both Adam and Eve were equally guilty, it was from the woman to the man that death came.  That was the path by which the curse traveled and the grave gained its power over us.  “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”  

    So now on Easter morning, our Lord Jesus does a wonderful “in your face” to our ancient enemy.  He mocks the devil whom He has defeated by purposely giving the good news first to the women to then give to the men.  Jesus reverses and destroys the devil’s work.  Just as the fall came through Eve to Adam, so now word of the raising up of mankind comes from Mary Magdalene to Peter, and to John and to all the disciples.  Here in this Garden where Jesus had been buried, the announcement that the tomb is empty and that the curse of death is broken is carried by the women to these men who would be ordained by Christ to be the first preachers and apostles of the Easter Gospel.  Here we are given to see that in the risen Jesus creation is redeemed from the fall and all things are restored and revitalized.

    In this true story of the resurrection, Jesus is shown to be the new Adam for us, the one in whom humanity has a new birth and a new beginning.  And we need this new life desperately, don’t we.  For our old life from the first Adam is riddled with death even from our youth.  It’s the hollowness that we still have even after we’ve taken in our fill of all this passing world has to offer. It’s the camaraderie we seek by going along with the crowd that turns out to be a sort of crowded isolation.  It’s the deterioration of our bodies and the brokenness of our relationships which happens often in spite of our best efforts.  There’s ultimately no avoiding the truth of our mortality.  In the end you are left right where Mary was: bent over, staring through tearful eyes into the gaping mouth of the grave.

    But note what Mary sees.  Not only is Jesus’ tomb is empty, but she also sees two angels sitting where Jesus had been.  And these messengers of the Lord ask her, “Why are you weeping?”  It’s almost as if they said, “There’s no need for tears any more.  For the crucified One whom you seek has risen.  He who bore the curse of the world’s sin has redeemed you from the curse forever.  He who was held by the jaws of the grave has shattered those jaws and has destroyed death’s power over you.  He who did battle with the kingdom of darkness has crushed the devil’s head by His holy cross, setting you free from hellish bondage.  So don’t cry.  Jesus is alive for you as the triumphant Lord of all.”

    Mary then turns around and sees Jesus.  But she doesn’t yet know that it’s Him.  She mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  And yet she really isn’t mistaken, is she.  Jesus is the Gardener.  For He is risen to restore you to Paradise.  This New Adam walks in the garden in the cool of the new day and comes to this daughter of Eve.  What He brings to her and to you is not judgment but justification, not sin but righteousness, not death but life.  Jesus totally and completely undoes the fall.  We heard it in the Epistle, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    Jesus reveals who He is to Mary simply with one word.  The sheep know their Shepherd’s voice, and He calls them each by name. “Mary.”  In the joy of this sudden recognition, Mary cries out “Teacher!”  She goes to Jesus and falls before Him, clinging to His feet, the same feet she had once anointed with fragrant oil and with repentant tears.  The Teacher who had received her and had forgiven her sins was alive!  Now it is tears of joy that she cries.  

    But interestingly, Jesus tells her, “Do not cling to me.”  Why would He say that to her and ruin this Hollywood moment?  Here’s why: Things are not the same now.  This is not just a going back to the good old days before the horrors of Good Friday.  Easter is not the undoing of the crucifixion.  In truth Easter is the victory of the crucifixion.  It’s the result of what He accomplished on the cross.  The resurrection of our Lord shows that His death really did pay the wages of sin completely.  By the cross He swallowed up death and conquered the grave and redeemed the world and routed the devil.  Easter is simply the glorious revealing of that fact.  So Jesus is not snubbing Mary here; but He is indicating that things will never be the same again.  Everything has been changed.

    Time now has actually been turned forward.  Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection have inaugurated the era of the new creation.  Easter means that we are looking forward to something much better than the Garden of Eden.  Through Christ, creation itself will be resurrected and freed from its bondage to decay and death.  Tomorrow the world will have its semi-pagan earth day celebration.  But we know that the real earth day is today.  For Easter means that the groaning of  creation under the curse has its end, and what was intended for this earth from the beginning will come to its awesome fulfillment in Jesus.

    The good news for you today is that you have your place in this because you are baptized into Christ, who is the source and spring of the new creation.  Jesus actually revealed Himself to you in the same way He did to Mary, by calling your name at the baptismal font.  By water and the Word He drew your name into the name of the Holy Trinity.  He united you with Himself and thereby made you a child of God.  That’s why Jesus says to Mary, “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.”  Do you see what that means?  Penitent believers are now family with Jesus.  All that Christ is and has He has made yours: release from sorrow, abounding forgiveness, indestructible life and joy.  In Christ you are restored to communion with God and with one another.  

    Finally I must note what a wonderful change of message occurs with Mary Magdalene in the Gospel.  She goes from a frantic “They have taken away the Lord!” to a joyous “I have seen the Lord!”  At first she had thought the soldiers who were guarding the tomb had moved Jesus’ body.  They would have absolutely no reason to do that, but it was the only way she could make sense of things.  She didn’t yet know that when Jesus rose, the soldiers became paralyzed with fear and then fled away.  That, too, is more evidence of the resurrection.  Both Jesus’ friends and enemies acknowledged that the tomb was empty.  Jesus’ cowardly disciples certainly couldn’t have stolen the body.  And if the body had been moved by the well-armed authorities, the location of His corpse immediately would have been pointed out by them when the disciples started preaching that Jesus was alive.  This whole Christianity thing would have been nipped in the bud.  But the authorities didn’t do that; they couldn’t.  For there was no dead body any more.  

    No, Christ Jesus is indeed risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  There is more of Easter to come, more rising from the dead.  Our Lord has led the way through the grave, so that those who die in Him will also rise with Him when He comes again.  The Lord will swallow up death forever.  He will wipe away the tears from all faces.  You can be sure of it, for the Lord has spoken it.  

    Let us all, then, do as Mary Magdalene did and gladly confess this truth, both here and before the world:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Seven Words

The First Word–Luke 23:26-34
26 Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus.
27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’ 31 For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”
32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”null

    When we are wronged, when others hurt us deeply or do harm to someone we care about, when our adversaries mock and make fun of us, anger rises so easily in us.  Our tempers our short.  Our desire for payback is great.  We want the other guy to get it.  We want God to punish our enemies.
    But not so with our Lord Jesus, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He has not come to issue payback, to give us what we deserve, but to give us mercy.  Regarding those who showed Jesus nothing but mocking hate, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  
            Sin makes us ignorant.  We don’t know what we’re doing.  Even when we do know we’re doing something wrong, we don’t grasp how deeply we are hurting others and inflicting pain upon ourselves.  We don’t know how we are slapping God in the face.  But Jesus prays for us, anyway, “Father, forgive them.”  Here is the ultimate picture of God’s love for us, that He dies for sinners, even for His enemies, His persecutors.  Before we could ever ask Him for help or seek His forgiveness, He was already there to save and redeem us.  He doesn’t require us to change before He’ll love us.  His forgiving love is the very power that changes us.
    Jesus was not only praying for those 2000 years ago who did Him harm.  For the truth is that your sins and mine also did Him harm and caused the need for His death.  And so when Jesus prays these words, He has you in mind, too.  “Father, forgive them.”  And Jesus’ prayer is surely heard.  And so you are surely forgiven.  For Jesus has paid the price.
    In Him you also learn to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, to bear the cross as Simon of Cyrene did, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  As Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The Second Word–Luke 23:35-43
35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”
36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

    Jesus was mocked so thoroughly that even one of those who was crucified with Him joined in, telling Him to save them if He was the Christ.  Of course, that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.  But this criminal couldn’t see that.  Even in death he was not repentant for his sins but was full of anger and denial.  Jesus became a convenient target for his impenitence.

      However, the other criminal rebukes his counterpart.  He doesn’t complain about how unfair his situation is, how he shouldn’t have received the death penalty.  Rather, he acknowledges that he’s getting what he deserves.  He comes clean before God and does not deny his sin.  He confesses it and turns to Christ.  He knows that this Messiah is one who is full of mercy and forgiveness; for he just heard Him forgive His enemies!  That reality turns the criminal’s heart to hope and trust in Christ and to seek help from Him.
    Learn from this second criminal how to come before God.  Do not complain in bitter anger at God for the crosses in your life; for those crosses are for the putting to death of your old sinful nature.  Look to Christ in repentance; trust in Him.  His steadfast love endures forever.  Pray with the thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  
    What an amazing statement of faith that is, that He would say such a thing to a man being executed!  He shows clearly His understanding that Jesus’ kingdom isn’t an earthly, political one, but a heavenly one.
    How gladly he must have received Jesus’ reply, words that will apply to you and to all Christians on the day of your death, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Those two words, “with Me” define for us what Paradise is.  It is to be with Christ.  Where Christ is, there is heaven, where the curse of sin and death is no more, where there is no sorrow or pain or crying.  It is to be restored to communion with God in a way that is even closer and deeper and better than what Adam and Eve knew in the Garden.  To be in Christ’s merciful presence is to have the fullness of life and joy and peace.

The Third Word–John 19:25-27
25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.

    When we suffer, we tend to turn inward on ourselves, to meditate on our pain, even to wallow in it.  We find it hard to get outside of ourselves and focus on others.  But not our Lord Jesus.  Behold His love!  In His final hours He is thinking not of Himself, but is making sure that His mother is cared for properly.  Jesus had other brothers and sisters who might have looked after Mary.  But the Scriptures remind us that not even they believed that Jesus was who He said He was.  And so our Lord places His mother into the care of John, who stood by Him with Mary in her hour of need, even as John is placed into her care as her son.  It was important that Mary be placed into the hands of one who was faithful to Christ.
    For Mary is a picture of the Church, which has given birth to us all in baptism as members of the body of Christ.  And John is a picture of the Church’s pastors, who in turn care for her in the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments.  These words of Jesus apply also to us, then, as pastor and congregation, “Woman behold your son.” “Behold, your mother.”  Our Lord cares for us from the cross, setting the solitary into the family of the church and bringing comfort to those who mourn.

The Fourth Word–Matthew 27:45-46
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is,  “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

    All of us at one time or another have been afraid of being alone in the dark.  Our mind and heart are terrorized by what lurks in the shadows, by the noises that we hear, by our defenselessness against an enemy that might attack.
    Our Lord Jesus is here alone in the dark for us.  And unlike our often imaginary fears when our mind plays tricks on us, the enemies that stalk Jesus are all too real.  He hangs there defenseless as fresh meat for their attack.  The powers of darkness are given free reign to do their worst to Him.  All hell is unleashed on Jesus, marauding and molesting Him.  And the Father does not intervene; Jesus is forsaken and abandoned.  He knows your terror, the terror of hell itself.  Christ drinks this fiery liquid all into His flesh and puts it to death.  Hell has burned itself out on Him, so that you remain unharmed by its power, like the three men in the fiery furnace of old.  Jesus has endured this for you to release you from the grip of Satan who would molest you forever.  Jesus was forsaken by the Father so that you would never be abandoned by Him.
    When there doesn’t seem to be any answer or reason for your troubles or afflictions, and you ask “Why?,” your prayers are joined to Jesus’ great, “My God, My God, why . . .?”  Ultimately those questions are all answered for you on the cross.  It is in the cross that you find hope and comfort.  For there Jesus took all your suffering on Himself.  And He has shown you that in the end, all suffering in Him gives way to resurrection and health and life.  You are never alone.  God is with you always in Christ the crucified.

The Fifth Word–John 19:28-29
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth.

    Jesus had gone now almost a full day without food or drink.  He was exposed to the elements for these past six hours without any clothing.  He had lost much blood.  He was dehydrated.  He is parched, aching, in pain.  His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth.  His heart can barely pump His blood any more because of the effects of His crucifixion.  He can scarcely enunciate these two words, “I thirst.”
    The evening before, Jesus had said that He thirsted for the Passover, the Last Supper, with his disciples.  Now, like those in hell, He longs for just a drop of water to cool His tongue.
    Jesus bears the bone-drying effects of our sin so that we might be washed in the pure water of His Spirit.  Jesus suffers our thirst, so that in our thirst we might drink deeply of Him who gives living water.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  Jesus is dried up here for you, so that He may become a fountain of life for you in His resurrection.  Remember His thirst when you are suffering, so that you may know the comfort of Him who has been there for you, who bore all of your infirmities and carried all of your sicknesses.  In Him you are healed and whole. 

The Sixth Word–John 19:30
30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

    It is the sixth day of the week, Friday, the day when in the beginning God completed His work of creation, and rested on the seventh day.  Now Jesus has completed His work of re-creation, of redeeming and renewing this sin-cursed world by conquering the curse in His flesh.  In Christ all things are made new.  We look for new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  Here Christ announces that the work of bringing that into being is done.  “It is finished.”–Here on the sixth day.  He will rest in the tomb on the seventh day.  And an eternal eighth day will break forth in His resurrection.  
    “It is finished.”  Everything that is necessary to rescue you who were held hostage in the devil’s kingdom Jesus has done.  Everything that is necessary to forgive your sins fully and entirely Jesus has done.  Everything that is necessary to release you from the power of the grave and give you eternal life Jesus has done.  There is nothing more that you need to do to be saved, no good work you need to accomplish to finish the job.  It is complete.  It is fulfilled.  It is perfected in His holy death.
    When we are troubled by our sins that separate us from God and from each other, and we wonder if we can ever be truly forgiven, Jesus says, “Yes, it is finished.”  When we are tempted and tested and persecuted by the world, and we wonder if we will ever be victorious in these battles, Jesus says, “Yes, it is finished.”  When we begin to doubt whether eternal life is really ours or whether or not we will really rise from the dead, Jesus says, “Yes, it is finished.”  Believe.

The Seventh Word–Luke 23:45-49
45 Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. 46 And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.
47 So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”
48 And the whole crowd who came together to that sight, seeing what had been done, beat their breasts and returned. 49 But all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

    Finally, Jesus says, “Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.”  These are words from Psalm 31, expressing faith and trust in God.  Listen to Jesus’ words in the context of the full Psalm.  “In you, O Lord, I trust. . . quickly deliver me! . . . For you are my rock and my fortress . . .  You will bring me out of the net they hid for me, for you are my stronghold.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth. . .  I will rejoice and be glad in your faithfulness.”  After Jesus’ other anguished words on the cross, here Jesus expresses serene confidence in His Father’s love and faithfulness.  He breathes His last, certain that the Father will deliver Him and raise Him up again.
    As one who is not only fully divine but also fully human, Jesus has a spirit, a human soul.  At this moment of His death He entrusts His spirit to His Father.  He dies like a child falling asleep in the arms of his father.  Remember these words of Jesus when the time comes for you to breathe your last breath.  Remember that by entrusting Himself to the Father, Jesus has entrusted you to the Father.  Your spirit even now is held safely in His hands.  As the baptized you live in Christ, and He is in the Father.  When you are experiencing affliction in your last days and last moments, you also are given to pray these words with peaceful trust and to breathe your last knowing that God will deliver you, too, and raise you up again.  “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

Not To Be Served But To Serve

Mark 10:32-45

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✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Human beings are generally unhappy when we don’t have what we want.  Our search for happiness, we think, is to try to get what we want.  But if we do get what we want, then that brings a new set of desires that must, in turn, be pursued, and so on and so on in a restless circle of wanting and getting and wanting again.  There is no real happiness in that.  The whole direction of grasping, wanting, and getting is actually the reverse of the way in which happiness is found.

    The secret of happiness is to be found in God and His ways–the God who has nothing to get and everything to give.  God has his happiness in giving away His gifts.  We need to remember that God didn’t create us to get something from us that He needed or wanted.  God was already complete in Himself, in the perfect self-giving that exists between the persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The reason God made us is so that His giving might grow and increase.  He created and designed us not to serve Him like household slaves but so that He would have creatures upon whom He could pour out His blessing.  We are designed to be recipients of His gifts.  That’s what makes Him happy.

    So also for us, real happiness comes from sharing in those ways of God.  The Lord created and equipped us for the same sort of giving to one another, and so for the same sort of happiness.  This is seen particularly in God’s creation of husband and wife and the one flesh intimacy of marriage.  God designed the giving of spouses to each other, the shared life of mutual giving.  null

    The action of giving is something that by definition grows.  It’s counterintuitive, but the more that is given, the more there is to give, and the greater the happiness.  Therefore, God ordained that children should come from the giving of husband and wife to each other. Marriage, family, and society place us in the middle of many opportunities for giving, and so for happiness.  That is God’s design.  That is God’s happiness that He wanted to share with us.  All He asked of His creatures was that they should receive His gifts from Him, allow themselves to be given to, and then find their happiness in the same way, in giving to others.

    But all of this was ruined by our fall into sin–our proud refusal to be given to by God and our selfish refusal to give to others.  We turned it all upside down.  Now we want to get from others what we want out of them, and to give to God, to push our spirituality and our good works up to Him as if He somehow needed those things from us, as if we thereby impressed Him and merited His favor.  When we twisted ourselves around like that–away from receiving God’s gifts, doing things our own way instead, and away from giving to getting from others, our happiness was destroyed.  No more the happy, quiet mind and contentment; no more the joy in the gifts and the giving; now the fretful, coveting, grumbling restlessness of grasping, wanting, getting, and wanting again.

    God could have said, “They don’t want my gifts.  They don’t want Me.  Fine.  I’ve had enough of them!”  But instead of simply drawing God’s wrath, our sin drew from God even more and greater giving–the sending of His own Son to save us.  In today’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples the sort of giving He’s going to be doing, the giving of His life at the hands of the very sinners He came to save.  Here is the ultimate expression of the nature of our giver God, not only that He becomes man, but that He then lays down His life in our place to redeem us from our sin.

    But Jesus’ disciples don’t get it.  Their grasping, getting ways are still running the show.  James and John come up to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”  For the moment Jesus indulges their presumptuousness and says, “What do you want me to do for you?”  “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on your left, in Your glory.”  They figured Jesus was going places.  And they were hitching their wagon to Him.  They wanted to be first in line.  They aspired to be His top advisers and top power brokers when Jesus got to be in charge.  This may seem to us like an over-the-top request, but it’s the same with us when we are tempted to use religion as a means for self-advancement and self-fulfillment, when we go to church so that we can get some worldly blessing out of it.  Then it’s not so much about loving God but serving yourself, trying to have a successful life and to get where you want to be.  

    Jesus was indeed going places.  But James and John didn’t grasp where it was that Jesus was going, even though He had just told them.  Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask.  Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  Jesus there is referring to His suffering and cross.  He would drink the poisonous cup of judgment against the world’s sin.  He would be swept away in the cold flood of death.  There were two people who would be placed at Jesus’ right and Jesus’ left hand–namely, the two criminals who were crucified with Him.  They were the ones for whom those places had been prepared.

    James and John wanted to be with Jesus in His glory.  And it is Jesus’ glory to die for sinners in order to save them.  It is His glory to lay down His life that we may live.  It is His glory to be the God who is love, who gives Himself completely for us that we might be drawn in to His life.

    If you want to share in Jesus’ glory, then, you must share in His death.  You must die to yourself and your desires.  Repent.  Return to your baptism into Jesus’ death.  Be emptied of all your own merits and righteousness so that Christ may fill you with His righteousness and His life.  

    Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”  After all, what can you truly give to Him who is the Creator and the source of all that is good?  Jesus came not to get something from you but to give something to you, to give His life as the ransom price for your soul.

    For you were kidnaped, captured by the devil and the power of the grave.  A price was demanded that neither you nor any other creature could pay for your release.  In time you would have been executed by your abductors and given over to eternal death.  But Christ has paid your ransom, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  He offered His life for yours.  He set you free and then destroyed your kidnappers by the power of His resurrection.  All this He did purely by grace, as a gift, for you.

    So make sure you don’t get it backwards.  We receive from God and give to others.  You need not spend all your time fretting about pleasing God; you are already pleasing to Him in Jesus.  The thing that truly pleases God is for you to trust in His goodness and to believe in His Son in whom He is well pleased.  The true worship of God that glorifies and pleases Him is faith, simply to receive His love and forgiveness and life and to extol and praise and give thanks for these unmerited gifts.  

    Jesus gave up His life for you at Calvary, and now He gives out His life to you in divine service.  It is as Jesus told James and John, “You will drink the cup I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized.”  For them, that meant they would suffer and be persecuted for being Jesus’ disciples.  And so it is also for you.  But this also refers to the Sacraments.  You have been baptized in Christ’s baptism, cleansed by His death.  And He gives you to drink of His cup.  Because it was a cup of judgment for Jesus, it is now a cup of mercy for you, the cup of His own life-giving blood.  Jesus is still the One who comes not to be served but to serve, to give Himself to you in preaching and the supper for your good, your redemption.

    And here’s a final key point from today’s Gospel:  Jesus’ servanthood doesn’t stop here in church.  It continues through you out there in the world.  Just as God uses ordinary things like water and words and bread and wine to give His saving gifts, so also He uses ordinary Christians in your ordinary stations in life as a means by which He serves the world.  In this sense, you yourselves are God’s Sacraments to the world.  Christ is present in, with, and under you His people to show forth His love to the neighbor.

    Christians live outside of themselves.  You live in God by faith, and you live in your neighbor by love.  By faith you get to stand in Jesus’ place and receive His righteousness as your own.  By love you get to stand in your neighbor’s place and make his needs your own.  Faith looks up to God and offers Him nothing; love looks out to the neighbor and offers Him everything.  A Christian receives God’s Service in church and then gives God’s service to his neighbor in whatever stations of life God has put him.  

    In this way your daily work becomes a sort of worship, the life of faith toward God and love toward others.  As your sinful nature is put to death in acts of service, the Lord works life and good for your neighbor, even as He worked the ultimate life and good by offering up His own flesh for our sins on the cross.  Through His Church, Jesus continues to be the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.  

    It is better to give than to receive.  God knows that, and He wants you to have your happiness in knowing it too.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to Dr. Norman Nagel for some of the above)

Behold the God With Family

Mark 6:1-6; John 19:25-27
Midweek Lent 4

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✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Our God is a God who has a family.  And I don’t simply mean in the spiritual sense, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ–though that is obviously true and very important.  But here I mean that Jesus, God the Son, had an earthly family.  Jesus had four brothers and at least two sisters living with Him in His house as He grew up (Mark 6:3).  There is a tradition that the virgin Mary was the mother only of Jesus, and that the other children were from a previous marriage of Joseph, whose first wife had died.  But whether Jesus was the youngest and had several older step-siblings, or whether Jesus was the oldest child, and Mary had more children afterwards–half-siblings of our Lord–the fact remains that Jesus grew up in a rather large household.   Behold the God with family.

    And our God is also a God who worked an everyday job before He began to fulfill His mission as the Messiah.  Like His earthly father, Joseph, Jesus was a carpenter.  He worked with hammer and wood and nails to make farm implements or tables or furniture for the people in the nearby capital city of Galilee called Sepphoris, six miles away from Nazareth.  Jesus didn’t just wander around piously for the first 30 years of His life.  He lived a rather normal, common life.  He worked.  Behold the God with a job.

    This is one of the reasons why, when Jesus came back to Nazareth preaching the kingdom of God, that the people of His hometown were offended and put off.  “Isn’t this the carpenter?” they asked.  They had watched him grow up with His siblings and learn the carpentry trade.  They couldn’t see Him as anything more than an ordinary man.  They were scandalized that he would now come home as their teacher, the one sent to carry out God's saving plan.

    We sometimes fail to fully grasp that fact, that Jesus was (and is) fully human.  It’s offensive to our reasoning to think that God the Son became a toddler, learning to walk, or a teenager, growing up into a man.  That seems beneath the divine majesty.  But Jesus’ true humanity is precisely what saves you.  And it’s a great comfort, too.  He knows what it’s like to live in an imperfect family, with all the dynamics of a full house and multiple brothers and sisters.  He knows what it’s like to work with His hands and to deal with people in the marketplace.  He knows what it’s like to be weary and tired, and to be joyful and content in the work of His hands.  He knows what it’s like to experience the kind of things that you go through.  Jesus hallowed your entire life, from conception to the grave, by going through it all Himself for you.null

    Jesus experienced the brokenness of this world.  We know that Joseph died at some point after Jesus was 12 years old and before Jesus began His ministry.  So perhaps even during Jesus’ teen years, it was a single parent household.  And Jesus experienced rejection in His life, not only from outsiders but even from His own family members.  Prior to His death and resurrection, Jesus’ brothers and sisters thought He was a bit crazy.  John 7(:5) says that they didn’t believe in Him.  And even after His resurrection and ascension, His siblings didn’t always get it.

    James, the half-brother of our Lord Jesus, did become a believer after Easter; and He even became a leader in the early church–no doubt, in part, because of his family connections.  How many can say that they’re Jesus’ brother, after all?  He must have some special insight, right?  But James had a hard time shaking off the Jewish requirements of the Law, requirements that Jesus had fulfilled and set aside.  James had a tendency to add these ceremonial, legal requirements back onto the free gift of God’s grace in Christ.  The epistle to the Galatians speaks of how a delegation was sent by James from Jerusalem, telling these new Gentile believers that to be true Christians, they had to submit to circumcision and the OT food laws.  The apostle Paul had to forcefully denounce this and rebuke those who listened to James.  Paul reminded the Galatians, “ a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ; . . . for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

    This situation with James helps to explain why Jesus says what He says on the cross to His mother Mary and to John.  Ordinarily, it would be the next oldest son who would take care of His mother after death.  But in view of the family situation and James’ issues of faith, Jesus on the cross entrusts Mary not to James or any of the other brothers, but to John, a preacher of the unadulterated truth.  It’s important who has the care of Mary.  For Mary is a picture of the church.  From her came the Christ; and the church is the body of Christ.  It is in the womb of the church that we are reborn at the font and made to be members of Christ’s body.  By virtue of our baptism, Mary is our spiritual mother, the icon of the church.  It is important who has charge of the church.  So it is that Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold your son,” and to John, “Behold your mother.”

    Water is thicker than blood.  By water and the Word in Baptism we are made to be Jesus’ mother and sisters and brothers.  In Mark 3 it is written that Jesus’ mother and brothers were looking for Him.  And Jesus looked at those who were listening to His teaching and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”  Biological connections gain you no advantage with Jesus.  The truth of the Gospel is what counts in this family.  

    John preached that truth.  He said such things as this, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.”  John drew special attention in His Gospel to the blood and water that flowed from Jesus side, reminding us of the sacraments which cleanse us and give us new life with God.  

    John, you will recall, is the one who outran Peter to the tomb and believed in the resurrection.  John is the one who first recognized Jesus on the shore after Easter.  John is the one who didn’t refer to himself by name but as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”  The love of Jesus was the key thing.

    Jesus is the only one who reveals the Father and His love to us.  And now, with these words from the cross, “Behold your son,” Jesus is saying that it is only through the preaching of John and those like him that you can come to know Christ.  This is the Trinitarian nature of the faith–the Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the Spirit to preach the truth of the Gospel that we may be drawn to Jesus and through Him back to the Father.  

    Therefore, these words of Jesus apply also to you, the church, “Woman behold your son, the preacher of the Gospel.”  Listen to those who are the successors of John and who proclaim the Word that he proclaimed.  Don’t listen to other voices that preach other gospels, even if they’re family.  Don’t listen to anyone who mixes in human works with the all-sufficient work of Jesus.  Receive the care of your pastor who speaks the saving truth of Christ and His words.  For it is through that Gospel alone that you come to know Jesus.  And He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Him.

    And Jesus’ words also apply to pastors, “Behold, your mother!”  The pastor is given charge of the church, but He is not in charge of the church as her owner.  Rather, He honors her as he would a parent.  For she is the one through whom he himself was given life.  The pastor is to treat the church with the same respect he gives his own Mom.  He is there to serve her and care for her spiritual welfare.  “Behold, your mother.”  Both mother and son are given as gifts to each other from Jesus, who alone is Lord over all.

    Finally, in one sense we could say that the people of Jesus’ hometown had it right; He was still a carpenter. For He yet had one more thing to build.  But this time in addition to hammer, nails, and wood, He would use His own body.  Through the redeeming work of the cross, Jesus laid the foundation of the Church.  Baptized into Christ the cornerstone, Scripture says that "you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22).  This temple will never crumble, because it is founded on the solid rock of Christ and His work for you, His family.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Living Bread

John 6:1-15
Lent 4

    ✠ In the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    At the end of today’s Gospel, the people said about Jesus, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  When they spoke of “the Prophet,” they were referring to the promise that the Lord had made to Moses, when the children of Israel were afraid to hear the thundering voice of God on Mt. Sinai.  The Lord told Moses, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth.”  

    And to that extent, the people were right.  Jesus is the promised Prophet, the New and Greater Moses, who speaks God’s words to His people, who leads you and feeds you and intercedes for you.  Just consider all the details in today’s Gospel.  In the same way that  Moses led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, Jesus goes across the Sea of Galilee (6:1), and a great multitude follows Him.  And why did they follow Him?  Because of His signs which He performed on those who were diseased (6:2), just like Moses who had performed great signs in Egypt before Pharaoh.  And as Moses went up Mt. Sinai with the elders of Israel, and they saw God and ate and drank, so also Jesus here ascends a mountain with His disciples, and in Him the people would see God and eat and drink (6:3).  And it is written here that the Passover was near (6:4), the sacrificing of the unblemished Lamb whose blood protects from death.  In this Gospel, then, the Lord is teaching you that He is your greater Moses.  He alone is the One who sustains and leads you safely across the wilderness of this fallen world.  He is the One who comes after Moses, your Joshua, who leads you through death into the Promised Land and eternal life.null

    Jesus is also your manna.  He said, “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world (6:51).”  So when we hear of a miracle like the feeding of the 5000, we know that its significance doesn’t end with the earthly bread of that time and place.  No, here is pictured the true Manna, the Bread of Life which is still being distributed to the multitude today, to you in the Sacrament of the Altar.

    Seeing all the people coming to Him, Jesus asks Philip a question to test him.  Now when the Lord tests you, He does so not to find out information about you that He didn’t already know, right?  He’s God; He knows all things.  Jesus tests you ultimately to direct your faith to the right place and to strengthen it.  God’s tests are for your good.  The Lord asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?”  In this way the Lord leads Philip to despair of his own ability to do anything to solve this problem.  “Even if we had 200 days’ worth of wages, we still couldn’t buy nearly enough food.”  The disciples were helpless to do anything.  The first thing about having the right faith is knowing what not to trust in. Tests serve to empty you of your idols and your false gods.  The disciples were not to trust in themselves or their own resources.

    It’s the same way with you.   Jesus asks this question to show you that the bread of life is not something that you can acquire with your own spiritual resources or by your own goodness.  You simply have no ability to come up with what is necessary to attain eternal life.  You must learn to turn way from and despair of your own qualifications to solve this problem.  You’ve got nothing to barter with to make yourself right with God.  You can’t purchase this heavenly bread.  Rather, God offers it to you freely in Christ.  His forgiveness and salvation are granted to you without cost; for He has paid the price.  As Isaiah 55 says, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat.”

    Only those can receive the bread of life, then, who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy before God, who recognize that of themselves they can lay no claim on God’s eternal gifts.  Those who think that they are worthy of the Bread of Life will not be given life at all.  For they are still trying to “buy” their way into God’s good graces with their own merits.  Only to the poor in spirit does the kingdom of heaven belong.  Our righteousness is like the rotting Old Testament manna that was kept overnight; it’s goodness doesn’t last.  Only those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ will be satisfied.  For His is the food which endures to everlasting life (6:27).

    One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”  On the surface it appeared that this bread and fish would be useless to help feed the people.  But with Jesus it was more than enough to do the job.  It’s the same way with the Sacrament of the Altar.  Someone might ask, “What good can this little bit of bread and wine do?  How can these elements help my soul or give me any eternal blessings?”  But in the hands of Jesus, such elements are more than enough.  For what counts is not the impressiveness of the bread and wine but the miracle that our Lord does with them.  You must focus not simply on the elements only but on the Word of the Lord who stands behind them.

    “Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’  Now there was much grass in the place.”  The Lord invites you also to do the same thing today, for the Psalm says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall lack nothing.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”  Right here is your grassy pasture where He calls you to come for rest.  It is here that He leads you beside the still waters of His living Word.  It is here that He prepares a table before you, spread with heavenly food.

    “And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.”  Here is the great miracle, that as the disciples handed out this food given them by Christ, there was always more and more.  The more they handed out, the more there was.  First there were five loaves in the basket.  Then, as this was distributed, the disciples would reach in and find more and more loaves ready to be given out.  And likewise with the fish.  Thousands upon thousands of people were fed, and the food never ran out.  Everyone was filled and satisfied; no one was left out.  The Lord more than covered all of their needs.

    Isn’t this also how it is with the gifts that Christ gives in Holy Communion?  In bread and wine He multiplies His body and blood, and through His ministers He distributes them to His people, that you may receive all that you want of Him who is the Living Bread from heaven, and that your souls may be thoroughly satisfied with His mercy.  There is always more and more of this Bread of Life to be given out.  For this bread is the flesh of God Himself; and there is no limit to God.  He offered up His body for you on the cross to purchase your forgiveness.  And now He offers up His body to you in Holy Communion that you may receive that full and limitless forgiveness.

    Like the five loaves and the two fish, our Lord’s love is ever-expanding.  It’s reverse mathematics; the more that He gives, the more that He has yet to give.  It can’t be measured; you can’t put a boundary around it.  So when you come to the Lord’s table with penitence and faith, you need never fear that the sin you bring is bigger than the Lord’s forgiveness.  The cross covers it all, and then some.  The shed blood of the Passover Lamb of God takes away the sin of the world.  When you eat the Living Bread from heaven in the Sacrament, you receive the fullness of Christ’s pardon, all that you could ever want.  And there is still more even beyond that.  For when you eat this Supper, you are partaking in the very life of God Himself.  Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (6:54).”

    After the 5000 were fed, Jesus told the disciples to gather up what remained, so that nothing would be lost.  We also do the same thing here in Holy Communion.  What remains after the Supper is gathered up and placed into the tabernacle there at the back of the altar.  From there it is carried out to our hospitalized and shut-in members.  In that way the Lord’s love also reaches out to them in their need so that they might be drawn in and joined with us in this same holy communion.  

    Finally, when the disciples gathered up what remained, they filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves.  Five loaves became twelve baskets–more than when they started.  Five is the number of the Law, for there are five books of Moses.  Twelve is the number of the apostles.  In this miracle, then, we see a transition, from the old Israel, guided by the Law of Moses, to the New Israel, the Church, built on the doctrine and ministry of Christ’s apostles, as we say in the Creed, “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”  It is written in Acts 2 of the early church,  “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2:42).”  This is what the 5 becoming 12 means for you: You have been freed from the judgment of the Law by Christ, who fulfilled it all for you; and your life is now to be found in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking and receiving of the Bread of Life, and in the prayers and liturgy of the church.  

    The multitudes back then wanted Jesus to be king–but only to keep their bellies filled and their appetites fed.  But you know that Jesus is much more than that.  He is the King who goes off to the mountain by Himself where He will be crowned with thorns, that His flesh might be given for the life of the world.  You are children of the Jerusalem that is above.  You are children of the promise in Jesus, the Greater Moses and the Bread of Life.

    ✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

Behold the God With Skin

John 19:1-24

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✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Our God is a God with skin.  The Lord Jesus, true God, took upon Himself real flesh and blood, body and soul, and became true man.  He is covered with skin.  Skin clothes our bodies, yet we usually also cover up most of our skin with clothing.  This is to protect it from the sun or from the cold weather.  But we also cover our skin to cover our shame.  In the beginning, man’s skin was uncovered.  Genesis 2 says that Adam and Eve were naked and that were not ashamed.

    But you know what happened.  They fell into sin, and immediately Scripture says that they saw that they were naked.  Their eyes, which had been directed upward to God in faith and outward to one another in perfect sinless love, now were turned in on themselves.  They became self-preoccupied and self-absorbed.  That’s one way of understanding what sin is; it’s when your humanity is distorted and bent and curved in on yourself.  

    Having lost their humanity, with the image of God broken in them, our first parents sought to cover their shame with flimsy fig leaves.  We too try to keep the truth of our sin and shame from being exposed by doing our best to cover it up and hide it, or to justify it and rationalize it.  But such fig leaves don’t work too well.  They’re not a good or lasting solution.  They cannot truly hide sin and shame.

    And so according to Genesis 3, God covered Adam and Eve with skins.  The first real item in their wardrobe came from the death of an animal or perhaps several animals.  Their sin had brought death into the world, not only to themselves, but to all creation.  Their nakedness would be covered at the cost of an even deeper nakedness.  For what could be more exposed than an animal stripped of its skin? And so the first death, the first bloodshed, happened at the hands of the Creator Himself, to grant to these rebellious human beings the luxury of hiding their sin and shame behind the innocence of another creature.null

    You cannot truly hide your own sin.  Sin can only be covered with skin.  No one knows for sure what type of animal it was in the garden from which God peeled its innocent hide in order to hide the exposed and vulnerable parts of Adam and his wife.  But considering what was later used on Passover and in the tabernacle and the temple, it's not unreasonable to suspect that the first animal to die was a sheep, a lamb.

    "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world," John the Baptist declared of Jesus (John 1:29).  Behold in Jesus the fulfillment of every lamb with its throat slit to render it a sacrifice in the temple. Behold in Jesus the fulfillment of every Passover lamb roasted and completely consumed the night before God brought His people out of slavery.  Behold, the Lamb who is a man, and the man who is God.  Behold the God who literally has skin in the game.

    Jesus was scourged by the Roman soldiers with a whip called a flagrum.  It was designed to shred the skin from the back of the one being whipped, tearing away flesh so deeply that the internal organs are nearly exposed.  In order to rescue us from our shame and cover the nakedness of our exposed sin, Jesus is not only stripped of His clothing, but even His skin is torn open.  Jesus is utterly uncovered on the cross, and the soldiers cast lots for His clothing.  All He wears is the crown of thorns that were mockingly pressed into His head.  Thorns were part of the curse on Adam and Eve in the beginning.  Now that’s what Jesus wears, for He bears the curse for us to break its power over us.  Behold the God with skin, God made naked, now clothed only in the mockery of sinful men.

    This event not only exposes Jesus to shame, above all it uncovers and reveals His great mercy toward you.  It lays bare His sacrificial love for you.  Jesus’ garment is seamless and perfect.  This garment is taken off of Him so that it may be placed on you, so that you may be covered with His perfect righteousness and enveloped with His full and free forgiveness.  

    Behold the man who willingly bears your sin and shame.  Behold the man who suffers in your place without complaint.  Behold the man whose nakedness answers for Adam’s, and for yours.  Behold the man with nothing to hide, with no sin of His own to cover up.  He is stripped bare to bear all of your sins, and especially to take away the ones that cause you the greatest shame.  All of them hang there on the cross with this man, this God, Jesus, naked and dying for you.

    Baptized into Christ, you now have new skin.  Behold the man who dresses you in His own holiness, who gives you Himself to wear.  For it is written, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  Behold the man who was sacrificed for you sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, who covers you with His own skin.  Gladly wear His garment of righteousness and peace, knowing that you are dear children of God.  For in Christ, your sin has been removed, and your shame is gone.

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Behold the Man Who Prays

Luke 22:24-46
Midweek Lent 1

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Perhaps it seems strange to you that Jesus would pray.  I remember as a child wondering who it was that Jesus prayed to, since He’s God.  Is He talking to Himself?  What’s going on?  Of course, we know that even from before creation, there has been an eternal conversation going on among the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  So it’s perfectly natural that the Son of God would speak to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is part of their everlasting union and communion with one another.

    But with the incarnation of Jesus, there is an additional and very important element added.  He is now praying not only as true God, the Son of the Father, but also true man, our fully human brother.  Behold the Man, Jesus, who prays as one of us, who leads a life of faith and trust in the Father as a perfect human being.  When we say that we are saved by faith, one of the things we mean is that we are saved by Jesus’ faith, by Jesus’ trust in the Father and His faithful following of the Father’s Word and will.  If you ever find yourself struggling in your faith, if your faith feels weak and fading, don’t try to work up more faith in yourself somehow.  Rely on Jesus’ faith; cling to His perfect trust and faithfulness; take refuge in Him who took refuge in the goodness and love of His Father.  That’s what Christian faith is.  That’s how we come to know the Father as good and loving toward us.null

    To have faith in God is to pray to God.  Prayer is the exercise of faith.  So that’s what Jesus does, throughout His ministry, and particularly here in His Passion.  And we see that Jesus is praying as a true human being, because He expresses a will that is different from the Father’s.  Think about that!  For our sakes, Jesus has emptied Himself of His divine powers, and He faces His suffering on our behalf as a man, without any of His divinity to diminish it or mitigate it.  And His truly human will quite obviously wants to avoid the hellish afflictions He’s about to undergo if at all possible, if there’s some other way.  “Father, if it is possible, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me.”  

    The cup that Jesus is referring to there is the cup of judgment, like a cup of poison that will cause Him to die a slow, agonizing death.  By drinking this cup for us, He will take away the judgment of sin that stood against us.  Only in this way can we be saved.  Only by Jesus submitting to the Father’s will are we rescued.  And Jesus does submit; He obeys.  “Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”  That is our salvation.  Behold the Man, who submits His fully human will to the Father’s will in perfect obedience.  Where we had asserted our human will against the Father, wanting to do things our own way and make ourselves the greatest and avoid the narrow way, Jesus says, “Thy will be done.”  He restores our humanity by bringing the divine and the human will back together, back in line with each other.  He restores us to communion with the Father by His obedience and His willingness to serve and to suffer.

    And we see that suffering already beginning here in the Garden.  It was in the Garden of Eden that man first fell under the curse.  And so it is fittingly here in this garden that Jesus begins to bear the full weight and pressure of the curse.  The name Gethsemane literally means “oil press.”  It was part of an olive grove where the oil was pressed out of the olives.  Here, Jesus is pressed down in a similar way, under the crushing burden of the world’s sin and the judgment we deserved.  Imagine the anxiety and the stress you would feel if you knew what was coming on you like Jesus did, if you knew that tomorrow you would be dying a slow, agonizing, and torturous death.  Here in Gethsemane, Jesus is pressed in such a way that His blood is forced from His pores.  It is written, “His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”  

    Medical experts describe this condition where a person is under such duress and stress that the capillaries in their skin actually begin to burst, and the blood mixes together with the nervous sweat.  This is what Jesus is experiencing here.  Even before anyone can arrest Him and do Him harm, already He is shedding His blood for us.  Remember this when you are undergoing stress, when anxiety seems to dominate your mind and your life, when there seems to be no way out from underneath your burdens and whatever it is you’re dealing with.  Remember Jesus, who has been there, who knows just what you’re going though–and more–and who provided the way out through His suffering and into the resurrection.

    It is written in 1 Corinthians 10, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  Here in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the way of escape.  It is Christ who, when put to the test, was faithful.  After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the Gospel of Luke records that the devil left Him “until an opportune time.”  This is that time, where Jesus is tempted to turn away from the Father’s will.  But He doesn’t.  He follows through on your behalf.  

    And now He says to the disciples and to you, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  Pray in the name of Jesus, who conquered sin and Satan for you.  Take refuge in Him when you are put to the test and lured away from God’s Word and God’s will.  Cling to Christ for mercy and forgiveness and for strength to endure in the faith until the end.  He is your Mediator, your Intercessor, your Advocate before the Father, speaking in your defense, appealing on your behalf by the virtue of His shed blood.  In the time of trial He has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you.  Learn to pray with Christ, “Not my will, but Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠