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Praying in Jesus' Name

John 16:23-33
Easter 6

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

    You see on your bulletins that this day in the church year is called “Rogate,” which is from the Latin root “to ask” or “to pray.”  The days of this week leading up to Ascension day would historically be observed as special days of prayer, asking God to bless the fields and the seeds planted in them, that the world might be provided with food in the coming harvest.  This would certainly be a good thing for us to practice this week in our devotions, especially when the world is reverting back to practices with semi-pagan themes to them, like Earth Day.  Rogate days of prayer emphasize our dependence not on mother earth but on Father God, the Creator and Sustainer of Life, and our stewardship of a world that belongs to Him, not to us.  Just the act of prayer itself reminds us to trust and rely on the Lord for all things.

    Jesus declares, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”  So what does that mean, to pray “in Jesus’ name?”  The epistle of James helps us to answer that question.  First of all James tells us what Christian prayer is not.  He says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4)  So prayer in Jesus’ name is never a means to fulfilling worldly dreams and desires.  To pray in Jesus’ name, rather, is to pray as Jesus would pray, fervently, faithfully, and as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, always submitting to the Father’s will.  We must confess that too often we use prayer to try to get God to follow our will rather than asking Him to conform us to His will, to get Him to make our plans come to fulfillment rather than seeking our place in the fulfillment of His plans.

    Jesus teaches us rightly to pray in the Lord’s Prayer.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that the first three petitions of the Our Father are focused on God.  “Hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.”  Only then do we get to the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  First pray for those weightier spiritual matters, that God’s name would be hallowed among us by what we teach and how we live, that His kingdom of grace in Christ would flourish among us and throughout the world, that His will would be done in hindering every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature.  Then you will be rightly prepared to pray for your daily bread, your bodily needs and material desires.

    Secondly, James has this to say about Christian prayer, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:4-8) To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray with faith in Christ, believing in Him as your Redeemer, confident that He will surely hear and answer you according to His good and gracious will.

    This is what distinguishes Christian prayer from all other prayer.  We need to realize that not all prayer is Christian or God-pleasing.  For today’s Epistle shows us there is only one way truly to come to the Father, and that is through Jesus, by faith in Him.  Every other way center’s on our works and leads to uncertainty.  Every other way ultimately runs into a brick wall.  For “there is only one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”  Jesus is the only way to gain access to the Father.  For only He was able to break through the sin-barrier that we had created which cut us off from God.  By coming down from heaven and taking on our flesh, Jesus reunited God and man in Himself.  And by His sin-destroying death and resurrection and ascension He has now cleared the way for us to come to the throne of heaven.

    To pray in Jesus’ name, then, means to pray with faith in Him as the only Mediator, the only way back to the Father.  And ultimately, to pray in Jesus’ name means that you pray as if you were Jesus Himself!  You may not always think of this, but when you call God “Father,” you are praying as though you were the Son of God.  For as you know, Jesus is the only Son of the Father.  So the only way you can legitimately call God “Father,” then, is to have Christ’s permission to pray in His stead.  That privilege is granted to you by your Baptism in Jesus’ name.  

    There is an old custom which we still use at baptism, where the pastor lays his hands upon the child’s head while praying the Lord’s Prayer.  That is meant as a visual declaration that the gift of calling God “Father” is being given to the one baptized.  Now he, too, is given permission to pray the Lord’s Prayer.  In the ancient church adult converts weren’t taught the Lord’s Prayer until they were baptized.  Only then did they have the right to say it.  In Jesus alone you are counted as children of God with all the benefits that entails.  God hears you just like He hears Jesus.  The name of Jesus opens heaven to you.  It unlocks the door to the Father’s heart.

    So when you pray as a Christian, you are never praying alone, even if you’re by yourself.  For you are always praying in and with Christ.  And if you are praying with Christ, you are also praying together with everyone else who is baptized into Him.  That’s why we pray “Our Father who art in heaven . . .” even when we are praying in private.  Jesus includes Himself in that “Our.”

    Indeed, Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father always to intercede and pray for us to the Father and bring Him our petitions and thanksgivings.  Jesus is our go-between with God the Father, the One who prays our prayers to Him and who thereby gives us the certainty that our prayers are heard.  Romans 8 even teaches us that the Spirit of Christ intercedes for us with groans that are too deep for words.  Sometimes when we are not able to formulate the words as we like, when we come before God with nothing more than our deepest needs and yearnings, the Spirit fills in the blanks with unutterable divine language.  

    So when we talk about the power of prayer, let’s be sure we understand it correctly.  Prayer is not powerful.  Prayer is weakness.  In prayer, we declare our need for God and ask Him to work because we can’t.  But God is powerful, and He regards the prayers of His children.  The power of prayer is not in the prayer itself or in the one praying, but in the God who loves us enough to answer our petitions.  Prayer changes things because God hears.  Through the weakness of prayer, we learn to rely on Him and take refuge in Him and trust in His good and gracious will.

    Prayer begins and ends with God.  He speaks His words of life into you; and then by those very words He gives you the words to pray and speak back to Him in faith, like a child who learns to speak by first listening to his parents.  Through the Lord’s coming to you, He enables you to make requests based on what He has spoken and promised, to praise and thank Him for His goodness and mercy toward you.  This is why Jesus comes forth from the Father into the world and then returns to the Father, so that He might reach out to draw you into Himself and His divine life.

    And finally, to keep you steadfast in that divine faith and life, Jesus gives you a great promise and the strongest of encouragements to pray.  In the Gospel He says, “Ask, and you will receive.”  Come in my name as dear children of a dear Father in heaven.  James reminds us that very often we do not have because we simply do not ask.  We are stubborn and strong-willed children.  We are always looking to our own solutions before we ever give a thought to petitioning the Lord of our life.  And so Jesus gently and lovingly invites us, “Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”  

    Jesus says elsewhere in Luke 11,“What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things and the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

    So ask.  In this world you will have tribulation, it is true.  But see that as an invitation to prayer.  And then be of good cheer.  For Christ has overcome the world by His holy cross.  Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  For by asking you are believing in Christ.  And by believing in Christ you are receiving Him who is joy in the flesh, who cheers your heart even now with His life-giving body and blood.  In Him your joy is truly full.

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

The Spirit of Truth

John 16.5-15
Easter 4

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

    Ever since we were little, we all were taught the importance of telling the truth and not lying.  We maybe even learned the saying, “Honesty is the best policy.”  And that’s what we want and expect from others.  We complain when our elected leaders stretch the truth or when spouses and friends and co-workers lie to us or deceive us.  But if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit that the truth is something we’re not always entirely comfortable with.  For while we’ll agree that telling the truth is good and maybe even quote the Bible that “the truth will set you free,” in reality we find it easier to bend the truth, to spin and re-shape it to our advantage, to tweak it here or there.  That’s really where we try to find our freedom–not in honest truth-telling, but in telling our version of the truth, the truth as we want others to see it, the truth according to the way we think it ought to be.

    But in all our dancing around and playing with the truth, what we forget is that truth ultimately is not a series of facts or a virtuous concept.  Truth ultimately is a person–the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.   After all, doesn’t Jesus say, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”?  He is Himself the Wisdom and the Logic of the universe, the One in whom all things hold together.  So if He is Truth in the flesh, then everything that is true and good finds its substance in Him.  And if He is the Truth, then to tinker with and distort the truth is to tinker with and distort our Lord Jesus.  And so when we bend the truth for our own advantage, we are offending not just our values but our Lord; and we are recalibrating not just our moral compass but our faith; and we are playing games not just with the facts but with our Savior.

    He who is the Truth incarnate, our Lord Jesus, says in today’s Gospel, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.. .  When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth.”

    So the work of the Holy Spirit, then, is to guide you to Christ.  And how does the Spirit do that?  First of all He does that by helping us to see the uncomfortable truth about ourselves.  For the truth is that we all have blind spots when it comes to our sin.  In one way or another, we all have become comfortable with justifying our sin or making exceptions for it in this case or that.  In other words, we’ve gotten used to lying to ourselves about sin.  We can see it clearly in others and identify their hypocrisy, no problem.  But the Holy Spirit has to convict us so that truly learn of our need for a Savior.

    So for instance, it’s easy for us to see the lies on which transgenderism is built and its rejection of the basic truth of our humanity as male and female.  But do we then go along with the lie by referring to a “he” as a “she,” or vice versa, or engage in all the pronoun nonsense so as not to offend?  We recognize (hopefully!) that same-sex marriage is in truth no marriage at all but a perverse caricature and mocking of marriage.  But do we then attend our friend’s ceremony or send a card just to be nice?  We rightly denounce when someone has an affair and commits adultery.  But do we then treat a couple living together or having sex before marriage as not really a big deal–especially if it’s someone we like or are close to?  In truth, we think it feels a little extreme to call out that form of adultery, even though God hasn’t joined those two people together yet.  And then we even justify our own lusts that are fed in the books and movies we consume.  It’s easy for us to see and decry the pollution of the culture, but it’s not so easy for us to see and confess the pollution of our own hearts.

    That’s what the Scriptures mean when they say that the Spirit of truth “will convict the world of sin.”  The Holy Spirit must hold up the mirror of the Law in front of us so that we confront reality–that our old nature really doesn’t really desire the freedom from sin that Christ brings; that we lie because we care more about what others think about us than what God thinks about us; that we don’t want to let go of our old ways and our worldly loves.  Our old Adam hates the truth of Christ that makes us truly free.  And so the first preaching of the Spirit is that we all must repent.

    However, our Lord Jesus, does not send His Spirit only to convict us.  For the Spirit of our Lord Jesus comes not to lead us to despair, but to lead us into all truth.  And so the Holy Spirit’s primary preaching is about Christ, who is all Truth.  The Spirit’s ultimate work is to empty us of ourselves so that He might then preach into our hearts the truth of Jesus and fill us with His righteousness.

    That is the second part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Having convicted and brought us to repentance, He then pardons and saves us by giving us the righteousness of Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father.  That is what the Holy Spirit is all about.  Jesus said that the Spirit will “take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  That is the Holy Spirit’s job, not to point to Himself or glorify Himself but to point to Jesus and glorify Him, to take the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus won for you and dish them out to you.  Just as the Son of God was sent to reveal the Father, so now the Holy Spirit is sent to reveal the Son, and in that way to bring you back into fellowship with God, the Blessed Holy Trinity.  

    Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convince the world of righteousness “because I go to the Father and you see Me no more.”  Since you can’t see Jesus and won’t see Him until the Last Day, the Holy Spirit preaches Christ and His righteousness into you through the Gospel, so that you may be led into all truth.  

    St. Paul declares in Romans 1, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”  Through the words of the Gospel, the Spirit reveals and gives to you Jesus’ righteousness.  So the truth about you now in Jesus is that you are right with God, fully and completely.  This is how the Helper, the Comforter comforts you.  All of your sins, regardless of how many and great, are canceled, forgiven, covered, and not reckoned to your account because you believe in Christ who made full atonement for them on the cross.  

    That, by the way, is also why Jesus said “it is to your advantage that I go away.”  If He didn’t go away to the cross, and through death and the grave to the resurrection of the body, then there would be no salvation and forgiveness for the Holy Spirit to deliver to you.  So even though it meant temporary heartache for the disciples, it meant eternal joy for them and for us all that Jesus did so.

    Whoever has faith in this Christ, even though it be weak, is declared righteous before God apart from works and merits.  Your righteousness is not based on the uncertainties of your own doing but on the certainty of Christ’s doing.  It doesn’t come from within you but through faith in Christ from outside you.  And therefore it is sure and true.  It is written, “Having been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Cling to that message of the Holy Spirit with all your heart.

    For there is one who hates the truth, who is the father of lies and all false teaching, namely the devil.  He is the author of our culture’s foolishness regarding gender and sexuality, who lures the world to scoff at how the Creator has ordered His creation.  Satan is the one who tries to convince you that it’s no big deal to engage in half truths and in self-promoting propaganda.  And above all, he will do his level best to get you to doubt what Christ has done for you, or to make you disbelieve that Christ’s righteousness is really yours.  

    And so the third and final part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to proclaim the judgment of the devil.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convince the world of judgment, for the ruler of this world is judged.  The Spirit of Truth unmasks the devil and exposes him for the liar that he is.  Through the Word, the Holy Spirit convinces and persuades us to believe that Satan, who rules this world with his distortion and deceptions, he who is the enemy of the truth of Christ is judged; the deed is done.  The devil’s deadly reign is over, finished on Good Friday, destroyed Easter morning.  And so even though Satan may rage and fume and spew his infernal lies, he can harm us none.  The victory is won–given to you in your baptism, and confirmed and strengthened in you as you receive the risen body and blood of Jesus who came to destroy the devil’s work.

    In Christ we have Him who is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  So then, let us not dance around the Truth.  Instead, let us walk in step with Him.  And let us not fear the Truth.  Instead, let us rejoice in Him.  And don’t run from the Truth.  Instead, embrace Him who is the Truth and love Him; for in Christ the Lord’s anger has been turned away from you.  God is your salvation.  Trust in Him and be not afraid.  For the Lord God is your strength and your song, and He has become your salvation.  

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

(With thanks to John Fenton)

3 Homilies on Luke 24:13-49

I. Luke 24:13-35

    The Emmaus disciples are sad and do not recognize the risen Jesus.  For the Scriptures, which speak of Him, are still closed to them.  So they believe Him still to be dead.  Their eyes are restrained.  That’s how it is with our sinful nature; it keeps us from seeing things the way they really are and from grasping God’s Word.  All we see is what we want to see, even when the Truth is standing right there in front of us. Without God’s working, we are blind to the things of Jesus.  

    And the fact is that it was also Jesus who restrained the eyes of these two on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus sometimes keeps us from seeing until we are ready, until He has prepared us to take in the truth.  That’s why He makes the Emmaus disciples wait; they need to be catechized and taught first.  They do not see yet, but their hearts burn within them as Jesus opens the Scriptures to them.  Has that ever happened to you, as you can almost feel your heart being filled with life and truth as you hear and take in divine teaching?  Jesus expounds to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.  Wouldn’t that have been a wonderful Bible class to attend!  And notice how it says “all.”  All the Scriptures have to do with Christ.  From the creation forward, they speak of Him who is the Word made flesh, now risen in the flesh.  Here you are given to see that Jesus alone is the Key that unlocks the Scriptures.  He is their center and substance, the very revelation of God.

    Jesus speaks of how it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer before entering His glory.  But why was it necessary?  Because as the God who is love, He obligated Himself to come and help you in your lost condition.  It was necessary so that the sins of the world might be taken away by Him who is the Lamb of God.  For according to the Scriptures, there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood.  

    The Emmaus disciples were hoping that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel.  Strangely enough they thought He failed in that mission because of His cross.  To them, and to every other fallen human being, that looked like defeat.  To them, redemption meant deliverance from earthly oppressors like the Romans.  We can fall into that trap, too, when we think that what’s most important is what happens in the political or economic realms–temporary, worldly deliverance.  But Jesus accomplished a much greater redemption precisely in His suffering, bringing freedom not from temporal oppressors but eternal ones.  You, O Israel, are released from Satan and sin and the grave.  For Christ redeemed you from them with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.  He now lives and reigns to all eternity to be your strong and merciful Lord.

    It is toward evening.  The Emmaus disciples ask this man, who is still a stranger to their eyes, to come in and stay with them.  Jesus sits at the table with them.  He takes the bread.  He blesses and breaks it and gives it to them.  And then their eyes are opened.  Now they are ready to see.  Now they are given to recognize who He is.  Christ makes Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread, and vanishes from their sight.

    Doesn’t the risen Christ still make Himself known to His people in this same way yet today?  By opening the disciples' eyes at the table and then immediately vanishing from their sight, Christ is teaching His church where now to look for Him.  You aren’t to look for Him in the same way as when He walked the earth during His ministry, or in visions or miraculous experiences.  You are to see Him in the breaking of the bread, that is, the Sacrament of the Altar.  For it is there that Christ is truly present with His living body and blood.  You are to regard every celebration of the blessed supper as another resurrection appearance of Christ.  For it is there at the table that the resurrected Lord comes to abide with you and gives you to share in His life, that He may live in you and you in Him forever.

    Let us then become as the Emmaus disciples, our hearts burning with the flame of Him who is the Light of the world as He unlocks the Scriptures and teaches us of Himself; and let us especially rejoice when He makes Himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.

II. Luke 24:36-43

    There are those who consider the resurrection of Jesus to be something less than fully real.  They regard it as an event that is only “spiritual,” not bodily in nature.  But there is neither truth nor comfort in such a view.

    When the disciples first see the risen Jesus, they are terrified and frightened.  Why?  Because they think they are seeing a spirit.  If Jesus were indeed a spirit, a ghost, we would have as much reason as the disciples to be terrified of Him.  For the Scriptures say that if Christ is not bodily raised from the dead, our faith would be futile; we would still be in our sins; darkness and death would still hang over us.

    How, then, does Jesus comfort His disciples?  By showing Himself to be alive in the flesh, for real.  He gives them to touch His flesh and bones, which no spirit has, to handle His wounded but now eternally restored hands and feet.  He proves Himself yet to be true man.  He is still Emmanuel, God with us, in our midst, God incarnate, one of us.

    Only then is there joy for the disciples.  And only then is there joy for us.  Something less than a real resurrection for Jesus means something less than real salvation for us.  But because Jesus truly is raised from the dead, because Easter is not ethereal and mythical but physical and concrete and literal, we know that our sins truly have been paid for, that the devil's head truly has been crushed, that the grave truly has been conquered for us.  As Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.”

    You see, our flesh and the flesh of Christ were tied together in baptism.  We were watered and worded into His body.  Therefore, just as He rose bodily from the grave, so will we when He comes again.  For where the head goes, the body must surely follow.  By His power, our lowly bodies will be changed to be like His glorious body.  Job declares, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh, I will see God.”  Christ’s exit from the tomb, then, is also our exit from the tomb.

    And Jesus does one more thing to demonstrate that He truly lives and has brought us salvation:  He eats.  How fitting that He does this!  For wasn’t it through eating that Adam fell into sin and death?  But now, through eating, Christ, who is the Second Adam, reveals that He has raised our human nature from death to life.  His body is alive.  Therefore our bodies, too, shall live, as we confess in the creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body”–Christ’s body now, and our bodies, at the Last Day.

III. Luke 24:44-49

    Here again, the risen Christ teaches that the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all have to do with Him.  They all speak of the deeds which He would accomplish in the flesh on earth.  As He teaches, Christ opens the disciples’ understanding so that they can comprehend these Scriptures.  

    To grasp the Scriptures, then, you must know Christ, who unveils them and opens your mind to them.  He Himself must teach you and show you how all the Scriptures center on Him and find their fulfillment in Him.  Apart from Jesus the Bible is a veiled and closed book.

    And notice that our Lord is not just talking about a select, small groups of passages.  Rather, Christ is to be perceived in the whole Biblical record of God's people.  For the life that the faithful have before God is the life of Christ.  Therefore, Christ is truly present in the historical accounts of their lives in the Scriptures.

    There He is, the Son of David in weak human flesh, doing battle with the Goliath Satan in the wilderness, fighting off his temptations and conquering him with the five smooth stones of the books of Moses.  There He is, praying the Psalms, putting Himself in our place, dealing with man’s sin as if it were His own.  There He is in the lion’s den of Daniel, descending into the pit of the grave with a stone sealing the entrance, but shutting death's ravenous mouth for us and coming forth in the morning victorious and exalted over His enemies.  There He is in Eden’s Garden, put into the sleep of death in order that His Eve, the Church, might be created from the Sacraments which flow from His side.  Christ truly gives His people to share in His life.  And, therefore, their lives truly reflect His own, all the way through the suffering and the death to the resurrection.

    And so it is with you.  For you are in Christ; you have been made one with Him at the blessed font.  Therefore, the story of Christ and of His people in the Scriptures is also your story.  There you are, buried with Christ in the belly of Jonah’s great fish, but risen again from the baptismal depths and set forth on the shores of new life.  There you are, following Christ “with unmoistened foot” through the Red Sea, watching your hellish enemies drown in the sacramental waters as you move forward on your journey to the Promised Land.  There you are, sharing in Christ’s afflictions and cross in order that you may also share in His eternal deliverance and salvation.

    By water and the Word, Christ pours and preaches into you repentance and remission of sins and thus gives you His life.  Through His ministers who speak in His name, He proclaims His condemning Law and His freeing Gospel, so that your old self might be crucified with Him and that He might live in you and raise you with Himself to newness of life.  This is what the Scriptures teach:  suffering and resurrection, repentance and forgiveness of sins, dying and rising with Christ daily, until that final day comes when it is proclaimed at the graves of His people: “They are not here.  They are risen.  Alleluia!”

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

I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

Luke 24:1-12

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

    The women had been up late into the night on Saturday preparing spices and ointments.  Jesus had been buried in a hurry on Friday since it was only a couple of hours until the Sabbath started and all work had to stop.  Everything had been done quickly–hardly the proper way to honor a beloved teacher and friend.

    So early in the morning, before sunrise on Sunday, they made their way to the tomb. “How are we going to roll the stone away from the entrance?” they wondered aloud to each other. Perhaps together they could budge it. What about the seal on the tomb and the guards?  Hopefully they would let these women do their work.

    But as soon as they arrived at the tomb, different questions filled their minds. The guards were gone. The seal was broken. The stone was rolled away. They looked inside.  No body!  What happened?  The grave clothes Jesus was wrapped in were there.  Grave robbers wouldn’t have removed those.  What was going on?

    And then, two men, bright angels, suddenly appear standing next to them, and scare the pre-dawn daylights out of them, saying, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  That’s the real question for the morning.  “Why are you looking for the Lord of Life in a graveyard?  He isn’t here.  He is risen.  Remember His words, how he told you in Galilee that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.”  And they remembered His words.  Learn from these women when you are fearful and confused, when death or loss has turned your world upside down.  Hear and remember Jesus’ words.

    Note here how it was not the disciples, not the men, but the women who were honored as the first ones to hear the news of the resurrection.  This is not an accident.  In the Garden of Eden, Eve was the one who had been tempted and had handed on the forbidden fruit to Adam, and together they brought the curse of death into the world.  But now at this garden tomb, the women are given the good news which conquers death and annihilates the devil.  And they hand on that message of life to the men.  What a wonderful “in your face” to the evil one!  Here Jesus, the new Adam, accomplishes a complete reversal of the fall into sin.

    “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  That’s the question for us today, too.  For like those in the Gospel, we’ve heard Jesus’ words and promises time and time again.  And yet so often we live as if Jesus was still dead and wasn’t around, as if His dying and rising again didn’t change anything, as if this fallen and cursed creation is all there is.  

    Why do we look for life and happiness in what is dead and dying–having money and possessions, searching out great recreational experiences, being praised and honored by others, indulging our desires for food or drink or sex?  We do that because as the fallen children of Adam, we are born looking for life in the cemetery of the self–self-fulfillment, self-expression.  The very things we look to for life and happiness wind up bringing death and sorrow.

    But the angels at the tomb direct us to the right place.  Jesus is alive, just as He said!  He doesn’t lie; His words are true.  His promises are always fulfilled.  And they bring us real life that is abundant and lasting.  

    Now we must admit that if we were those first hearing the women say that Jesus was alive, we too would probably think it was all hysterical nonsense, like the disciples did at first.  Most of the world today still thinks of Easter as just a fairy tale, perhaps with some moral or religious value, something good to teach the children, but nothing more.  However, I am here to proclaim to you on this holy day that the resurrection of Jesus is not just a pious myth.  It is the historic fact that confronts the world.  It’s real.  It’s the pivotal point around which all of human history turns.  

    Never forget that this was at a time when the Roman government and the Jewish authorities had complete control.  If there had been a body to produce, they would have produced it, and put it on public display to silence the rumors of resurrection.  That was the point of having the tomb securely guarded in the first place.  Remember, too, that Jesus was seen risen from the dead by over 500 people.  This wasn’t just one lone hallucination or an impostor or some disembodied ghost of Christ appearing to people.  They touched His hands and His side.  He ate with them.  Jesus Himself said, “Why are you troubled? . . . Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”  There was nothing left in the grave but the graveclothes.  Jesus, God the Son, is alive, in the flesh, in His glorified humanity as victor over sin and death and the devil, nevermore to die again.  

    This is extremely important for you, for at least three reasons.  First of all, Jesus’ resurrection means that His death on the cross was a sufficient sacrifice for your sins.  The wages of sin is death, but Jesus paid those wages in full, and then some, so that now your sin is taken away and your death overcome.  When Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross, the work of your redemption was truly finished and complete.  Nothing more needs to be done.  Easter shows that the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in your place; you are now forgiven and reconciled to Him.  If Jesus hadn’t been raised we would never know for sure that He had done the job on our sin.  If He remained in the tomb, that would mean that the deathly curse of sin hadn’t been broken.  That’s why Paul says in the Epistle that if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  But now that Christ is raised from the dead, we know that He is the victor over all of our enemies, and that in Him, we too are victorious conquerors over sin and death.

    Secondly, the resurrection of Jesus means that your bodies are important.  Jesus doesn’t just care about your spirits but also your flesh.  Otherwise He wouldn’t have taken on your flesh and blood in the first place in the womb of the blessed Virgin.  

    In our culture we are strangely schizoid when it comes to the body.  On the one hand we treat our bodies like they’re the most important thing of all.  All the talk is about supplements and diets and exercise and cleanses and good health care and “body positivity.”  You can’t avoid the emphasis on the physical in our visual, screen-focused age.  And yet at the same time, in the digital world the body becomes something we see merely as a vehicle for our “authentic inner selves,” something that’s changeable like an avatar in a video game, something you can run through a social media filter to smooth out your skin and make your eyes prettier, something you can photoshop in cyberspace or even re-gender in real space.  The spirituality of our age says that in the end our bodies have no eternal consequence or meaning, that the body is like a tin can to do with as you wish and to be discarded once it’s outlived its usefulness.  Live in whatever way makes you happy; bodily morality isn’t important.  You just do what works for you, because once you die, that’s it for the body; scatter the ashes to the wind.  It’s supposedly only what’s in your heart and spirit that counts and that lasts forever.

    But what happens with our bodies does in fact matter to God.  God created our bodies, declaring them to be good, giving us our identity.  He baptizes our bodies.  He nourishes and blesses them.  He makes our bodies His temple.  We are to glorify God with our bodies, Scripture says.  It’s not only your spiritual life or what’s going in your heart but your physical life that counts to God, too.  For the fact of the matter is you can’t really separate your spiritual and physical lives anyway.  Your soul is the life of your particular body.  And what you do with your body is a spiritual matter.  It’s not as if they are two separate things.  The only thing that rips them apart is death.  And death, we heard in the epistle reading, is our enemy, not our friend.  Our goal is not to escape the body and go off into some ethereal spiritual existence.  We confess in the Creed that we look forward to the resurrection of the body.  

    Your life in the body counts with God; it’s important.  And that needs to be emphasized especially to those who think it’s fine to just show up here at church only every once in a while. That choice to be physically elsewhere most of the time is a dangerous spiritual decision.  The risen Jesus is here in the flesh, bringing Himself to you in bodily ways.  It’s important for your souls that you are here bodily each week where Jesus is present for you so that He can speak His life-giving words into your ears and feed His risen body and blood into your mouths for your salvation.  What goes on with your bodies matters enough to God that He took up your sin and death into His body, was nailed in the flesh to the tree, and then rose from the dead bodily.  He is still a bodily man at the right hand of the Father even now.  Jesus came not to deliver you from your bodies, but to deliver your bodies from all sickness and disease and pain and death and to restore them to wholeness and health, so that you may share fully in His bodily immortality as the risen Son of God.

    Thirdly, then, Jesus’ resurrection means that you who believe and are baptized will rise from the dead–bodily, tangibly, literally.  For the Scriptures say that Christians are members of His body.  And where the head goes, the body must follow.  St. Paul calls Jesus the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  The first-fruits are like that first tomato to ripen on the vine.  It is the sign of more to come.  The resurrection of Jesus means that there is more rising from the dead to come, your own real, bodily resurrection to life on the Last Day.  Death has been dealt the decisive blow, not just for Jesus, but also for you.  Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies.”  Philippians 3 says that Christ will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, perfect and imperishable.  That is your sure and certain hope because of Easter.

    And that’s why we say with St. Paul, “O death, where is your victory; O grave, where is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law, but thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    So believe in this Easter Gospel.  It is true–literally, physically true.  Don’t seek God among the dead ways and philosophies of this world.  Seek Christ where He is to be found.  He is here among us in the flesh at the altar, giving us His living body and blood for our forgiveness.  He is here speaking His words which are life and truth.  The risen Christ is in our midst with saints and angels and the whole host of heaven.  He is here to give you real life that doesn’t pass away.  “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    The Lord is risen!  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

The Seven Words of Christ From the Cross

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 do not know what they do.”

    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 get 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 know we’re doing something wrong, we don’t grasp how deeply we are hurting others and 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–Mark 15:33-34
33 Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “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 made 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 it.

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 context:  “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.”

The Lamb

Maundy Thursday 
Exodus 12:1-14

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

    The lamb was selected on the 10th day of the month.  The lamb was slaughtered at twilight several days later, on the 14th day of the month.  The lamb’s blood was put on the doorpost and the lintel.  The lamb was eaten.  The people were saved by the blood of the lamb.  

    Note carefully here exactly what it is that the Israelites are being saved from.  They are being saved from the Lord and His judgment of death.  He is the one who is passing through the land to strike down all the firstborn.  It is the Lord’s Passover!  Don’t ever forget that the thing you most need to fear in this life isn’t the devil or the world; it is God whom you are to fear.  The Lord in His judgment is the One from whom you need to be saved!

    The Lord God isn’t a kindly old Grandpa God.  He’s not the type of God who comes to be your fishing buddy or your life coach.  The Lord God is the destroyer of sin and sinners.  He’s the unstoppable force and the immovable object who is not just a little bit bothered by sin, He’s burning with hell-hot anger and hatred against it and against those who do it.  He is a jealous God, visiting the sins on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him.

    Ponder that the next time you dismiss your sins as nothing, or willfully do something you shouldn’t because you think that God will just forgive you afterwards. The fires of hell say that the Lord God isn’t manipulated like that.  The Lord God launches Himself on the night of the Passover to open a can of divine judgment on those who reject Him and His words.  He brings death to every male firstborn as the price for whatever gets in the way of His being your God.

    However, you won’t see that angry God in the Passover Lamb!  Here you see God carrying out His vengeance in such a way that His people receive mercy.  Take the Lamb, He says, a male without blemish.  This isn’t the time just to get rid of the runt of the litter, to give a token offering.  It must be a spotless lamb, something that is prized and precious, that requires sacrifice to give up.  Kill the lamb at twilight.  Take the lamb’s blood and paint it on the door post and lintel with a hyssop branch.

    Then, eat the lamb.  It must all be consumed, either with the mouth or with fire.  Eat it with bitter herbs, remembering your suffering.  There is to be no leaven, no yeast in the bread, which puffs up.  Have shoes on your feet, clothes tucked in, staff in hand, ready to go on the journey the Lord has prepared for you.  When the Lord arrives He’s going to deliver you.  When the Lord God saw the lambs’ blood on the doorposts of the children of Israel’s houses, He passed over their homes.  They were saved from His wrath, saved from Him.  The Lamb took their place in judgment.

    This is how the children of Israel celebrated the Lord’s Passover every year, until...Good Friday.  For this is what the Passover was always pointing forward to–a fulfillment in Jesus, who saves you from the wrath you deserve eternally because of your addiction and slavery to sin.  Jesus has come to set you from your spiritual taskmasters, and bring you into the Promised Land of the resurrection of the body.

    God the Father Himself is the One who selects His own Passover Lamb during Holy Week.  We saw this choosing of Jesus on Palm Sunday–which is the 10th day of the month!–when the Lamb of God was selected with shouts of “Hosanna!”  As the Passover sacrifice could come from the sheep or from the goats, so this Lamb of God takes away the sins of the whole world, both the sheep who will believe in Him and be saved and the goats who will reject Him and be damned.  This one Lamb is for everyone, for all time—a perfect Lamb, without sin or blemish or spot.

    The Son of God Himself is the Paschal Lamb whose blood is shed.  And please note how the blood of the Passover was to be applied: with the branch of a hyssop.  Remember how it was a branch of hyssop that was used to raise a sponge full of sour wine to Jesus’ lips right before He died.  And there’s also this: the Passover blood of old was painted on the doorposts with a vertical motion, then on the lintel over the door with a horizontal motion.  Do you see?  In doing this, the Israelites made the motions of the sign of the cross in blood.  It all points us to Jesus.

    And this is true also of the slaying of the firstborn.  Here God only punishes one Firstborn, for you.  All the anger and hatred that God has for every sin and against every sinner for all time fell upon His Firstborn and only-begotten Son on the cross.  The God who punishes, whose anger consumes and burns hotter than the surface of the sun, passes over punishing you.  Jesus dies.  You live.  You are saved and set free.  We will sing of it on Easter.

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see, Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o'er.
And Satan cannot harm us.  
(LSB 458:5)

    God’s people of old received the benefits of the sacrifice by trusting the Lord’s words and by eating the meal He instituted.  So it is that on this night in which Jesus is betrayed to a hellish death, He takes the unleavened bread of the Passover and declares it to be His body; the cup of wine He declares to be His blood.  Believing Jesus’ words, we eat of the Lamb of God and receive the benefits of His sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins.  Death passes over us and does not touch us.  For the blood of the Lamb is on the doorpost of the church and on our hearts by means of Christ’s preaching and Sacraments.  Taking refuge in Him we are spared; we are safe.

    Jesus is the Firstborn Son who has saved us from the plague of eternal death.  And being baptized into Him who is the firstborn from the dead (Col 1:18), we are now treated with the exalted status of firstborn.  Hebrews 12 says this, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

    That blood of Christ was sprinkled on you in Baptism, doorpost and lintel, on your forehead and on your heart.  And that blood is given into your mouths in the Lord’s Supper, that you may be filled with His life and cleansed by His presence.  Feasting on the body and blood of the Lamb, death, hell, and Satan can no more harm you than they can harm Christ.  They are stingless and toothless against Him.  So, they are stingless and toothless against you.

    And even more importantly, God won’t harm you either.  Because of the Lamb who was slain and who has begun His reign, you are a beloved child of the heavenly Father.  Taking refuge in Christ, there is no more wrath, no more judgment, no more hell; only forgiveness, eternal life, and loving one another as Christ has loved you.

    The Passover month was the beginning of months for Israel.  In the same way the sacrificial death of Jesus marks a new beginning for you.  Let us then purge out the old leaven of sin which puffs us up in pride.  And let us partake of this paschal feast in sincerity and truth.  This is the Lord’s Passover: His Body broken for you and His Blood shed on the Cross for you.  Receive it in faith.  Eat Jesus’ sacrifice.  Be forgiven.  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

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

(With thanks to George Borghardt)

We Wish to See Jesus

John 12:12-33
Palm Sunday

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

    In the Palm Sunday processional Gospel, the Pharisees said to one another, “We are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”  The Pharisees were rather frustrated.  They hated our Lord and were plotting to kill Him.  They were also plotting to kill Lazarus whom Jesus had just raised from the dead.  The Pharisees had seen how the crowds went out to meet the Lord, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  The King of Israel!”  It was like witnessing a huge rally for your political enemy right in your own home town.  Everyone wanted to see our Lord who had raised Lazarus from the dead.  And this annoyed and frustrated the Pharisees who were so full of their own righteousness that they could not stand the grace of God that was revealed and given in Christ.

    So, ironically enough, out of the mouth of the Pharisees comes a prophetic word.  You remember how God had done this before with the high priest Caiaphas.  Caiaphas had said that one man should die for the people.  He meant that as a political tactic to maintain the status quo; but God used even his enemy to speak a Gospel truth, that Jesus would die for the people to save them from their sins.  So also here, the Pharisees say, “We are accomplishing nothing.”  That was most certainly true; they were accomplishing nothing by their works before God.  Nor could they do anything to stop the mission of Christ.  Our Lord was firmly set upon His course to the cross.  The world, the devil, and sinful flesh could accomplish nothing against the salvation that He was bringing.

    The Pharisees also said, “The world has gone after Him.”  That, too, was most certainly true.  Not only the Jews who had gathered for the Feast of the Passover, but now even some Greeks who were there–they, too wanted to see Jesus.  “The world has gone after Him,” the world whose sins Jesus came to bear.

    So it is written in Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? ...  The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.  Then He rebukes them in His anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’”  God has a sense of humor.  He puts words of prophecy into the mouths of those who oppose Him.  The Pharisees speak truth even though they do not understand it.  There is nothing they can do.  The whole world will be drawn to this Jesus.  God the Father will establish Him as King on the holy hill of the cross.  The Father sits on His heavenly throne, chuckling and laughing at those who are frustrated by His gracious will.

    Philip and Andrew come to Jesus with a request from these Greeks, “We wish to see Jesus.” But our Lord gives an answer which strangely makes no mention of the Greeks and gives no indication that He will speak with them.  Rather, their request causes our Lord to ponder His impending death.  For it was only through His death that the Greeks would ever see Him properly.  Jesus says to Philip and Andrew, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”

    Throughout the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus’ hour has not yet come, beginning with His very first miracle at the wedding at Cana.  But now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Our Lord is speaking here not first of all about His resurrection but about His suffering.  That is the hour for which He has come into this world.  It is the hour when the righteous anger of God against sin will be shown for what it is.  But it is also the hour that God’s love will be shown for what it is.  Strangely enough, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, is glorified on the cross.

    That is why Palm Sunday has an odd tension to it.  That is why this day is a day of restrained joy.  Jesus enters into Jerusalem as King; yet He rides on a lowly donkey colt.  We join in with the people's shouts of “Hosanna!”; yet we realize that He has come in humility to die.  This King’s glory is to be lifted up in love for the world on the throne of the cross, to lay down His life in this world that you might be lifted up to heaven.  Jesus displays His glory and majesty by being the Groom who will let nothing, not even death, stand in the way of rescuing His bride, the Church.  

    Therefore, Jesus rides into the holy city on a beast of burden.  For Jesus was to be like that donkey, as it is written, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”  Jesus’ soul was troubled here.  For all your burdens were placed upon Him.  He hauled all of your trespasses and anxieties and diseases to that hill outside the city walls, where they were dumped and crushed and obliterated and buried forever.  Jesus took it upon Himself, literally, to make things right for you in the sight of your heavenly Father.

    “We wish to see Jesus,” is the request.  And the answer our Lord gives is to raise up before us His cross.  Our Lord came to do what the sinful mind of man does not expect.  Our Lord came to crucify our wisdom and our expectations, that we might be made truly wise and be given real hope.  Jesus came to be that kernel of wheat which falls into the ground and dies so that the old might be done away with and a new creation might come forth.  He is the kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies so that all might be drawn to Him. 

    The “death” of a seed is what brings life to the garden.  In much the same way Jesus’ death brings about life for you.  Jesus chooses not to remain a single seed.  He enters into the Garden of Gethsemane, where He anguishes over what is about to come upon Him, where His sweat waters the dirt.  Then, after being lifted up for our sins on the cross, Jesus is taken down to the earth, lifeless and limp.  He is buried in a grave, planted in a tomb which is located in the midst of a garden.  However, Jesus sprouts forth to life on Easter morning.  He produces a harvest of forgiveness and salvation for all who trust in Him.  Through the planting of the one Seed, Jesus, many more seeds are produced, countless people who through Him are brought from darkness to light, from death to life.  Only by first being planted in the depths of darkness and death does Jesus raise us with Himself to light and life.  

    And here’s what that all means for your day to day life: Living in Christ, we are to die to ourselves in this world in order that we may share with Him in His resurrection.  Jesus said, “The man who loves his life will lose it.”  Love is not always a good thing, despite our culture’s ridiculous creed that “love is love.”  The Pharisees are not without love.  They love their own lives.  The fallen nature of man loves to satisfy its own appetites.  The love of money, the love of power, the love of glory in this world and the praise of men–hearts set on these things are dead to God.  The sinful nature loves to have its way and hates to suffer anything.  This world is full of those who are literally loving themselves to death.

    And beware of those who are always talking about “living their best life” –another stupid phrase in our culture.  If what you’re experiencing in this world is really your best life, then there’s a spiritual problem.  For Jesus said, “The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  Hate is not always a bad thing.  To hate what is contrary to the will of our most gracious God is a holy hatred.  Such hate is the gift of God.  Psalm 97 says, “You who love the Lord, hate evil; He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”  The saints of the Lord are those who are freely given the righteousness of Christ through faith, those who rely not on their own goodness but on His alone.  The wicked from whom the Lord preserves His saints are the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh.  To hate the sin which still hangs around our necks is a blessing from God.  If you really want to know a person, find out what it is that they hate.

    Our whole Christian life in this world is a constant return to our Holy Baptism where the Holy Spirit leads us to hate what God hates and to love what God loves.  No one can go through this life without hating some things and loving other things.  The difference between life and death is precisely in what we hate and what we love.  The Pharisees loved their lives.  They loved their acts of righteousness, and they hated our Lord and the righteousness He freely brought to this world.  The Lord grant that we may hate our lives in this world and love Him who is our righteousness, life, and salvation.

    Our Lord had many admirers.  There were many who were fascinated by His words and eager to see the marvelous signs He performed.  Perhaps these Greeks in the Gospel who asked to see Jesus were like that, people who would admire Jesus without really knowing or caring about why He had come.  

    So to make matters clear our Lord speaks of His cross.  His death means the death of the sinner.  His death means judgment on this world.  His death means the driving out of the devil, who is the prince of this world.  Those who would follow Jesus must follow Him to the cross.  They must die with Him and be raised with Him.  They must die to this life and be raised to a new life in Him.

    “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  And our Lord replies, “I’ll see you at Calvary.”  That is where you are to look.  And where is it that you may behold Christ the crucified but in the Sacrament of the Altar?  For the Lord who came in His flesh and blood to Jerusalem comes also to you now in His flesh and blood to give you the forgiveness of sins which He purchased on the cross, riding on the donkey of the bread and wine.  You join in with the Palm Sunday crowd and sing, “Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  So hold forth your palms today as symbols of your worship and faithful reception of Christ the King.  For it is Christ’s glory to come into the holy city to give His life for you that you may live.

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

(With thanks to Michael Hill)