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The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

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Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-27

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

    There are some who would say that we Lutherans don’t pay enough attention to the Holy Spirit.  We’re always talking about Jesus and what He said and did, but the Holy Spirit barely gets a mention.  Shouldn’t He get equal time?  Shouldn’t we be talking more about the power of the Spirit in our lives?  Well stop and think about that question.  What specifically is the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  Romans 1 answers that question when it says, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.”  The power of the Holy Spirit is not just some generic force to make things happen or to make us better people.  It is the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ the crucified.  That’s when the power of the Holy Spirit is being exercised, when that Gospel is being proclaimed, bringing people to faith in Christ and sustaining them in the faith.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also new life and salvation.null

    So the truth of the matter is that whenever Christ is being preached, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is present and doing His work.  Jesus said in John 16, “The Holy Spirit will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  And in today’s Gospel our Lord said, “The Holy Spirit will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”  So you see, the Holy Spirit’s ministry is all about Jesus.  The Spirit’s job is not to be center stage Himself, but to bring glory to Christ.  In fact, if you’re hearing a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit just by Himself, or about healings and speaking in tongues and the Spirit’s power in your life apart from Christ, that actually frustrates the work of the Holy Spirit.  For He is the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and who is one with them in God’s purpose of bringing life to the world.

    And the events of Pentecost serve to make this point.  For when all is said and done, what are the main things that happened on Pentecost Day?  Well if you read all the way through the 2nd chapter of Acts, you’ll see that the Gospel of Christ was preached, people were baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, and the believers gathered together for the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread.  There were other wonderful, miraculous things about Pentecost Day which God gave on this unique and special occasion.  But the key thing about this day is that the Holy Spirit was poured out to deliver the gifts of Christ.

    The first thing to notice about this event is that the believers were all gathered together in one place.  It was the 3rd hour of the day, 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  (How about that!)  That’s where the Spirit came, to that gathering, which is a reminder of the verse in Hebrews 10, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the [Last] Day approaching.”  

    And there were two signs which accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit among this little band of Jesus’ followers.  The first was the sound of a rushing mighty wind.  This wind was the breath of God, breathing His Spirit and His life into His Church.  It is reminiscent of how Adam was created.  God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living being.  In the same way the Holy Spirit is the breath of life and the soul of the body which is the Church.  This rushing wind is also reminiscent of how God caused a wind to blow over the waters after the flood, drying the land and bringing about a new creation.  In the same way, the Spirit blows across the waters of baptism to make us a new creation in Christ.

    The second sign was the tongues of fire that came to rest upon the disciples.  As in the burning bush where God spoke to Moses, as in the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the wilderness, so also here, the fire shows that the Spirit of God, the 3rd Person of the Holy Trinity, is present for and with His people to lead and guide them.

    And, of course, there’s a little play on words here: there were tongues of fire, and they were able to speak with other tongues.  The fiery presence of the Holy Spirit made them able to talk in other languages which they had not learned before this.  And please note that these were known languages in the world of that day.  Sometimes, when so-called Pentecostals talk about speaking in tongues–like those in the Assembly of God–they’re generally not talking about any language that would be understood today, just ecstatic babbling.  And that’s not what’s going on here.  The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in tongues so that the visitors who were there in the city from all over the world could hear the Word of Christ in their own native language.  This gift was given for the sake of the Gospel!  The people who heard this said, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.”  Through this miracle, the Holy Spirit was saying to the people, “Jesus is for you.  He is for all nations and languages.  He died for everyone; He is your Savior from sin.  You can be sure of it because you are hearing it in your heart language, your own mother tongue.”

    The same is true for us gathered here today. The word of forgiveness, won by a man who spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, preached by apostles who spoke Greek, confessed by much of the church in Latin, translated by Luther into German, has come to you in your own language, in the English tongue.  That’s God’s gift to you.  There’s no more personal way of saying that Jesus is your Savior than to say it in your own language. The Gospel of Christ is for you.  That’s what it means to be truly Pentecostal.  

    Of course, the very fact that there are all these languages in the world is a reminder of why Jesus had to come and die in the first place.  God caused the confusion of languages at Babel because of our self-exalting sin.  In order to humble people like us, who want to make a name for ourselves, who aren’t content with what we were created to be, God scatters us.  The confusion of languages illustrates what our sin does.  It separates us from others, and most of all, it separates us from God.

    The thing that functions as our tower of Babel today is the internet and our advanced technology.  There’s nothing wrong, of course, with technology or the internet or tall towers of themselves.  But in the hands of sinful human beings, these tools tend to magnify and multiply sin and its power and its consequences.  And even though these things have the potential to bring people together for good, in the end they are always vying to become idols that we love because they serve our desires and because they enable us to a name for ourselves apart from God’s will.  It’s strange and yet not surprising that while technology has made the world seem smaller and more of a global community, we are as tribal and polarized as we’ve ever been–in our politics, in our workplaces, even in our own homes.  For greater power and potential in the hands of sinners inevitably causes greater separation from God and from one another.  Even among those of the same tongue, we’re not always speaking the same language.

    However, you can surely see that Pentecost is the reversal of Babel.  Whereas Babel caused the people to be scattered and separated, at Pentecost all the people of various languages are brought together in Christ.  Even as Jesus was crucified with the accusation above His head written in three different languages, so He redeemed all those of every nation and tribe and people and language, releasing them from their sins by His precious blood.  He has broken down the barrier of sin and pulverized it beneath His feet.  He has put us right with God the Father by His holy death.  And so He has also put us right again with one another.  The walls of hurt and division which separate us are overcome by His mercy and forgiveness.  The risen Jesus sends out His Spirit to draw us together and make us one in Himself.  No tower, no technology, no human achievement can truly unite us and lift us up to the heavens.  Only Jesus can do that.  And the Holy Spirit has come to proclaim that to the world.

    Now there were those on Pentecost who rejected the Holy Spirit, who mocked the disciples speaking in other tongues, and said, “They are full of new wine.”  And yet those mockers were actually more correct than they realized.  For Jesus had once said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins . . . But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”  The wine of the old testament was poured from the old wineskins of the prophets.  But now in these latter days of the new testament, the apostles are the new wineskins.  For Christ Himself is the great grape cluster who was crushed in His suffering and passion, that He might bring forth the wine of the Spirit.  Here indeed, then, the apostles are filled with this new wine of the Holy Spirit, that they might bring life and joy to the nations.  It is written of the days of the Messiah that “the mountains shall drip with new wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.”  Here we see the beginning of those days, days in which we still live.

    Truly, the prophesy of Joel is still coming to pass, where God says, “On My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy.”  To prophesy here simply means to speak and confess the word of God.  It is what we are doing here today in the liturgy, as we speak and sing and confess the words of God given us by the Holy Spirit.  You are the Lord’s menservants and maidservants, for God’s Spirit was quite literally poured out on you in your baptism.  You are the ones gathered by the Spirit around the altar as one body; for there you receive the true body of Christ.  You are those who look for the coming of great and awesome day of the Lord, who call on the name of the Lord and shall be saved.  For no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.  

    So then, keep and hold on to Jesus’ Word.  For it comes from the Father and is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Through this Word the persons of the Holy Trinity come to you and make their home with you.  By this Word you have peace that the world cannot give, the everlasting peace of Christ.

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

Offering God Service

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John 15:26 - 16:4

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

    The devil doesn’t mind if people are religious, not at all.  In fact Satan actually likes it when people are religious; he’s behind the invention of all the false religions in the world.  For the most powerful form of evil is darkness that appears to be light, evil that seems to be good.  And what could appear to be more good than something which is done in the name of God and spirituality–a Mormon promoting family values, a Muslim seeking to live a righteous life, a Hindu seeking inner peace and balance?  The devil has no trouble with people engaging in religious God-talk; for the devil has been trying to play God from the beginning.  When people tell you that they’re spiritual, remind them that demons are spirits, too, and perhaps they should be just a little bit more specific.  St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that what the pagans think they are offering up to their god they are actually offering to demons.  You don’t have to be a Satanist engaging in weird rituals to be worshiping the devil.  Any worship that is not the worship of the true God, the Holy Trinity, any faith that is not faith in Jesus the Savior is fine with the evil one.

    Just consider the Apostle Paul before his conversion.  He was serving the devil even while he thought he was serving God.  Paul was devoted to living righteously according to the law; he was a rising star among his fellow Pharisees.  And he was so zealous and passionate in his religion that he devoted himself to rooting out and getting rid of those whom he thought to be heretics, particularly these Christians who worshiped Jesus as the Son of God.  He oversaw the stoning to death of a Christian deacon named Stephen.  He was willing even to travel to other countries in order to persecute and imprison those who followed Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It was only the grace of God that turned Paul’s life around when Jesus appeared to Him on the road to Damascus, bringing him to repentance and faith and a new life.  Only by grace did He come to worship the true God, through faith in Christ alone.null

    Jesus said, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”  Today, those words bring to mind Islamic jihad, something that is supposedly a holy killing, a holy war.  The terrorists kill in service to their false god.  The shout of “Allahu Akbar” that you sometimes hear is simply the Arabic way of saying “God is the greatest.”  Those words of themselves are fine and true, but then they are twisted and turned against the true God, used while taking the life of the “infidel” Christian who refuses to renounce Jesus as the Savior or to honor Muhammad.  Unfortunately this sort of killing happens today with great frequency in North Africa and the Far East as well as the Middle East.  Followers of Jesus are specifically targeted because of their faith.  And here’s the thing: the terrorists think that what they’re doing will make the world a better place.  They actually think that they’re serving God.

    Now thankfully, this is something we almost never face.  However, there is a soft persecution that is rising year by year in this country.  And it comes from the religion of progressivism.  Even though progressives and so-called social justice warriors wouldn’t necessarily characterize their beliefs as religious, they are just as puritanical and intolerant of anyone who departs from their orthodoxy as Paul was in his days as a Pharisee.  Jesus said that “they will put you out of the synagogues.”  The equivalent of that today is: they will put you out of the public square where the shape of our cultural life is decided–higher education and politics and entertainment.  Just go to a university today as a professing Christian who believes that Jesus is the only way to eternal life and that the Bible is the truth.  Watch how quickly your free speech and freedom of assembly is shut down and you are cast to the fringes.  And also in politics and TV and movies and social media, if you don’t support so-called “reproductive rights” or gay relationships or transgenderism, if you make any sort of open statement declaring that you think marriage is only between a man and a woman, well then you’re no better than a Ku Klux Klan racist.  You’re a bigot who deserves to lose your job or be driven out of business.  You yourself may not be killed, but your livelihood certainly can be killed.  Many of you who work within the realm of secular culture and government regulations know well the pressure to use politically correct talk or to remain silent about your Christian beliefs in order to avoid problems or a financial hit or a re-education sensitivity training course.  And again, those who try to silence Christians and purge traditional Christian morality and beliefs may actually think that they’re doing something good and loving and positive for the world.  They may well believe they’re serving God by intolerantly enforcing their version of tolerance.

    Progressivism needs to be understood in this way as a religion.  Its Paradise Lost story is global warming.  It’s Gospel is self-expression and sexual freedom.  Its priests are Hollywood celebrities and woke professors and news media elites.  And its Sacrament is abortion, where Jesus’ words of life are demonically turned into words of death, “This is my body–I have a right to do what I want with it.”  The unbelieving world will always be religious.  But its religion is anti-Christ, anti-Christian, anti-truth.  It does not want to listen to the Spirit of truth sent by Jesus from the Father.  

    So do not think that it’s some strange or unexpected thing when trials come upon you or if people make it difficult for you to live as a Christian.  Jesus has told you in advance so that you won’t be surprised, so that you won’t be made to stumble in the faith and wonder what’s going on, so that you won’t be tempted to embrace the world’s religion like everyone else seems to be doing.  It’s not easy being on the outside of what the world is praising and holding up as good.  It’s not easy to be faithful in the midst of rampant unfaithfulness.  However, it is written, “Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”  And today’s Epistle says, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”  

    Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his Master.”  If they crucified Him, those who follow Him should not expect a life of ease in this world.  But even in this, faith sees God’s gracious handat work.  For in each of these hardships the Lord is reminding you not to get too comfortable here. Your citizenship is in heaven, your life is hidden with God in Christ.  According to Scripture, it is an honor to partake of Christ’s sufferings.  Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.  For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”   

    This is what it means to be baptized.  It is to take part in Christ’s death, so that we may also take part in His rising to new life.  Romans 6 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  So first and foremost, baptism means that we share in the benefits of Christ’s death.  We are washed clean of our sin, and we are given eternal life and the sure hope of the resurrection of the body.  But until that Day, your baptism also means sharing in Christ’s sufferings, sharing in the cross.  Baptism means the putting to death of your sinful nature.  That happens through daily contrition and repentance, battling against and drowning your old Adam and the world that lives in you.  But it also happens through the afflictions and trials that you are put through in this fallen and unbelieving world.  God works even through His enemies and the evils they inflict for your ultimate good, so that in the end you may share fully in the joy of Christ’s resurrection.  For it is written, “If we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”

    So trust in God in the midst of affliction or persecution.  He has not forgotten you or forsaken you.  He works through the cross and suffering to bring you unimaginable joy and blessing.  This world cannot touch you.  Its threats are meaningless.  The devil and the world may prowl around like a roaring lion seeking whom they may devour; but for those in Christ, all the devil can do is roar and make a lot of noise.  For he has had his teeth and claws pulled out on Good Friday.  Even if you were to be killed for your faith, nothing and no one can stop the bodily resurrection God is bringing you.  So do not be afraid when hardship comes.  Do not think for a moment that your heavenly Father has abandoned you.  For He loves you and has saved you for his own Name's sake.  He has gathered you out of the world's synagogues to be his own Holy Church, the spotless Bride of Christ washed clean in the waters of baptism flowing from the spear-pierced side of her Husband.  He has cleansed you of your filthiness and your idols.  He has replaced your stony heart, creating in you a clean heart of flesh.  He has given you a new spirit by breathing the breath of His Holy Spirit over you again and again as receive Holy Absolution.

    Here, in His Holy Church, the Lord offers to you all He has, for He offers you all that He is. The Lord is your light and your salvation and the strength of your life.  And He is here now to fill you with His forgiveness, love, and mercy.  Jesus is the One who truly offers God the Father service–not by killing others but by sacrificing Himself for you.  That is what the Divine Service is: the Lord's service to you–first performed for you on the cross and now given to you in the Holy Sacrament with His true body and blood.  This is what’s real and lasting and true in the midst of the fake reality of the world.  This is where everything is set right, where the madness of the world and its lies are held at bay. For where Christ Jesus is, there is your home, your peace, your comfort, your joy in all hardships, and your entry into eternal life.

    So take to heart the words of the Epistle, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, . . . that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Praying in Jesus' Name

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John 16:23-33

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

    This 5th Sunday after Easter is historically known as “Rogate” Sunday, which is Latin for “Call Ye” or “Pray Ye.”  In centuries past the next three days of this week leading up to Ascension day on Thursday would be observed as special days of prayer.  Petitions would be made to God for the fields and for the seeds planted in them, that the world might be blessed with food in the coming harvest.  This would certainly be a good thing for us to do again, especially this year when so many farmers are facing a tough season, and many of them can’t even get into their fields because of all the rain and the mud.  Unlike the semi-pagan earth day observances that have become customary, Rogate days of prayer emphasize our dependence on Father God, the Creator and Sustainer of Life, and our stewardship of a world that belongs to Him, not to us.  Prayer itself teaches 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 utilize 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 plan of salvation.null

    Jesus Himself 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 Savior and Lord, 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 focuses on man 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 erected 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!  When you call God “Father,” you are certainly praying as though you were Christ.  For as we know, Jesus is the only Son of the Father.  So the only way we can legitimately call God our 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.  It’s as if Jesus is giving you His username and password and social security number.  It’s not identity theft, it’s an identity gift.  In Jesus you are counted as sons 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.

    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.  

    Prayer, then, is as much God’s action as it is yours.  When we talk about the power of prayer, we’re really talking about the power of God who teaches and moves us to pray, who hears our prayers through Christ, and who answers them as a loving Father.  Prayer is powerful not because of your praying, but because of the One you’re praying to, and because of the stance of faith it puts you in, to trust in His gracious will and power.  The true God, the Holy Trinity hears your prayers not because of your merits, but for the sake of Jesus alone.  

    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.  St. James reminds us that very often we do not have because we simply do not ask.  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.  See that as an invitation to prayer.  And then be of good cheer.  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 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 ✠

Joy Comes Through Suffering

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

    An early church father, John Chrysostom once remarked, “A mother to become a mother passes through pain.” That is how God has ordained the Christian life–joy is on the other side of pain, and the joy cannot come except through pain.  In explaining His coming crucifixion, our Lord uses the example of a mother’s pain in childbearing to show the necessity of His suffering on the cross, but also to give them the hope that the resurrection will shortly follow.  And notice how He joins His suffering to theirs, and His joy to theirs. The same is true for you: He invites you to bring your own pain, your own suffering, your own battle with sin and sorrow, to Him. He endures your pain, and will give to you the joy of His resurrection.

    But first, for now, we must experience these words, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, and the world will rejoice.”  I think very often we forget that’s the way the Christian life works.  We are tempted to think that being a Christian means always being blessed by God in visible ways and being free from worry and hassle and pain and conflict.  And if we are experiencing those things, if we’re not living a “victorious Christian life,” then we must not be true Christians, or God must have left us.  I’ve known a number of people who have given themselves over to bitterness because of some hard circumstance in their life.  They’re angry at God for allowing suffering into their life.  They operate with the idea that if they do their part for God–come to church and so forth–then God will give them a smooth and happy existence.  But that’s not what God has promised His people.  The truth is that the Christian life is marked both by the cross and the resurrection, the curse of death and the gift of life in Christ at the same time.  And so it is a mixture of fear and love, weeping and laughing, heartache and gladness, sorrow and joy, insecurity and confidence–with the cross and suffering experienced as often as not in this life, while the fullness of contentment and happiness is reserved for the life of the world to come.null

    Those are not exactly the words we want to hear.  We want to hear that life in Christ is a life where everything always falls into place.  We want to hear that being a Christian means that we will be treated fairly, that others will always respect us, that life’s bumps won’t be all that hard.  

    Joy is on the other side of pain; but we want desperately to avoid the cross in our lives and to run from the harder parts of our callings and our vocations.  We find it hard to accept the truth of Psalm verses such as these, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes, [O Lord].”  (Ps. 119.71). And again, “Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord” (Ps. 94.12).  For the Lord chastens and disciplines those He loves.  Throughout Scripture, tribulation is described as needful, so that we grow as children of God and learn to depend completely on the grace and mercy of God.

    Repent.  For as the OT reading said, “it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.  Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him; let him put his mouth in the dust–there may yet be hope.  Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, and be full of reproach.  For the Lord will not cast off forever.  Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies.”  

    That is the way of the Christian because that is the way of Christ.  Jesus is the one who gave His cheek to the ones who struck Him, who was full of reproach, who was laid in the dust of death.  And yet He was not by any means cast off forever.  For He was raised again the third day.  That is the source of our forgiveness and our salvation; His pains bring us life and joy.  And this, then, is also the pattern of our lives in Christ.  Jesus is saying to His disciples, “Don’t be surprised at the trials that will come upon you as if this were something strange.  For I am about to go the cross to suffer your sins to death in My body and win your full and free forgiveness.  And you are my followers.  You are baptized into Me.  And so you are given to carry My suffering and death in your bodies, in order that you might also carry My life in your bodies and have the relief and comfort that only I can give.  So blessed are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.  Blessed are you who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for yours in the kingdom of heaven.”

    “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again, a little while, and you will see Me.”  There will be those little whiles in your life when you can’t seem to see Jesus, times when you want to just check out and give up.  But He reminds you here that it really is only a little while that you must endure.  That pain, that disease, that heartache, that challenging situation is almost over.  Just hang on to Him.  Trust in Him to pull you through it.  It may seem like an eternity, but only three days.  The day of resurrection is coming.  Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

    Again, it’s like a pregnant woman awaiting the time of her delivery.  The wait may seem like forever, or the labor like it’s never going to end.  But inevitably, the time of the birth does come, the little while is finally over, the little one arrives, and Jesus says, “she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”  

    So it is also for believers as we await the final delivery on the Last Day.  You were conceived and given new life in the womb of the church by water and the seed of the Word.  You are continually nourished through your holy mother by preaching and the supper.  You are given to grow and mature in the faith like a developing unborn child.  But there are times when things get a little uncomfortable in this womb, especially as the end nears.  And the “labor” of this life can be very traumatic.  But then comes the delivery of the new life.  Then comes your deliverance in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day, and there is nothing but joy and fulfillment–the former sorrows will not even be remembered, but will fade as fog evaporates in the light of day.

    So fix your hearts on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Don’t bow to the temptations of the devil and the world and your flesh to give up on Christ, to surrender to the moment.  Rather, trust in the Lord to carry you through.  For He has in fact already carried you through by dying and rising again.  He’s already conquered all that weighs you down.  It’s just a matter of time for that victory to be revealed.  It’s only a little while more, and then comes the forever, the unending while of dwelling in the majesty of our Lord and the perfect happiness and completeness that His presence brings.  Then comes the peace that far surpasses our human understanding.  Then comes the time when the sufferings of this present life will not even be able to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us.  For we know that when (Jesus) is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

    And even before that last day arrives, our Lord comes to us every little while.  After the little while of waiting, Jesus appeared to the disciples on Easter evening.  Then He was hidden from them for a little while until He returned a week later, showing Himself to doubting Thomas.  Then another little while, and on the next Sunday He appeared to the disciples on the sea shore after they had been fishing.  And on it goes.  Our Lord continues to come to His people every little while in divine service, revealing Himself to us in His words and His supper to comfort and strengthen us.  Here in this little while of the liturgy, we get a taste of eternity, the timelessness of being in Christ’s presence.

    Jesus said, “You now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”  The Lord sees you again at His table, that He may give Himself to you and fill you with immortal joy.  The Lord sees you, in mercy.  You are not invisible to Him.  He knows all that’s going on with you.  He loves you.  He watching out for you, watching over you.  So do not lose heart.  In those times when you are in the shadows, repeat those words to yourself that Jesus has given to His disciples, “A little while.”  Just a little while and your heart will rejoice in beholding Christ, and your joy no one will take from you.  

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

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)