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Delivered From Fiery Judgment

Numbers 21:4-9

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

Several years ago when my family was out in Wyoming camping, my son Philip came upon a rattlesnake.  It wasn’t a big one; just a couple of rattles on its tail.  But it was still a threat.  We got hold of one of the ranch hands working there, and with the sharp blade of a shovel he took care of the threat.  But imagine if you were camping and there were hundreds of rattlesnakes everywhere you turned. That’s what the Israelites were facing in today’s Old Testament reading.  Still in the middle of their wilderness wanderings, the people of Israel found themselves surrounded by poisonous snakes wherever they went, even in their tents.  There was no escape.  The whole community was infested with these creatures, so that it wasn’t long before a great many of the Israelites had died.

The reason this happened is clear.  It was Israel’s sinful grumbling and complaining against the Lord.  Numbers 21 says, “The people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?’”  The people became thankless towards their God, who miraculously delivered them from their slavery to the Egyptians through the Red Sea.  When things got a little difficult, they turned against the Lord.  And on top of that, they failed to acknowledge that they were the cause of their own difficulty.  God had already brought them to the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan by this time.  Moses had led the people there and had sent spies into the land to bring back a report, so that Israel could prepare to enter the land and conquer those who dwelt there as God commanded.  But when the people heard about the Canaanites and how strong they were, they became afraid.  They didn’t trust that God would give them victory over these people.  They refused to enter the Promised Land, and so the Lord caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Still God provided for Israel each day, sending them bread from heaven in the morning, which they called “manna.”  But they came to despise even this blessing, saying, “our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  You can see why God’s anger was kindled against them to send these serpents among them.

Do we ever behave like the Israelites did here?  Have you ever become blase’ about how Christ saved you from your slavery to sin and death?  Have you ever taken for granted how He brought you through the Red Sea of baptism and made you His own people?  Do you ever grow tired of the gifts of divine service and skip out on them rather than seeing them as the greatest blessing?  When things start to go badly in your lives, you also may be tempted to grumble against God and blame Him for your difficulties; we, too, are often full of ingratitude.  Like Israel, we tend to forget the terrible state of affairs from which God has rescued us.  And, like Israel, we tend to forget that the cause of our difficulties in this wilderness world is not God but our own stubborn, self-absorbed rebellion against Him and His Word.

Yet God provides for us each and every day, giving us all that we need to support this body and life.  But even then we still sometimes become bored with the same old job, the same old roof over our head, the same old people to live with, the same old husband or wife, the same old groceries on the table.  How often haven’t we or our families complained about what was for dinner or about not having anything enjoyable to do.  Boredom with God’s gifts is a sign of creeping unbelief.  We wish for something better, something different, something more.  Like Israel, we can despise the abundant blessing God has given us and incur His wrath.  Beware of wishing for something new.  You might get it, and it might be something along the lines of fiery serpents.

Those deadly snakes in the Old Testament reading are a reminder to us that our root problem can be traced back to the snake of Eden, Satan.  The serpent’s fangs sank into our first parents with his poisonous lies.  That lethal venom still courses through our veins, causing all of humanity to convulse with reminders of our terminal condition.

The judgment that Israel experienced brought them to repentance, which is the ultimate purpose of the judgment of the Law for us all.  The people turned to the Lord and prayed for deliverance.  And the Lord showed them great mercy.  He provided them with a solution to their problem.  “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it up on a pole, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’”  By looking to this lifted-up snake and trusting God’s words, the people were saved.

Now if you think about it, this solution really seems sort of odd.  Why of all things a snake?  Hadn’t they seen enough serpents already?  Why not something, for instance, that would be a better symbol of God?  The answer to that question lies in the fact that God fights fire with fire.  The solution He provides is of the same stuff as the problem.  Fiery snakes were the trouble; a fiery snake is the answer.  The serpent on the pole had the dual function of calling to mind the cause of the crisis, Satan and their sin, as well as showing the incredible love that God had for Israel in providing for their rescue from otherwise certain death.

Of course, the full weight of this passage hits home for us when we understand that the snake corresponds to Jesus Christ.  John chapter 3 says: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  In His unfailing mercy God has also provided us with a solution to our problem.  The lifted-up snake in the Old Testament reading was a living prophecy of what Christ was to come and do in being lifted up on the cross.  Looking to the crucified Christ and trusting God’s words of forgiveness, the venom of sin is cleansed from our blood and we are restored to a right relationship with God.  The problem is focusing inwards and being self-absorbed; the solution is focusing outwards to the cross and being absorbed in Christ.  For in Him our punishment was executed.  By the cross our sins are canceled, and we are restored to God.

And don’t gloss over the fact that the snake and Jesus are parallel in this instance.  For that is precisely where the heart of the Gospel is.  That wonderful passage, 2 Corinthians 5 says, “God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Also in our situation, God fights fire with fire.  The solution is of the same stuff as the problem.  The terminal trouble is our sin, the healing solution is sin on a pole, Jesus on the cross.  He was actually made to be the problem so that we would be freed from the problem.  God treated Jesus as if He were the devilish serpent himself on the cross, so that you would be treated as His beloved child.  Jesus put Himself on the level of the devil for you.  It almost sounds blasphemous to call Jesus sin.  For He was certainly without sin of Himself.  But because He made our sin His own, His death now means that our sin is dead, powerless to do us any eternal harm.  By dying and rising again, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head.

You might compare it to the true story of the hunter who was out with his friend in a wide-open area of land in southeastern Georgia.  Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke.  Soon they could hear the sound of crackling.  A wind came up, and he realized the terrible truth: a brushfire was advancing their way.  It was moving so fast that he and his friend could not outrun it.  The hunter began to rifle through his pockets.  He soon found what he was looking for–a book of matches.  To his friend’s amazement, he pulled out a match and struck it.  He lit a fire in the grassy brush.  Soon there was a fairly large area of blackened earth downwind.  They stepped into this large smoldering area where the grass had already burned up, waiting for the firestorm to come.  They did not have to wait long.  They covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs and braced themselves.  The fire came near–and swept around them and right by them.  But they were completely unhurt; they weren’t even touched.  For the fire would not burn where the fire had already been.

The judgment of the Law is like the brushfire.  We cannot escape it.  But if we stand in the burned-over place, where the Law has already burned its way through, then we won’t be hurt.  The death of Christ is the burned-over place.  The Law already burned its full judgment there on the cross.  There we huddle, hardly believing we’re safe there, yet relieved that it is true.  The Law is powerless against us; Christ’s death has disarmed it. (Zahl, “Who Will Deliver Us?” p. 42)

This is why we have no problem displaying crosses with the body of Christ on them.  For there we see where the fire has already burned.  There we see our safe place and our refuge; there we take our stand.  We preach Christ crucified, so that looking to Him in faith we may live, relieved and joyful.  

And finally, what better way is there for you to look to Christ in the midst of all the fiery serpents of this world than to receive the holy supper of His body and blood for your forgiveness with prayerful faith.  As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.  Here is the antivenin that undoes sin’s toxin; here is the medicine of immortality, given and shed for you.

Trust then in these words of Christ from the Gospel and know that they are true for you, “In the world you will have tribulation”–no way around it–“But be of good cheer.  I have overcome the world.”  

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

Sing to the Lord a New Song

John 16:5-15

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

We’ve been doing a little more singing than usual this morning.  And that is certainly appropriate.  For this Sunday in the church year is traditionally called Cantate Sunday.  Cantate means “Sing ye!” from the opening words of the Introit.  I’d like to base most of today’s meditation on those words from Psalm 98, especially the opening words: “Oh, sing to the Lord a new song.  His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory!”

The church for thousands of years has voiced her deepest hopes and anguish and faith in song.  That’s really what the Psalms are; they are the hymns sung by God’s people of old expressing their trust in Him in the midst of all the joys and needs of life.  But then today’s Psalm speaks about singing something new.  What is this new song which the Lord would have us sing?

For some, a phrase like this means that whatever is new and different must be better than the old and familiar.  Our fallen nature is obsessed with the new.  New smartphones, new TV’s, new clothes, new cars, a new house, a new recipe, a new lover, a new job, a new congregation–whatever is new we assume is better than whatever is old.  It is not much of a stretch to see how the church can get infected with the love of the new, including when it comes to church music–contemporary Christian music sung in pop, feel-good styles must be better than the centuries old hymns.  But is that really what the Psalm is talking about when it says to “sing to the Lord a new song,” just to sing something that was written recently?  

Psalm 98 actually tells us itself what this new song is all about.  “Sing to the Lord a new song . . . His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory!”  Very simply, what makes the new song new is that it is all about the truth of Jesus.  For He is the right hand and the holy arm of the Father, is He not?  Did Jesus not win the victory over sin, death and the power of the devil by His cross and resurrection?  That is the song of songs.  Jesus’ work of dying on the cross for you and rising from the dead, that victory is the song of all time.  It is the eternally new song.  Or, to put it another way, it is the song of the Gospel.  That’s what the Psalm means when it talks about a new song; it is the song of Christ who makes all things forever new with His redeeming love.

So what makes a song “new” or “old” theologically speaking is not how long it’s been around, but rather whether or not it’s centered in Christ.  The old song is the way of the Law, of making yourself right with God by your own spiritual efforts and therapeutic progress and inward self-discovery and outward good living.   “God helps those who help themselves” is the old song, where salvation depends in large part on what you do and what you bring to God.  The old song is the way of karma, of being rewarded or punished based on what you’ve done.  The new song, on the other hand, is the way of grace, of being redeemed and shown mercy based on Christ having suffered the karma we had coming in our place.  With Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we sing a brand new song, the song of salvation, the song of the One who died for us and rose again so that we might truly live.

So it’s a little bit tricky discerning what makes a song “a new song” in the way of today’s Psalm.  Some of the “oldest” hymns in our hymnal express that “new song” of salvation better than any “new song” of today ever could, though, of course, there are some good new songs and hymns, too.  It just so happens that I chose one of the oldest hymns in our hymnal to sing today during Holy Communion.  The words were written by a bishop named Ambrose in the 300's A.D. They are words addressed to Jesus:

Come, very Sun of truth and love; Pour down Thy radiance from above
And shed the Holy Spirit’s ray on all we think or do or say. Alleluia!
(And then praying to the Father:)
On Christ, the true bread let us feed; Let Him to us be drink indeed;
And let us taste with joyfulness the Holy Spirit’s plenteousness. Alleluia!

Words like that are ever new, because they are centered on Christ, whose mercy never grows old.  They’re not based on the shifting sands of our feelings but on Him who is the solid Rock.  That is truly a new song in the way of Psalm 98, a Trinitarian song of saints and angels.  And those words, by the way, are wedded for us to a very appropriate and reverent and beautiful new tune.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with newer music being used, like we did with the Old Testament reading for today, as long as it’s there as a servant to the words of God.  The Word must always be the main thing.  Too often contemporary music is used simply as a way of trying to create an emotional feeling and manipulate people into a certain spiritual mood, and it is not primarily a servant of the words of God.  By means of the band up in front and the lighting and the video screens, the goal is to create a moving experience not all that different than seeing a show or going to a concert.  That is not what it means to worship God with a new song.

Or consider a 500 year old hymn from the Reformation, “Salvation Unto Us Has Come.”  It, too, is a “new” song in the way of Psalm 98.  First, it directs us away from trusting in ourselves.

What God did in His Law demand And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on ev’ry hand For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

To look to within yourself for your hope of salvation is the old song, the old way of death.   But then the hymn sings the new song of Jesus:

Since Christ has full atonement made And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead, Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.

So again, the new song is not primarily about the music that moves us but the Gospel that saves us.

Jesus talks about this quite clearly when He says: “When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth . . .   He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  A truly spiritual song, then, is one in which the Holy Spirit speaks Christ-centered prayer and praise in you or where He proclaims the Gospel of Jesus and delivers the gifts of Christ to you.  That’s what the Holy Spirit is all about, glorifying Christ and pointing to Him so that we might trust in Him and be saved.  

In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of three aspects of the Spirit’s work.  These three things also identify what makes up the “new song.”  First of all Jesus says that the Spirit will convict the world of sin.  The Holy Spirit will tell you the truth about yourself and about the curse we all are under.  The Spirit of truth will not condone sin or affirm you and support you “just the way you are,” but will drive you to despair of yourself, so that you might learn to see your need for Jesus the Savior and cling to Him alone.  The goal of the Spirit’s coming to you is not to make you feel all tingly inside, but to lead you to cast aside all human merit as nothing but filthy rags in God’s sight.

However, Jesus also says that the Spirit will convince the world of righteousness; He will make the true righteousness of Christ known.  As Psalm 98 says, “His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.”  Just as Jesus purchased our righteousness before God with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, so now the Holy Spirit clothes us with that righteousness in preaching and the sacraments.  As it is written, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”  The Holy Spirit takes of what is Christ’s and delivers it to you.  He puts in your mouth the new song of faith in Christ.

And then thirdly, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will convince the world of the judgment of the devil and of Satan’s defeat.  Even though we still have troubles in this life and things which cause us to falter, even though the devil still tries to use these things to scare us to hell and make us lose our faith in Christ, the truth of the matter is that all that he can do is buzz about like a pesky fly.  For Jesus conquered him decisively, once and for all at Golgotha.  He took away Satan’s power by undoing the sin which held us in bondage.  The resurrected Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.  The new song, then, doesn’t leave matters in doubt, but speaks of that certainty of the victory which we have in Christ, which will be revealed for us on the Last Day.  And if that makes you feel a little tingly and uplifted inside, well, good.  That’s a wonderful thing.  

This is the message the Holy Spirit has to give to you this day, a message which continues to be proclaimed through the church’s song.  So the next time you are learning a hymn, or hear some Christian music for the first time, ask yourself whether it truly gives you Jesus.  Is it giving you solid doctrine or just a temporary spiritual rush?  Is it the old song of the Law that focuses on you or the new song of salvation which focuses on the Lord?  Remember the words of today’s Psalm:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things.  His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory!  He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the  house of Israel–to you, His people.

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

(With thanks to Todd Peperkorn for some of the framework of this sermon)

Do Not Be Unbelieving But Believing

John 20:19-31

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

Thomas was not going to be a fool.  Sure the women had come back with their report of the angels at the tomb.  Sure the other disciples had claimed to actually have seen Jesus themselves.  But Thomas’s attitude was, if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably not true.  Maybe the women just said that stuff as a way of dealing with their grief.  Of course, the empty tomb was harder to explain.  Guards were placed there by Jesus’ enemies precisely to keep the body from being stolen and stories like these being made up.  Where was Jesus’ body?  If the Jewish and Roman authorities could have produced it, they certainly would have.  And the appearance to the disciples wasn’t easy to figure out, either.  They couldn’t have all hallucinated the exact same thing at the exact same time.  And they had no reason to make up such a story, either.  They were afraid for their lives.  That’s why they had been behind locked doors.  Still, Thomas wouldn’t accept it unless certain specific criteria were met.  He had to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands; only then would he believe it.

We should learn from Thomas two pitfalls to avoid.  First of all, God doesn’t have to fit our criteria.  It’s not for us to place certain conditions on God of what He should be like, and if He meets them, only then will we believe.  Who’s really #1 in that scenario?  Sometimes we make an idol out of our own intelligence by requiring God to fit into our logic of how we think things should be and how we think He should act.  And if everything doesn’t fit the mold, then forget it; He must not be real or worth trusting.  We begin to sound a lot like Thomas when we think, “Unless God behaves in a way that makes sense to me; unless I see certain evidence of God in my life; unless He answers my prayers and comes through for me the way I want, then I won’t believe.”

The second pitfall to avoid is the whole reason why Thomas ended up doubting at all: he was absent from the assembly of the disciples when Jesus appeared.  Thomas missed church.  And of course you’re going to start having doubts when you cut yourself off from the life-giving, faith-sustaining words and presence of the Lord.  Thomas was off by himself somewhere, isolated from the rest of Jesus’ followers, even as we sometimes isolate ourselves from fellow believers in difficult times.  And so Thomas missed out when Jesus came among them.  He probably figured he’d be better off on his own at this point–just like those who think that they can have a fine relationship with God all by themselves without gathering together with other Christians.  But Jesus comes where the assembly is, where two or three or more are gathered in His name around His preached Word and His holy Sacraments.  You skip church and you miss out on the gifts Jesus Himself gives.  That’s why pastors are bothered when people don’t show up.

Of course, that’s not to say that any of the other disciples were better than Thomas.  On that first Easter evening, they were all there timidly hiding out from the Jewish authorities with the doors bolted shut.  All of them had proven unfaithful and disloyal when the heat was on.  But the risen Jesus comes to this wretched bunch nonetheless, in the flesh, miraculously, through the obstacle of their barred doors.  For His humanity now shares fully in the glory of His divinity.  His is a real body, truly risen from the grave, but now it is exalted completely into the majesty of His eternal nature as God the Son.  And so locked doors are no barrier.  

And the first words that Jesus says to them are “Peace be with you.”  Those are His words of absolution and forgiveness to them.  They might have been afraid that Jesus would come to chastise them for their failings.  But it is written, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  In effect Jesus is telling them, “I have payed for all your sins by my suffering and death; they died with me.  And now I am alive to bring you mercy forevermore.  Don’t be afraid.  I have made things right for you.  You are reconciled to God the Father through Me.  Peace be with you.”  

And then Jesus shows them the wounds in His hands and side.  Of course, He didn’t have to keep these wounds; they could’ve been undone in His resurrection.  But He chooses to let them remain.  For these are His glory; these are the signs of His sacrificial love for us.  These are the precious treasure of the church for all eternity.  For by His wounds we are healed and saved.  When Jesus shows the disciples His wounds, then their fear is turned to gladness.  Jesus is known by His scars.  This is no impostor.  It’s the same Jesus who died and who is now alive again in the flesh.  Jesus is with them; and so there is nothing to fear.  Nothing can be done to us that hasn’t already been done to Jesus.  And He has done it all to death on the cross and triumphed.

Then Jesus does something rather amazing.  He takes this rag-tag bunch of forgiven sinners, and He makes them apostles and pastors.  Again Jesus says, “Peace to you!”  With His first word of peace Jesus absolved His disciples and took away their fear.  With His second word of peace He sends them to absolve others and take away their fears.  “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  In the same way that Jesus was sent to reveal the Father and speak on His behalf, so now the apostles are being sent to reveal Jesus and speak on His behalf and give out the gifts that He had just won.

Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus gives them His breath and His words and His Spirit so that they can be like Ezekiel and give life to the dry bones of sinners.  With His breath, Jesus resurrects and resuscitates His church.  

“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.  If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  The apostles, and those who follow after them in the apostolic ministry, are given the very authority of Christ to proclaim and dish out His forgiveness to those who repent, but to withhold forgiveness from those who remain unrepentant.  Jesus here is establishing the office of the ministry so that His voice may continue to be heard in the church, so that we may have the certainty that all the benefits of Jesus’ death have truly been given to us personally–His called and ordained servant has spoken it.  The Catechism puts it this way, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command. . ., this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ, our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.”  This is all drawn together even more simply in the order of Private Confession and Absolution that Luther gave in the Catechism.  The pastor asks the one who has just made confession, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”  And the believing penitent answers, “Yes, I do,” and is absolved.

We must learn, then, to grasp the truth that the risen Jesus is still literally coming among His people with His gifts of forgiveness and life.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus appears in the Gospel both times on a Sunday.  For we are to think of every divine service as a little Easter, another resurrection appearance of Jesus; it’s the 8th day, the day of the new creation.  Our Lord Christ continues to come among His people very concretely through His Word.  Even now He stands among this rag-tag bunch–we who so often hide away behind our own bolted doors, fearful of the future, afraid of being alone, burdened by guilt–and He says to us right here and now, “Peace be with you.  My peace I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.  Shalom, peace–everything is in its place, made right and whole again.  You are forgiven; I am with you.”  

Jesus didn’t have to appear that second time when Thomas was there.  But in His mercy, He did.  Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.  Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  Thomas’s skeptic mind had made him blind until he read like braille the markings of the spear and nail.  Then Thomas could see, “My Lord and my God!”  It was true!  Thomas confesses Jesus to be God in the flesh risen from the dead for him.

And we also are given to confess the same thing with Thomas and say of Jesus, “You are My Lord and My God.”  This is no myth, no childish fairy tale; it’s for real, it’s true.  Our eternal life is built on this sure foundation, this living reality of Easter. Only a Savior who is truly alive in body and soul can save us fallen people in body and soul.  And Jesus has done just that.  Something less than a real resurrection for Jesus would mean something less than real life after death for us.  But because Jesus did, in fact, rise bodily from the grave, we who have been baptized into His body will also rise from the grave on the Last Day, even as we already share in His new life by faith.  Life after death is not only a spiritual reality, with our souls in heaven; it will also become a very physical, concrete, fleshly reality too at the end of time.  For it is written, “Christ will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”  And Job spoke these familiar words of faith, “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.”  This is our sure and certain hope in the resurrected Christ.

In a moment you will hear it said in the liturgy, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  And then the risen Jesus will invite you to touch His hands and His side in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  Like Thomas, He bids you to come into contact with His own living flesh and blood, so that your faith may be strengthened.  You feel the nail marks in His hands.  For with His own hands, Christ Himself gives you His true body, imprinted with the mark of the cross.  And you reach out your hand and put it into His side.  For what was it that flowed from Christ’s side but His precious blood?  Therefore, when you reach for the blessed cup of Christ and receive His life-giving blood, you are truly touching His holy side.  Like Thomas, you, too, know Jesus by His scars.

Listen, then, to what Jesus says to you and take it to heart, “Blessed are you who have not seen Me and yet have believed.  For by so believing you have everlasting life in My name.”

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

How Beautiful Are the Feet

P: Christ is risen! 
C: He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

In today’s Easter Gospel, there is one phrase in particular that stands out as unusual and unique.  It is reported that when the risen Jesus appeared to the women as they left the tomb, “they held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.”  This brings to mind the words in Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news!”  We don’t usually think of feet as being particularly beautiful, but the history of salvation, the true story of the Gospel can be followed by tracking the feet.

On the Sixth Day of Creation, God brought forth and formed a man from the dust of the ground and placed him in a garden made just for him. Adam wasn’t just someone for an all-powerful God to boss around; this man was a king, God’s representative on earth. And this king, Adam, was not created to lollygag around the garden all day; he was made to have dominion and to rule. This king was created with feet, for God gave him work to do, and he had to get around. His blessed work was to tend the garden and to guard it, and that meant also guarding His bride, Eve.

But Adam blew it big time. A preacher from hell, a fallen angel, came into the garden.  And he came to Adam’s wife spewing his poisonous lies. Now, Adam should have taken those feet and planted them right between his wife and the serpent and said, “Eve, don’t listen to that preacher. He’s a liar.” But he was a very convincing preacher, smooth-talking and slick. Adam was caught flat-footed and did nothing to rescue his deceived wife. “Take; eat, Adam,” she said.  And he did.

Almost all kings leave some kind of legacy, something they are remembered for. David was the great warrior king. Solomon is remembered for his wisdom and for building the temple. But King Adam built nothing. His legacy was death. His work brought tombs and graves into the world, funeral homes and obituaries, sickness and disease, fear and anxiety. Before the fall, Adam and Eve reverenced God with a holy fear and love. Now they were just scared of Him and everything else.

Consider your feet, you children of Adam.  How often have you used your feet to wander away from Christ’s church to someplace you thought was more interesting or convinced yourself was more important, or buried those feet deeper under the covers rather than get up and go hear Christ’s Word each week as He commands? How often have you used your feet to wander away from those around you who are in need? How often have you run with those feet to share the latest bit of juicy gossip? How often have you stomped away from your spouse or your parents when you're angry at them? How often have you kicked others while they are down or to strut around like you're the best thing that ever happened? Because our feet are caked in the gunk and crud of sin, like Adam, we’ve been driven out of the garden of living in God’s presence.  With Adam, we’ve made our bed, and it’s a grave, and now we’ll have to lie in it, too.  

But amazingly God still loved fallen man who had blown it so badly, and He promised one day to send another Adam, another King.  He would send a royal Seed–His only-begotten Son, God in the flesh, God with feet. These feet would not be the feet of a coward, but the feet of a champion who came into the world to restore all that King Adam ruined. His were the feet that came to crush the head of that false preacher who deceived Adam and filled the world with fear. This king, our Lord Jesus Christ, was not caught by the enemy flat-footed and unprepared.

These are the feet that stepped into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized for you. These are the feet of Him who walked from town to town preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick, even walking right into a funeral procession to raise a widow’s son.  These are feet that the sinful woman washed with her tears and hair! These are the feet that stood before the religious leaders and the Roman Governor. These are the feet that stumbled as they carried the cross to Calvary. And there, on that mountain, behold the beautiful feet, pierced with nails, affixed to the cross. All this to bring you mercy.  His feet and hands and side and brow are pierced for you, for your sins. His blood washes it all away and cleanses you.  Your sins are wiped out once and for all.  The price has been fully paid.  In Jesus there is peace between you and God. How beautiful indeed are those holy feet of Jesus that walked this earth on their way to be nailed to the tree for your salvation!

And today we rejoice in the glorious results of that sacrifice. For what good are the feet of a king if they can’t move, remaining cold in the grave? How can a dead king give out His gifts, give out a share in his kingdom, give glory and honor to his subjects? The Epistle said, “If Christ is not risen, you are still in your sins!”  “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  The term “firstfruits” means that Jesus’ Easter is just the beginning.  In Him there is more resurrection to come.  For as in Adam all die, so now all who are in Christ will be made alive.  God the Father raised His crucified Son from the dead, so that you might know that you are no longer in the death of your sins.  The resurrection proves that Jesus’ sacrifice really did take all your sins away.  For if the wages of sin is death, the forgiveness of sins is resurrection from death.  Let your conscience, then, be at peace.  You have been reconciled to God in the risen Jesus.  Death no longer has power over you.  The holy feet of Jesus have kicked down the door of the grave and have knocked out the teeth of Satan’s accusing mouth.  Your King is alive so that you might live and reign with Him forever.  

What tremendous things we are given to see and hear about in the Easter Gospel!  We see the sad and scared women, a picture of God’s sad and scared church, now filled with joy and gladness at the angel’s preaching. We see the stone rolled back and no body in there, catching a glimpse of our own future graves. For Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also.”  And He also said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.”  The fearsome angels who once guarded the way back into garden of Eden after the fall are no longer threatening in this Easter garden.  See the angel preacher in white. He has no sword. He’s not even standing on his feet. He simply sits in a garden graveyard and preaches a short but magnificent sermon. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.” No more need to be afraid in this fear-filled world, says the preacher from heaven. The Crucified One dealt with and conquered all that could ever make you afraid, and He is alive forevermore.

See how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary take hold of those blessed feet of the Second Adam, as Jesus comes to them and preaches the same sermon. “Don’t be afraid.” They worship at the feet of their Savior and King who took the bed that Adam had made for man, laid in it for three days, and emptied it of its dread and power.
How great was that sixth day in the beginning when God made Himself a king with feet. But now that Jesus died on the sixth day, Good Friday, how much greater is what happened on this day, the eighth day, the first day of a new creation, when God placed His King back upright on His pierced feet to lift you up with Himself and to give you new and eternal life and bodily resurrection.  

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news!”  You may know that Romans 10 applies that verse to Christian pastors and preachers, who are called to be Jesus’ ambassadors and representatives.  After all, didn’t Jesus prepare the apostles to be His ministers by washing their feet?  The job of a minister is simply to be the mouth and the hands and the feet of Jesus, that His Easter gifts might be distributed to the world through His words and sacraments.  

       And so fellow believers, you also now are given to do just as the women did on that first Easter, to cling to Jesus’ beautiful, risen feet today.  For Christ makes this chancel to be His throne and this altar to be His footstool.  Come and worship the risen Jesus here and grasp His feet.  He is truly alive; He is truly here.  Receive His life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins.  Share in His victory.

P: Christ is risen! 
C: He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

(With thanks to the Rev. Mark Beutow)

Guilty By Association; Innocent By Association

Matthew 26 and 27

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

You’ve heard the phrase, “Guilty by association.”  It means that you are considered to be blameworthy simply by virtue of having a close relationship with a guilty person.  If a family member of yours has done something wrong, then everyone thinks that you may have had some part in it, too.  If a longtime friend is condemned for a crime, you yourself are considered suspect.

We see this happening in two different ways in the Passion Gospel.  First, we see Peter trying to avoid being guilty by association.  When a servant girl saw Peter on the night our Lord was betrayed and condemned, she pointed out that he was one of Jesus’ disciples.  But Peter tried to nip that news story in the bud.  He denied it, “I don’t know what you are saying.”  Twice more Peter tried to avoid any association with Jesus, even cursing and swearing to emphasize his point.  “I don’t know the Man!”  And at that moment, a rooster began to crow.

Peter was guilty by association.  For three years he had followed Jesus and had seen many miraculous things.  He was present when our Lord was transfigured on the mountain.  He had been with Jesus in the upper room as they celebrated the Passover and had said that he would never stumble.  Peter had been with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, even trying to defend Jesus from those who had come to take Him captive.  But after Jesus was arrested, when Peter saw that being an insider with Jesus was no longer what he thought it would be, he fled.  He was afraid for his own life.  Despite all his earlier hubris, now he didn’t want to be tied to Jesus and go down with Him.  He wanted to save his own skin.

Before we think too poorly of Peter for his cowardliness, we should take a look at our own lives.  Have we ever taken a slightly unethical action to protect our own livelihood, or to make sure we don’t lose our job or our position?  Have we ever lied or failed to speak up to keep harm from coming to us?  Even worse, have there ever been times when we have concealed some aspect of our faith in Jesus?  Though we gladly confess the faith here, do our actions and our speech sometimes hide our Christianity out there?  We don’t want to be guilty by association.  We don’t want people to make fun of us and think of us as holier than thou and not include us.  We cover up certain aspects of our faith so that we won’t have to face the consequences that might come if certain people knew what we believed.  Like Peter we’ve all denied Jesus in one way or another–that’s what sin is.  We all need to cry our own tears of repentant sorrow.

But there is hope for us poor sinners.  For there is another person in this account who was not ashamed to be guilty by association, and that is our Lord Jesus Himself.  In fact, that’s the very reason why He came into the world, to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and take the blame for our sin.  When we view Jesus hanging on the cross, we recognize that the only way He could become guilty at all was by association.  For He was and is the Holy One of God, without sin of any kind.  Even Pilate could find no fault in Him.  Yet He was put to death because He hung around with the wrong kind of people, and He wouldn’t lie to support the institutional status quo.  He associated with sinners and ate with them: the Samaritan woman at the well, tax collectors, lepers, the poor.  Even His disciples disputed about who was greatest among them; they were sometimes proud and faithless.  Because Jesus associated with sinners, with the likes of us, He was nailed to a cross.  

And please note that it was God the Father Himself who made Jesus to be the guilty One.  It is written, “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  It was not just the angry mob screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion, but the Father Himself who called for it.  However, whereas the people cried out for Jesus’ death out of hate, God the Father cried out for it out of love for you.  It is written, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).  That is why Jesus remained silent when He was falsely accused.  For He came not to defend Himself but to defend us.  That is why Jesus was willingly obedient even to the point of death on a cross–not because we asked for it or deserved it, but because this is the expression of God’s Fatherly heart of love and mercy toward you.

Jesus was numbered with the transgressors and lumped in with sinners.  He was placed before the people alongside Barabbas, a murderer and a thief, as if they were on the same level.  And even in His death He was hung between two criminals, as if He were just another low-life.  But because He laid down His life like that, you now have eternal life through faith in Him.  Jesus willingly became guilty by association, taking upon Himself all of the wrath that your sins deserved.  And in turn, you become innocent by association with Jesus.  Just like Barabbas, you are released and set free, because Christ has taken your place.  He became the Sinner, so that you would become the holy ones, saints of God, His beloved children.  That is what you are.

You are truly most closely associated with Jesus.  For you are baptized into His death.  Peter had it right.  Being associated with Christ means having to die; the old Adam with all sins and evil desires must be drowned.  But that is something we want in the end.  For to be crucified with Christ in baptism means that Jesus’ death to sin counts as your own.  The death sentence He served is credited to you by grace.  Baptized into Christ, you are no longer guilty in the sight of God.  You are forgiven and blameless, given to lead a new life before Him free from fear.  

Living in that confidence, we are not ashamed to be associated with Jesus.  We are free to be like the centurion, who boldly and publicly confessed that Jesus surely is the Son of God.  We are given to be like Joseph of Arimathea, who took courage and asked the governor for the body of Jesus.  So we also ask for the body of Jesus; and we receive His body and His holy, precious blood in the Sacrament for the forgiveness of our sins.

So if you ever feel like Peter, with the finger pointed at you for being one of Jesus’ disciples, rejoice and be glad.  For to be guilty by association with Christ before men is to be innocent by association with Him before the Father in heaven.

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

The Son of Man Did Not Come to Be Served

Mark 10:32-45

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

When it comes to religion, we fallen human beings tend to get it all backwards.  We think that God created the world so that He would have people to serve Him and wait on Him (as if He needed anything), when in fact He created the world and humanity so that He might serve people and wait on them with His good gifts.  We think that church is about what we do and give to God to keep Him pleased with us, when in fact church is really about what God does and gives to us because of Jesus, in whom the Father is already well pleased with us.  And when it comes to our good living and our good works, we tend to think that those deeds are to be directed upward to God, when in fact they are to be directed outward to our neighbor.  

We see an example of this with James and John in the Gospel.  They were in Jesus’ inner circle.  Along with Peter, they alone had witnessed the transfiguration on the mountain.  They were His closest disciples.  But James and John came to think that their standing with Jesus was based not on His choosing of them but on who they were and what they had done for Him.  And so with this self-sufficient attitude they come to Jesus to try to cash in on their good works.  “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”  Imagine talking to Jesus like that!  I can just picture the smirk on His face when He heard that–sort of like when a person today prays, “God, I’ve stuck with you all these years; I’ve lived the best way I know how.  It’s time for you to come through for me now.  Do this or that for me.”  

Jesus easily could have blasted James and John right then for their self-focused religion and their presumptuousness and conceit.  But instead He says, “Hmm.  What do you want me to do for you?”  They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand 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 is like those today who use religion as a means for self-advancement and self-fulfillment.  It’s not so much about loving God as it is a way to have a successful and happy life.  Church is just part of the formula of getting where you want to be in life.  It’s one of things you’ve got to do to get blessed in this world.

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.  But it is Jesus’ glory to die for miserable 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 loving embrace.  Referring to the time of His death, Jesus said, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. . .  And if I am lifted up from the earth [on the cross], I will draw all men to Myself.”  

If you want to share in Jesus’ glory, then, you must share in His death.  You must die to yourself and your desires.  You must become like a death-row criminal before God, with no merit or worthiness of your own, with nothing to give and everything to receive. You must be emptied of your 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.”  God doesn’t need your service; He’ll get along just fine without your good works.  Besides, what can you truly give to the God who is the Creator of all things and the source of everything 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.  They demanded a price 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 came to pay your ransom.  He paid not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.  He offered His life for yours.  In this way He not only set you free, but in the end He annihilated and 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.  By nature we want to receive from others and give to God, right?–have others serve us while we do our personal, spiritual thing for the Lord.  But in Christ we get it right: we receive from God and give to others.  You need not spend all your time trying to please God; you are already pleasing to Him in Jesus.  The thing that truly makes God happy 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 gracious, unmerited gifts.  

Jesus gave up His life at Calvary, and now He gives out His life in preaching and the Sacraments.  That’s why what we’re doing now is called divine service–Gottesdienst in German, God’s service.  That term puts the focus on the primary thing, namely, that Christ Himself is here serving you.  Jesus is still the One who comes not to be served but to serve, to give Himself to you for your good, your redemption.

And here’s a 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 Christians 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.  Jesus is active through you to serve others.

Martin Luther famously put it this way: 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 down to the neighbor and offers Him service.  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.  

So if you want to know what God wants you to be doing, consider the callings into which God has placed you–as a husband or wife, as a parent or child, as an employer or employee, as a ruler or a citizen, as a preacher or hearer.  Then apply “Love your neighbor” to those specific divine callings.  Then you will see all the ways in which He desires to serve others through you.  No longer will His command to love be bland or generic but specific and concrete.  It will sound more like this:  “Be an efficient, hardworking, and thorough employee or student.”  “Be honest and fair in your business dealings.”  “Listen carefully to the sermon; give a proper offering.”  “Make your bed, and help with the dishes.”  “Pay your taxes.”  “Take time to listen and talk to each other.”  “Be there for your children, speak about the Word of God with them, teach them about Jesus the Savior.”  

In your various vocations and stations in life, ordinary and mundane though they may be, Jesus is still giving His life for the world through you who are members of His body.  He calls you to offer up your bodies as living sacrifices for the sake of one another.  As your sinful nature is put to death in acts of service, Christ works life and good for your neighbor, just as He worked the ultimate life and good by offering up His own flesh for sin on the cross.  Through His Church, Jesus continues to be the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.

There is one final benefit to this understanding of vocation and service, and that is that it always drives us back to Christ.  For the more we see what we are called to do in our daily duties, the more we recognize how far we have fallen short of our callings and how much we need Jesus’ forgiveness.  This teaching reveals how the sinful nature hangs on to us and doesn’t want to honor the spouse or wipe the child’s runny nose or give 10% in the offering plate or work hard for that miserable boss.  The doctrine of vocation drives all self-righteousness out of us and leads us to repentance where we are again nothing but beggars with empty hands ready to receive the service only Christ can give.

Jesus told James and John, “You will drink the cup I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized.”  So it is also for you.  You have been baptized in Christ’s baptism, cleansed by His death.  And today He again 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.  Receive it gladly.  Live in the freedom of Him who gave His life as a ransom for you.  His life is yours.

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

Jesus, Our Scapegoat

Leviticus 16; Matthew 4:1-11
Lent 1

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

Pretty much everyone knows what it means to be a scapegoat.  It means to be blamed for something that you didn’t do, or at least that you only had a very small role in.  A scapegoat bears the full consequences for someone else’s mistakes.  When a sports team loses, often one person in particular will be blamed–just ask the former Packers special teams coach.  When things go wrong at work or in our family, when a crisis or a tragedy occurs in the world, one of the first things that happens is scapegoating, finding someone to blame and to punish–it’s all the fault of my co-worker or my parents or this or that political leader.  We are experts at this, passing blame onto others so that we don’t get held accountable ourselves.  This ability goes all the way back to Adam, who blamed Eve for eating the forbidden fruit.  Eve herself blamed the devil.  

We usually think of scapegoating, then, as a bad thing, an unfair thing.  But the term, of course, originates in the Bible as something that God instituted and commanded.  When the Lord does it, it is actually a good and blessed thing for us.  So let us consider today how God engages in scapegoating, not to avoid blame–since He most certainly has none–but so that He can take the blame away from us and bear it Himself on our behalf.  It all begins in today’s Old Testament reading where the observance of Yom Kippur is described.  

Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.”  Though God had commanded many different sacrifices in the Old Testament, on Yom Kippur, something special would happen.  Only on this day, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies behind the veil in the tabernacle, bringing with him with the blood of slaughtered animals to make atonement for the people.  The blood would be sprinkled on the mercy seat above the ark of the covenant.  Through the promise God attached to these sacrifices, He was merciful to His people and covered their sins.  

All of the sacrifices of the Old Testament were opportunities for God’s people to look forward in faith to the coming of His Son to be their Savior.  Without the shedding of blood–Christ’s blood–there would be no final and complete forgiveness of sins.  All the blood that was shed in Old Testament times was meant to foreshadow the blood that Christ would shed upon the cross in order to deal with man’s sin once and for all.

The Day of Atonement, then, is really all about Jesus, especially the part about the goats.  You recall that two goats were to be selected and presented before the Lord.  One would be sacrificed; but the other would not.  Instead, the high priest would lay his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the people, and in this way put all their sins on the goat.  Then this scapegoat would be sent away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man, presumably to perish there in the desert along with the transgressions of the people.  

This is particularly interesting in light of today’s Gospel.  For just like the scapegoat, we find Jesus sent out in the wilderness, fasting for 40 days and nights, even as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  And just as the scapegoat had become the bearer of Israel’s sin, so Jesus here bears the sins of the world.

For Jesus had just been baptized.  Though He was without sin, yet Jesus submitted to John’s baptism, standing shoulder to shoulder with sinners, that He might be our substitute and stand-in.  There in the water God the Father made Jesus the scapegoat, laying on His head the guilt of the world, which He would take and carry away.  

And just as it was someone suitable who was to lead the goat into the wilderness in the Old Testament, it is written that the Holy Spirit immediately led Jesus up into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  It is the God’s will that He endure this for us.  Jesus does all of this in our place.  Whereas Adam had succumbed to the devil’s temptation, whereas the children of Israel had grumbled and been unfaithful in the wilderness, whereas we all too often give in to the desires of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, Jesus did not.  He took everything that the devil threw at Him and prevailed, for us.  He was and is entirely without sin.  

And please note that Jesus does this without using any of His divine powers.  Don’t think this was easy for Him.  Why do you think angels had to tend to Him at the end?  It wouldn’t be of much comfort to us if Jesus had done this with a brush of His almighty hand as God the Son.  Instead He humbles Himself to do this as one of us, our representative, as the Son of Man–weak, hungry, alone, face to face with the devil.  He even allows Satan to cart Him around–to the pinnacle of the temple, and then to an exceedingly high mountain.  Jesus uses nothing but the Scriptures to fight with.  And He wields the sword of the Word powerfully, skewering the devil and fighting off and defeating the him at every turn.  

“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  “Go ahead and give in to your self-seeking desires.  Serve your own appetites.  Who cares what your Father has said.  A little bread is no big deal.”  We would give room to the devil’s words, dialogue with Him, and perhaps even give in.  “You know, that’s true.  I’m not sinning by providing a little bread for myself.”  But Jesus stands firm and is not moved.  His food is to do the Father’s will, which means self-sacrifice.  And so for us, in our stead He simply replies, “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Strike one for the devil.

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written, ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and ‘In their hand they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  The devil can play the Scripture-quoting game.  Only for him, it’s just that: a game, a way of shrouding his temptation and making evil and falsehood appear to be good and holy.  Don’t think that just because someone quotes Scripture that they’re using God’s Word rightly.  Every false prophet uses the Bible.  Jesus sees through the devil’s game.  To put God the Father to the test, to ask for signs and miracles, to make Him give you evidence that He’ll really protect you and be true to His Word–that is to act not in faith but in unbelief.  It’s to put yourself above God, making Him prove Himself to you.  For our deliverance, Jesus replies, “It is written again, ‘You shall not test the Lord your God.’” Strike two.

Finally, the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, saying, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”  “You don’t have to suffer and go to the cross.  Let’s team up and you can get to the glory right now.”  We know that temptation to take the path of least resistance, to follow the crowd and avoid offending people, to take the easy way out rather than the narrow way.  But on our behalf, Jesus says, “Away with you Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” Strike three.  The devil’s out.

The good news for us today is that because Jesus was there as our stand-in, being tempted in our own flesh and blood, His victory over the devil now counts as ours, too.  Whatever the devil had accomplished through the temptation in the Garden of Eden, Jesus has completely undone in His own sinless temptation.  That’s what the hymn is all about when it says, “But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  Ask ye who is this?  Jesus Christ it is.  Of sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God.  He holds the field forever.”  On this wilderness battlefield, the devil has been routed.  Through faith in what Christ has done, the sin of Adam your father is no longer what’s most true about you; now the faithfulness of Christ your Brother is your true identity before the Father.  You are children of God through faith in Him.

In all of this, Jesus is our great High Priest, the one who makes sacrifice for us to rescue us–except that Jesus is both the sacrificer and the sacrifice.  The blood He sprinkles on us in baptism to cleanse us is His own.  He is both goats to accomplish our Day of Atonement.  First, He is the one cast into the wilderness, actively obeying His Father’s will in our place, who was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.  Then, bearing all of our sins He is the second goat, passively being offered up on the mercy seat of the cross.  Out of great love for you, Jesus has willingly made Himself to be your scapegoat.  In Him you are free from blame.  And in Him you are free from the need to blame others.  Jesus has covered it all, for you.  

Therefore, since we have such a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, and who stands before the throne of the Father in heaven as our mediator, let us come boldly to the throne of grace–let us come boldly to the altar in faith–that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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