Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your Shepherd, the Lamb

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Mark, Evangelist
April 25, 2010
John 10:22-30

So they wanted to know who Jesus was. If You’re the Messiah, just tell us. Don’t beat around the bush. Well, He had tried that and it didn’t work. They didn’t believe Him.

So He’ll try another approach. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Shepherd of the sheep, and, oh, by the way, you’re not part of My flock. Sheep know the voice of their shepherd and you’re not listening to Me. You don’t believe that I’m the Christ and you don’t believe that I’m the Good Shepherd. My sheep have eternal life.

And if that’s not enough He goes all the way and says He’s God: I and the Father are one. Now this is really the last straw, as all four Gospel writers tell us that the Jewish religious leaders couldn’t tolerate this kind of blasphemy. They sought to kill Him. And as we know they were ultimately successful.

We, of course, know and believe that Jesus is God. We rejoice and give thanks that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. He is the Good Shepherd. He is our Shepherd.

But if we step back and see Him as He presents Himself to us we must ask if we really know Him. Do we know Him as well as we ought to? Jesus is all of those things, things we have no problem with, but He is also something else. He is something that doesn’t quite register with us.

Because, well, He’s God. He’s the Savior. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the powerful one. The one who can do anything. The one who’s going to get us through the valley of the shadow of death. The one who will prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies and feed us His Heavenly Feast.

He can’t be the other thing He says He is. Maybe He was. But now? No, now He’s the Almighty God and Lord. He’s our Good Shepherd who leads us beside still waters and protects us.

So what is it that He is that we might have so much trouble with? He’s the Lamb. The Shepherd of the sheep is also the Lamb for the sheep. Our Good Shepherd is the Lamb. But not just a lamb. The Lamb. The Lamb who was slain.

He doesn’t say it here in the Gospel reading. He says that He is the Christ, He is the Shepherd, and He is God. He doesn’t say He is the Lamb, and furthermore the Lamb who was slain. But here’s what He does say: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” My Father, who has given to Me My sheep, I being their Shepherd, is greater than all, I having humbled Myself as a man to suffer and die, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. Why are the sheep of the Good Shepherd Jesus safe and secure in the Father’s hand? Because of Christ humbling Himself to His Heavenly Father. Christ the Good Shepherd not only sacrifices Himself by laying down His life for His sheep, He is the sacrifice necessary. He is the Lamb who was slain.

The apostle John wrote down these words of Jesus for us in the Gospel reading. He also wrote down His vision he saw in the book of Revelation. He says there, as we heard in our second reading, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd.” He is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. But He is also the Lamb. The Lamb who was slain so that we may be guided to the safe harbor of eternal life.

We must never forget that the Jesus is the Lamb. He is the Lamb who was slain. In a world that holds up glory and pleasure as the ultimate goal, Jesus offers Himself to you, the Lamb who was slain. Many in the Church want to take the path of the Pharisees. Jesus, what have you done for me lately? Why do those who don’t believe in you gain the wealth and the power and the glory? Why do we, Your sheep, so often suffer and struggle through trials? Where too often in the Christian Church the pursuit of glory is taken right from the pages of the world at large Jesus humbly submits Himself to you for your salvation.

Your Shepherd is the Lamb. You are sheep of the Good Shepherd, the Lamb who was slain. So if you hear His voice hear what He says to you: He is the one who was offered up and offers Himself to you in His Word and Sacraments. It’s true that as God He can do anything. Of all that He can do, of all that He does, He continues to come to you as the Lamb. He comes to you lowly and humbly as He did at Bethlehem, as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He did in His suffering and death on the cross.

He is indeed your Good Shepherd. He leads you. He guides you. He protects you. He is with you always. He is your Good Shepherd because He is the Lamb who was slain.

He is never too powerful or almighty to be the Lamb whose blood was shed for the sins of the world. You hear His voice because His words rang out on Calvary, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. On the cross He was the sacrifice. He was the go between. Interceding for us so that we may make it through the valley of the shadow of death. He remains forever the Lamb who was slain even as He guides us through the darkest valley.

There is something dynamic about Christ being the Lamb who was slain. He is the Good Shepherd, and there’s tremendous and eternal comfort in that. But never forget that He is the Lamb who was slain. When you’re in the darkest valley know that your God, your Shepherd, is the one who was slain. The one who was slaughtered so that you may make it through.

We need to know that He is God. He is all-powerful. He is the One. He is the Everything. But without the one thing, the Lamb who was slain, the Everything is nothing. He is nothing for you if He is not the Lamb who was slain. Your Shepherd is your dynamic living God because He is more than just the one who can do anything for you. He has done everything for you in His suffering and death. In being the Lamb, the one who was slain, all things are yours and you are led through this vale of tears to eternity without sorrow or fear or hurt or sin.

Don’t listen to the voices that offer you a God who is gives you glory. Listen to the ones that offer you a God who is humble and lowly. One who was slain. One who shepherds His sheep by laying down His life for them. By being the very sacrifice for all their sins. Your enemies are worse than you can ever know. He knows them. He died because you face them. He suffered because they have a hold on you. You walk through the valley of the shadow of death because too often you listen to the voices that promise glory and a Christian life free from trouble.

Your Good Shepherd calls you by name. He Baptizes you and makes you His own. The Lamb who was slain gives you, as He did at Calvary, His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Hear His voice. He prepares before you a table in the presence of your enemies. He calls to you in His Holy Supper: take and eat, take and drink, this is My body and blood for you. I am the Lamb who was slain. Forever in glory as the Lamb who was stricken and smitten for the sins of the world.

Why would you want a Shepherd who offers you glory when you have heard the voice of the one who offers you simply Himself? Your sinful flesh will latch on to the glory, but you are a new creation in Christ. What you need is forgiveness. What you need is new and eternal life. The glory will come. It will be far greater than whatever glory you seek in this life. Your attempts to avoid pain or suffering in this life will give way to a humble and joyful magnification in heaven of your Good Shepherd, the very Lamb who was slain. Amen.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

When Jesus Shows Up, All Bets Are Off

Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2010
John 21:1-19

When Jesus shows up, all bets are off.

There’s really no way to get people to see this. They really have to see it for themselves. What gets in our way is that we want to approach Christ from our starting point and He comes in and everything changes. We go to the Scriptures and try to get them to make sense according to our framework but they come at us like a Mack truck and blow away our pre-conceived notions. We want to fit God and His goodness into our tidy understanding of what should be and how it should be, when God has no regard for what we think or want or wish. When Jesus shows up, all bets are off.

You may have come here today with a certain idea of what you expect to get out of this worship service or this sermon. You might walk away from here today feeling like your expectations were not met.

You should be praying and hoping that that is the case. Pray you are so blessed that none of your expectations were met, that you got nothing out of this worship that you were hoping for. All of it is tainted. All of it is as filthy rags. You have nothing you desire that is not ultimately turned in on yourself. You bring nothing to the table of worth to the Almighty God. Pray that what you get out of today is what God wants for you.

And that’s why Jesus shows up. All bets are off. When He comes on the scene He comes to bring about your destruction. This is what is exhibited in all three Scripture readings for today. Saul is very pleased with himself that he is following the will of God in terminating these heretic followers of this new Way, the followers of Jesus. He’s got everything figured out until he meets Jesus and he is brought to his knees. Those who stand before the scroll in John’s vision are unable to open the sacred book because none of them are worthy. Peter realizes who it is that brought about this miraculous catch of fish after he and his buddies have spent all night toiling out on the water and he can do nothing but take a plunge into that water.

It seems he’s just trying to get over to Jesus faster than the rest of the crew. But to John, the inspired author of this book of the Bible, Peter is being destroyed. He cannot face Jesus in his sinful state. He must first be destroyed. In the time and culture he lived in the sea was a place of destruction. It was the Great Unknown. Although we are rapidly discovering more and more of the universe, I suppose space is our Great Unknown in a way similar to how they perceived the sea. What was down there? All they knew was that if you ended up there then you ended in destruction. Remember Jonah? He knew the only way to end the storm was for the crew to throw him overboard. He knew he would be destroyed. The reason the crew didn’t want to do it? They knew it also and it scared them even as the storm did. So Peter wasn’t just getting to Jesus in the quickest way possible. He was getting to Him in the only way possible. By first being destroyed. Drowned to his sinful flesh.

When Jesus shows up, all bets are off. Jesus wasn’t there so that they could get their fish, after all. He was there to show them that they were nothing without Him. They were going fishing, but when He shows up, all bets are off. When He comes on the scene they realize that He alone can provide for them. He alone provides for their needs of body and soul. They’re fisherman, for crying out loud. They know fishing and if anyone can catch fish it’s them. But Jesus shows them that even the fish they catch are a gift from Him. Paul told the Corinthians that we preach Christ crucified. He said to them that when he was with them he determined to know nothing among them but Christ and Him crucified. That’s nothing. As in, nothing. Zip, zero, nada. Nothing means nothing. Not that and some other things in addition. Nothing. That’s because there is nothing we receive from God apart from Christ and Him crucified. All His blessings are because of Christ and Him crucified.

The Lamb that receives all honor and glory in the reading from the Book of Revelation is the Lamb who was slain. The Lamb who was slain is the one who comes to Saul on the road to Damascus. The Jesus who shows up on the beach after an unsuccessful night of fishing for Peter and Company is the one with nail marks in His hands and feet and a scar from a big gash in His side.

The one who was crucified and is now risen is the one who shows up. And all bets are off.

When He goes through that, there’s really nothing you can say. There’s nothing you can do. Nothing you can offer Him. There’s no plea bargain or settling out of court, or paying off the judge. There’s no hoping it will all work out or just sticking with what you think you would like it to be.

There’s only Christ standing before you. The one who was slain and now lives forever. With Him on the scene all bets are off. He is going to bring you to your knees so that He can raise you up. Put away any notions you have of what should be. Resist temptation. Stop dwelling on your wishes that you could be free of pain or trials or that giving into temptation isn’t that big of a deal because it doesn’t kill you or anything. Stop trying to convince God, or yourself for that matter, that you are faithful unto death.

All bets are off. You need to be destroyed. Daily. Daily drowned so that you may rise up to new life daily. Jesus’ vivid reminder of that to Peter is a lesson for us. It was around a charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest where Peter sat to see what would happen to his Lord. A charcoal fire to warm himself. But sitting at that fire something disastrous happened. He denied his Lord. He may have walked away from his livelihood when Jesus had called him, but he hadn’t given up everything. His life was too precious to himself. He held on to his fears and denied his Lord.

That’s why when Jesus showed up on that morning at the beach, all bets were off. Jesus sat down this time around a charcoal fire and invited Peter to join Him. Not to rub salt in his wounds but as a vivid way of showing that the one who was denied was the one who never gave up on Peter. He was now calling Peter again. Calling him anew. He needed to daily be destroyed and to daily rise. Plunging into the waters of Baptism will do that. Jesus shows up there, that’s why we can count on it. Jesus made sure that Peter knew that he was forgiven, calling him three times, just as he had denied Jesus three times. Giving Peter food that He Himself provided, not what Peter had brought out of the lake.

When Jesus shows up, all bets are off. He lays it all out on the table. It’s not about you. It’s about Him. It’s not what you bring to the table, it’s all in what He offers you at His Table. This is His Table [pointing to the altar]. What He brings to the Table is Himself. Sure, you come to His Table, but as He said, No one comes to the Father except the Son of Man draws Him. He lays a meal before you and in His Meal He offers you Himself. For you to eat and drink. For you to be forgiven. For you to be sustained. For you to receive what you truly need. You have been destroyed in Baptism. You may now rise up and partake of the eternal Meal of the Lamb who was slain. There is only what He offers you. As He was lifted up on the cross and stepped out of His tomb, He offers you the body given on the cross, the blood shed on the cross. The risen flesh and blood body that rose and came to the disciples on a cool morning on the beach, to a ravenous man out for blood on a road, to a lone apostle in a vision beyond what we can imagine in which he saw nothing but at which he could simply marvel. All bets are off.

Jesus shows up. Everything who He is, everything He offers, He lays before you at His Table. Rise up and partake, for you are feasting on eternity. Amen.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Christmas Word Is the Easter Word

Second Sunday of Easter
April 11, 2010
John 20:19-31

At the beginning of his Gospel account the apostle John goes one up on the beginning of the Bible that says that God created the heavens and the earth. John says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 ESV) A few verses later he makes a startling statement: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14 ESV)

What does this mean? What is the Word? What does it mean that the Word was God? What does it mean that the Word became flesh? And what you also might be thinking: What do these things have to do with me and my life?

Jesus is here to answer your questions. He shows up when He’s not expected. He comes in when there’s no way to get in. He comes despite unbelief and doubt.

More animals were around when God became flesh than were people. God becoming a man just wasn’t on the radar of most people. God coming out of His tomb wasn’t either. It’s just as hard to believe the little baby born in a stable was God as it was to believe that the man Jesus who was lifeless in the tomb was now alive.

But everything depends on words. The Bible tells us that in the beginning God said. This is what He said: “Let there be light.” We all know what the Bible says next: “And there was light.” God is God. He could have created the universe in any way He wanted.

He chose to do it by speaking it into existence. The Word. He used words. Speaking into being what He was saying. God’s Word brings about what it says. We don’t have that power. God does. He’s God.

But the thing about God is He doesn’t go around convincing us that He’s God. He just does what He does as God. And what that is is saving us. Forgiving us, loving us, sustaining us in salvation. Bringing about in us the salvation He eagerly wants us to have.

I have learned over the years to be very careful about what I tell people I’ll do. Too often I have said, I’ll do this. Or I’ve offered to do something. Or I’ve said yes to a request to do something. Once you say it it sticks with people. If you don’t do it they’ll remember that. He said he would do it and he hasn’t done it. And saying, Oh yeah, I’ll still get to that, doesn’t help anything. The proof is in the pudding as they say.

So some have also said that you should say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s what John is getting at when He says that the Word is God and that the Word became flesh. God doesn’t just tell us He’s God. He does His being God. He puts His money where His mouth is. He doesn’t just talk the talk, He walks the walk. The proof is in the pudding. If you don’t believe it, just look in the manger. There’s God. Why would He be there if He weren’t serious about being God and saving us? If you doubt it, look at the empty tomb. Why would God go through the suffering and dying and being laid in a grave if He weren’t intent on being our God, our Savior?

When God says He’s going to do something, He does it. He puts His action where His Word is. But actually, with God His Word is His action. His Word brings about what it says. When He says He is our God He does what it means to be our God. He saves us. He doesn’t use His Word to tell us how to save ourselves, He by His Word saves us.

And what is His Word? Himself. Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. And what does this Word do? He goes about being who He is, which is God. He goes about doing what God does, which is saving us.

Nothing will impede Him. The locked doors on the first Easter Sunday didn’t prevent Him from being the Word made flesh and dwelling among us. He was right there among His disciples, being their God, in the flesh. Risen, alive, bodily. They were in there, locked up, because they were afraid. Because they listened to their own reason and the words of unbelievers. Jesus was dead, He’s gone. Those who killed Him are going to come after us.

But Jesus breaks through this world of unbelief in coming bodily to them just as the light broke forth in the darkness when God spoke His Word at the dawn of creation. Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwells among us, is present among us and speaks to us. “Peace be with you.” The Word He speaks is His Word that brings about what it says. When He says “Peace be with you,” He’s not just saying it so they might have some peace after all they’ve been through. He’s bestowing on them peace. He’s bringing about Peace in their lives by speaking it into their ears. John shows us this when he says: “When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

But there’s more. With God there’s never just something. There’s always more. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.’” He is the God who goes about being God. He doesn’t sit around hoping we’ll get the picture that He is the Almighty eternal powerful God and that we’ll give Him homage for it. Nope, He goes about being God, our Savior. He goes about saving us. He’s the God who comes into our world, our lives, with salvation. He comes to us to save us. He is the God who is always present not just because He’s always present, but because He comes to us in the Word made flesh.

He bestows on them once again peace. He is pleased as peaches to have been sent by His Heavenly Father. He is just as pleased to send out these pathetic excuses for disciples. One moment they’ve given up on Him the next they’re overjoyed that He’s really with them. These are the guys He’s going to send out.

Because it’s all about the Word. Not about them. In other words, it’s not dependent on them. It’s dependent on God. On the Word made flesh. They are to speak words. Not just words, the Word. The Word the Word Made Flesh gives them to speak. If they forgive the sins of those who are repentant the repentant will be forgiven. If they withhold the sins of those who are unrepentant the unrepentant will not be forgiven. This isn’t because these guys are way more on top of it than the rest of the poor saps who haven’t gone to the seminary. No, we’ve just established that these guys were pathetic and Jesus had every reason to give up on them. But He didn’t. Because it doesn’t depend on them but on Him, the Word made flesh.

But we need to keep ourselves in check because it’s too easy to dismiss others as Doubting Thomases and exempt ourselves from such a distinction. It’s true, when Thomas, the poor guy wasn’t there when Jesus made His grand entrance, heard the news he didn’t believe. He wanted to see for himself. He wasn’t going to take their word for it. But even as he was indeed Doubting Thomas, weren’t they all? Weren’t they all holed up in the room believing they would never see Jesus again? Hadn’t they despaired of hope when Jesus died rather than taking His word for it when He had told them He would die and that He would rise?

So, no, we are usually wrong when we think we are any more firm in the faith than the Doubting Thomases in the Christian Church. But the good news is that Jesus remains the Word made flesh. He continues to dwell among His people. He is ready and willing to bring Himself into our midst so that we may see Him and touch Him and believe in Him. Jesus came to them again and said, “‘Peace be with you.’ Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and My God!’” God’s Word brings about what it says. What we need to remember is that God’s Word is His Word in the flesh, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, our Lord and Savior. We cry out with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas was given a great gift on that day. He wasn’t there the first time so Jesus came to him the second time. This time he believed. He had seen. He had touched. “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” We are given a great gift also. We haven’t seen the Word made flesh as Thomas and the disciples did. But we believe. We are blessed by Him as they were. Jesus comes to us in the flesh and dwells among us. He comes to us in our Baptism, in His Holy Supper, even in His very Word which is read and proclaimed.

The Word made flesh at Christmas is the Word risen bodily at Easter. The risen and bodily Word that sprung from the tomb at Easter is the Word in the flesh and dwelling among you in Holy Communion. At His birth He was called Emmanuel, which means God with us. The God who came to be with us at His birth continues to come to you as the risen Lord in His Word, through your Baptism, and in His Holy Supper. He is with you always. Amen.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Amen of the Resurrection of Christ

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Day
April 4, 2010
Luke 24:1-12

Our observance of Lent has given way to our celebration of Easter. But there’s one more thing we need to do before we leave our Lenten focus. There’s one more word left in the Lord’s Prayer we need to meditate on. Our look at the Lord’s Prayer and the cross of Christ during Lent has shown us that the prayer our Lord has given His Church has as its foundation and essence His suffering and death on the cross. It is because of the cross He has given us His Prayer to pray. It is by the cross that everything we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer is applicable to our lives and profitable.

But even as we have looked at the Lord’s Prayer in light of the cross we have now come to the place where we are zeroing in on the Resurrection. The empty tomb has replaced our focus on the cross.

The last word of the Lord’s Prayer reflects that. The word “Amen” is a word that finishes off our prayer the way the Resurrection finishes off the suffering and death of Christ. It puts a stamp on it. Christ rising from the dead isn’t so much icing on the cake as it is a stamp on what was accomplished through the Cross. It seals the deal.

Everything for salvation was accomplished through the Cross. That’s why we can pray the Lord’s Prayer in confidence. Jesus said it Himself on the cross—It is finished. But it is still true that if Christ had remained in the tomb then all would be lost. Our faith would be in vain. We would have no hope. The Resurrection puts the stamp on the salvation accomplished in Christ’s suffering and death.

That’s how it is when we say “Amen” at the end of our prayers. Amen, it is true. What I have prayed for is in accordance with Your will. That’s assuming, of course, that we have prayed according to God’s holy will. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we can be assured that we are. It is, after all, the prayer our Lord has given us to pray. The petitions He has given us in His Holy Prayer encapsulate His will for us. How can we say anything but “Amen” after praying it?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel especially spiritual or conformed to God’s will when praying the Lord’s Prayer. Sometimes it just seems like words I’m praying. I know the words. I know what God wants me to be praying for. But I don’t always take them to heart.

The women and the disciples had a little problem in this way, too. They went to Jesus’ tomb on Sunday morning expecting to see His body slowing decaying. They certainly didn’t expect to see it gone. But their eyes didn’t deceive them, His body was not there. It was their lack of faith that deceived them. Jesus had told them He would suffer, die, and rise. He told them beforehand. But it all just seemed like words to them.

They could not say their “Amen” to the words of Jesus because they couldn’t get it passed their feeble minds that Jesus would actually die, much less, when He actually did, rise from the grave. Now on Sunday morning their fears were giving way to surprise, their surprise was giving way to belief, and their belief was springing forth in joy and amazement. They could now say their “Amen.”

Jesus had suffered and died. He was the ground of their faith. His sacrifice on Calvary for the sins of the world. Because of that we can say Amen when we pray. He had now risen from the grave. He had accomplished salvation and now sealed the deal. We can be sure of who He is and what He has accomplished. We can know that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are praying for what He knows we need. It may sound at times like so much words, but they are the words of the one who was crucified, rose, and goes before us as we pray to our Heavenly Father and live out our lives.

Try this, the next time you’re down and out, or you’re in over your head, or you’re frustrated, at you’re wit’s end, or you’re confused, or you’re worried, or you’re doubting, or you’re not all that happy with God, or you’re even angry with Him, or even if things are going well and you’re not thinking about all this stuff all that much—remember that one little word at the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Keep that word in mind. You have finished your prayer off with a word, a conviction, that what you have just prayed is what you need, whether you feel it or not, whether realize it or not.

When you say “Amen” you’re saying, God, You take it from here. You accomplished salvation for me and sealed the deal. You sustain me. You keep me in the faith. Keep me firm in the knowledge that the one who was crucified was the one who rose. That the one who rose has come to me in my Baptism. That the one who came to me in my Baptism comes to me at this altar, giving me His body and blood for the forgiveness of all of my sins and the strengthening of my faith.

Much more could be said. God’s Holy Word is inexhaustible; the Lord’s Prayer itself is inexhaustible. His work of salvation in His suffering and death and resurrection can never be delved into enough. His blessings are ever new and eternal. But no matter where you’re at or what you’re going through, you know one thing: Jesus died and rose for the sins of the world. He has given you new and eternal life and you may conclude that among all the other things there are to say, “Amen” puts a seal on things very nicely.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Kingdom, Power, and Glory of Christ

Easter Vigil
April 3, 2010
Luke 23:49-56

There’s something strange about talking about the Kingdom of Christ, His power, His glory, in connection with His burial. They don’t seem to fit together. Being buried means you’re dead. It means you’ve come to the end. It means you’re no longer overseeing your kingdom, you’re out of power and the next guy gets to take over. There may be glory in how you’re remembered, but you don’t get to bask in it because you’re underneath the ground.

But not with Christ. It is precisely in His death and burial that Jesus comes into His Kingdom. God’s power is made manifestly superior to every other power when Jesus suffers, dies, and is buried. The glory of God is most brilliant in the death of Jesus Christ and being buried in a tomb.

The hours between Jesus’ life coming to an end on the cross at 3:00 on Friday afternoon and His coming to life again sometime during the early hours on Sunday morning are somewhat mysterious to us. What kind of state was Jesus in? Was He unaware of what was going on, as with any dead person in a grave? Or, because He is God, was He fully aware?

In the Creed we confess that Jesus descended into hell. This was after He was buried. He died on the cross, was taken down, and laid in a tomb. His descent into hell was the exercising of His power, a display of His glory, and the proclamation to Satan on his own turf that Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal. That He has the victory. That Satan is defeated, that even death cannot hold Jesus.

Luke tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the council, the group of religious leaders that brought Jesus down, and yet, he had not consented to their decision and action. Luke also tells us that he was looking for the kingdom of God. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Well, He was looking in the right place. Jesus hanging on the cross, His life having left Him, didn’t look very powerful. He didn’t seem glorious. His Kingdom appeared to have come to an end.

But Joseph went to the only place where the kingdom, power, and glory of God is manifest—Jesus. Even dead. Even buried in a tomb. Joseph may have sought the Kingdom of God as coming in this one, in Jesus who was condemned and brought to death by his very own religious colleagues. Now as he approached Pilate he was simply giving Jesus the honor and respect He deserved. Jesus would at least have an honorable burial.

What Joseph didn’t realize is that in looking for the kingdom of God and then in going to take care of the body of Jesus he had actually come in to the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ resurrection in three days would make that clear to him.

While Jesus had hung on the cross He cried out “It is finished.” To everyone there it was a sad way to end the whole affair. But not to Christ. What He was crying out was a cry of victory. It is finished. Salvation has been accomplished. His suffering was now over, His sacrifice completed. Now came the Kingdom, the power, and the glory.

Joseph of Arimathea had looked in the right place after all. On this night, in the time between the observance of our Lord’s crucifixion and our celebration of His Resurrection, let us look to the same place. Our Lord. God in the flesh, born, suffering, dying, buried, and risen. There we see the Kingdom, the power, and the glory. Our praying of the Lord’s Prayer ends with this. In other words, with Christ. When He comes into His Kingdom on the Last Day we will realize it in the fullness of glory. Amen.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Deliverance from Evil and the Cross of Christ

Good Friday
April 2, 2010
Luke 22:1—23:56

During Lent we have gathered here to meditate on what our Lord has done for us. God can do anything. What we are most grateful for, though, is that what He has done for us is because of His mercy. We know God has acted toward us in mercy because of the cross. If He acts toward us apart from that then He acts toward us in His eternal and holy wrath. If we seek Him apart from the cross we find only eternal damnation.

During Lent as we have meditated on the Lord’s Prayer we have done so in relation to the cross. We lift up our prayers because of the cross. Jesus gave us His Holy Prayer because He knew He would be going to the cross.

Now as Lent has come to its culmination in Good Friday we are met with that singular event. The cross. Jesus suffering in the place of the world. Offering up the prayer “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” so that we may offer the prayer “Our Father, who art in heaven.” The entire prayer of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for salvation. It is a prayer that God would act toward us in mercy. That He would save us and preserve us because of the cross.

Oftentimes when I hear a sermon or read a devotion or attend a Bible Study or listen to someone give a presentation on theology my mind is thinking about all the points that were left out. All the things that could also have been said but weren’t.

I can’t do that with the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus has put it all in there. Everything we need from God, it’s in there. He has given us the prayer we need that covers everything our Lord would give us in His mercy.

And if we’re not quite sure, if after we’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer and think that perhaps something was left out—perhaps Jesus didn’t think of the exact situation we’re in—He has closed His Holy Prayer out with this petition: deliver us from evil. The reason He has done this is because everything we need, everything we think we need, even everything we want, is met in this petition.

Let’s be honest, we don’t know how to pray as we should. The very fact that the Lord’s Prayer might seem to be lacking, not addressing our every situation or need, shows us that we aren’t always so concerned that God act toward us in mercy as we are for Him to give us what we want.

We’re more than ready to pray to Him to deliver us from poverty. We are consumed with our prayers that He deliver us from struggles and trials and annoyances. We are intent on asking Him for those things which will make our lives more comfortable and better.

But what we truly need, and what Christ truly understands, is that we need to be delivered from evil. He understands this because He endured retribution for our evil on the cross. On the cross He delivered us from evil. Why would we concern ourselves with the petty things we so often pray for?

But no, we shouldn’t have the impression that some things are out of bounds to pray for. We are invited by God to pray for those things we need, and yes even the things we want. He has taught that we pray for those things according to His eternal holy gracious merciful will. So pray away! Pray for those things you need. Pray for those things you want.

But as you pray, pray that His will would be done. And what is His will? That you be delivered from evil. Because, you see, the thing we get tripped up on is this desire that God’s will would be in line with ours, rather than praying that He would conform our will to His. Our will is too often what we want. His will is that we be delivered from evil. That’s why He went to the cross. That’s what he endured, evil. Our sins, our guilt, our punishment, were all laid on Him. That’s God’s will. That’s how He delivered us from evil.

That’s why we pray the Lord’s Prayer. That’s how we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Because of the cross. When we pray, Deliver us from evil, we also give thanks that He has. In His mercy, on the cross. Amen.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Daily Bread and the Cross of Christ

Maundy Thursday
April 1, 2010
Luke 22:7-20

One of the things you learn as a Christian is how to pray. Our sinful nature is quite content asking for things we need in this life. Our sinful nature has no need for the spiritual and eternal things. Our sinful nature would just as soon have us be concerned with the things we need to live in this life at the cost of losing eternal life.

So it’s no surprise that when our Lord has given us ‘His Prayer’ it’s a deeply spiritual prayer. It’s a prayer that combats the readiness with which we pray for our peace of mind, a steady job, a well-paying job, our team to win, our neighbors to keep the noise down, and our family members to stop annoying us so much. When we pray we pray for the things that are staring us in the face. Our feelings, our wants, our dreams, our frustrations, our pain. God wants us to pray to Him in our need and we do.

It’s just that our prayers tend to be so very unspiritual. So Jesus teaches us to pray for things like hallowing His name, His Kingdom to come, His will to be done, our sins to be forgiven, and for us to forgive others, for us not to be led into temptation, and the catch-all spiritual petition: that we be delivered from evil. Jesus is God and knows that our spiritual problems and needs are far greater than our physical ones and the prayer He taught us reflects that.

But there is that one little petition in the middle of it all. You know, that one non-spiritual one. The one that concerns our physical needs, if you will. Give us this day our daily bread. Throughout Lent we have meditated on the petitions, all very spiritual. Tonight we consider the one that’s much more to our liking—God give us what we need to live in this world.

In the middle of our Lord teaching us that our greatest needs are our spiritual and eternal ones He invites us also to pray for our daily bread. For those things we need in order to stay alive. But even more, to enjoy life and reap the benefits of His creation. While filling His Prayer for us to pray with the theology that man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God He places smack in the middle of it an invitation to pray for bread. The key I suppose is that we’re not praying for bread alone. But we are praying for daily bread. He knows we need much more than our physical needs to be taken care but at the same time He knows that we need those physical needs to be taken care of as well.

Perhaps He surrounds this petition for our earthly needs to be met with the others which are wholly spiritual to remind us that without our spiritual needs being met we have life for this world only resulting in eternal damnation. As we pray for daily bread we must be mindful that this too is just another gift from God. As He blesses us eternally with His spiritual gifts so He blesses us temporally with His physical gifts. He gives us those things we need in order to live our lives on this earth.

Obviously there are some who don’t have as much as others. And there are some who don’t even have enough to survive. But this is one more reminder to us that the prayer for our physical needs is only one petition among seven that are for our more important spiritual and eternal needs. You may have more than enough to eat and live in luxury but if you die in your sins you die without the glory of heaven for eternity. On the other hand, you may be barely scraping by but if you die in faith of Jesus as your Lord you are with Him and have surpassing wealth in heaven for eternity.

We have come to the heart of Holy Week. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday hone in on the suffering our Lord endured so that eternal blessings are secured. Have you ever thought about all that Jesus went through in His suffering? You know much of the physical torture He endured. But think about another thing He endured beginning from His Last Supper with His disciples. He ate that meal with them and then nothing. From the evening of Maundy Thursday through 3:00 on Good Friday He had nothing to eat. Part of His physical suffering was that He was dreadfully weak. He went through the night with no sleep and with no food. He was expected to carry His cross to the crucifixion site and in one of the few merciful, or perhaps merely practical, acts toward Jesus, they gave the task of carrying His cross to some guy who was on the side of the road. Jesus was too weak to carry His own cross. If it were happening today someone might have given Him one of those power gels long distance athletes use to give themselves energy and stamina.

But for Jesus there was nothing. No food. No drink. He truly was not living by bread alone, and even at all, but by the very Word of God. His life was entrusted to His Heavenly Father. He was brought to the cross.

When we pray the petition that seems to be the only physical one on the list in His Holy Prayer we really should treat it and pray it as we do all the others which are so very spiritual—in light of His cross. Yes, it’s true that we need our daily bread, and obviously true that our Lord invites us to pray for it. But isn’t it even more true that we cannot pray for our daily bread without also realizing that our Lord gives us so much more? He is, after all, the Bread of Life. In His Suffering and Death we have eternal life. There is food which gets us by day to day, and thank God for that! But there is also food which sustains us for eternity.

At this altar He gives it to you. Living Bread. Life-Giving Blood. The Body delivered on the cross, the Blood shed on the cross, given for you, in your mouth, for you to eat and drink, for you to be forgiven, strengthened, sustained.

So we may pray in boldness, Give us this day our daily bread. And we may also pray, Give us this Life-Giving Bread now and forever. Amen.