Easter Celebration – 2016 LSB #672
You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode.
A PICTURE OF THE LAST DAY
It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I thought I’d start this sermon with one. If you google the phrase ‘Hellfire & Brimstone’ this is one of the pictures that comes up. It’s what Democrats think the United States will look like if Donald Trump gets elected president! PAUSE
But, politics aside, it can be said, in all honesty, “That is a picture of the Last Day.”
I’m going to guess that every single one of you out there would prefer the Easter lilies. They do look beautiful, don’t they, but how long do you think they would last?
Thank God, our hope for Judgment Day does not rely upon Easter lilies! Our hope for Judgment Day does not rely upon the Easter Bunny, or the Easter Dinner, or an Easter Bonnet, & it certainly does not depend upon an Easter Basket!
“Then [Jesus] will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil & his angels. For I was hungry & you gave me no food, I was thirsty & you gave me no drink, I was a stranger & you did not welcome me, naked & you did not clothe me, sick & in prison & you did not visit me.’”
“Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, & did not minister to you?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:41-45 ESV)
Those are strong words, coming from Jesus Himself, & they too are a picture of the Last
Day. St. Peter joins in the chorus when he writes: “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, & then the heavens will pass away with a roar, & the heavenly bodies will be burned up & dissolved, & the earth & the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10 ESV)
People in our culture like to say that Jesus loves everybody, no matter what they do, or fail to do. While that is true, the attitude that we can sin however we want, just because Jesus loves everybody, does not square with Jesus’ own Words regarding the Last Day. Then we heard St. Peter make the point that the works done on earth will be exposed.
How do we line all of that up so our celebration of Easter can be a truly joyful day? It didn’t take Jesus very long to explain it. Already in the very 1st chapter of the Gospel of Mark, right after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where He preached God’s Good News:
“The time promised by God has come at last!” He announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins & believe the Good News!” (1:15 NLT)
You see, Jesus knows you & I are going to sin, but His solution is not for us to simply pretend that sin is not a problem. Jesus teaches us to admit our sins & repent of them. When anyone comes to faith in Jesus as Savior, one of the blessings given to them, by God, is the gift of repentance. If we don’t use it, our sins will poison the spiritual life within!
Getting back to the Book of Exodus, listen to God’s diagnosis of Pharaoh’s spiritual illness. Chapter 8:15 says, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart & would not listen to them…” Then verse 19 tells us, “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, & he would not listen to them…”
Now, every one of us has been in a situation where we knew we’d done wrong, but for whatever reason just did not want to repent of our sin. Having experienced that, what does it take to not repent? We have to work at hardening our heart, don’t we? You all know it’s true. You’ve felt it. Been there! Done that! Children of God repent of their sins by nature. Our saintly nature longs to confess, & be rid of, our sin. We have to consciously work against it in order not to. And sadly, there are times when we do.
Each one of us has experienced being a slave to sin. Some of us struggle in being tight-fisted with the blessings our Lord has given us. Others struggle with believing that they always have the best way of doing things. Sometimes we’re quick-tempered. At other times we’re just plain lazy. And almost never is there a time when we focus all our attention on God’s Word.
Arguments break out & we consciously, purposely refuse to see our fault. We prefer to harden our heart & let the other person apologize alone. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, & the truth is not in us.” (1John 1:8 ESV) So we confess that we are in bondage to sin, in fact we are its slaves, & cannot free ourselves.
To which Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins & believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15 NLT) The good news is that the Son of God took on human flesh, so He could suffer, die, & rise again, all for the purpose of setting you free from your slavery to sin. Thus Moses wrote of Yahweh:
“You have led in Your steadfast love the people whom You have redeemed; You have guided them by Your strength to Your holy abode.” Moses wrote those words upon crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, & seeing the entire Egyptian army being drowned in that same Red Sea. The Israelites were slaves no more, at least, not to the Egyptians.
The Exodus from Egypt is thus a glorious, beautiful, magnificent picture of the Last Day. For unbelievers, the Last Day will be the Day of Judgment. For children of God, it is a day to look forward to with anticipation & longing, yet, the Exodus is still no more than a picture. Though the Israelites had been delivered from slavery to Pharaoh, because of their sins, it took another 40 years before they entered the Promised Land. The lamb, of the Passover meal that preceded their Exodus, was a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Lamb of God who would once & for all take away the sins of the world.
By His death on the cross, Jesus made possible our exodus from this world of slavery to sin. By His death on the cross, Jesus made possible our entrance in to the true Promised Land – the kingdom of heaven prepared for us since the creation of the world. The resurrected & glorified body of Jesus is the prototype for you & me.
The land flowing in milk & honey is thus a glorious, beautiful, magnificent picture of what all God’s children will finally see with their own eyes on the Last Day. That picture is a far cry from the one labeled ‘Hellfire & Brimstone.’ The resurrected & glorified body of Jesus is the 1st product of the new creation to come.
St. Peter also joined in this chorus when he wrote: “But according to [God’s] promise we are waiting for new heavens & a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” The crossing of the Red Sea & the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies are to the OT what Good Friday & Easter Sunday are to the NT. On the Last Day, Satan & his armies will be destroyed & cast into the lake of fire.
Never again will they tempt us, or torture us, or cause suffering, sorrow or tears. Only righteousness will dwell in heaven. The Passover meal, the Exodus, the Promised Land, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ death, resurrection & ascension into heaven, every one of them, in their own way, foreshadows & pictures for us something of the Last Day.
The white paraments, the candles, the Easter lilies, the banners, the crown, all of them are meant to paint for us a picture of a glorious place to be, & a glorious Day to come. It is beautiful to be here on Easter morning! Now imagine how much infinitely greater the Last Day will be for all of God’s children. As Moses wrote of Yahweh: “You will bring them in & plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established. The Lord will reign forever & ever.” Amen.
Jerusalem the golden, with milk & honey blest – the promise of salvation, the place of peace & rest – we know not, oh, we know not what joys await us there: the radiancy of glory, the bliss beyond compare! O sweet & blessèd country, the home of God’s elect! O sweet & blessèd country that faithful hearts expect! In mercy, Jesus, bring us to that eternal rest with You & God the Father & Spirit, ever blest. Amen.
 Exodus 15:13
Easter Sunrise – 2016 LSB #’s 457, 478, 465
Text – Luke 24:8
And they remembered His words.
The Empty Tomb: A Place of Remembering
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at Easter with the dark room, the lone Christ candle teasing the darkness, the lilies, the praise, the celebration of Christ’s victory. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but when you listen to Luke tell the Easter story, he focuses your attention on one thing – Remembering!
Think of it. The 1st Easter was a whirl of activity & emotion. Women come to the tomb with spices & find that it’s open. The body of Jesus is gone. They come across men who dress like lightning, & when these men talk, they know what these women are doing: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
They know what has happened: “He is not here, but has risen!” & they even know what has been done & said in their past: “Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified & on the 3rd day rise.” (Luke 24:5–6 ESV)
These men know these women even though the women have never seen them before. In the midst of all of this commotion, what does Luke focus our attention upon? When he puts it all together, Luke calls our attention to one simple act: “They remembered His words.” (v. 8) That’s what Luke wants us to know this morning as you & I celebrate Easter.
On that 1st Easter morning, when Jesus rose from the dead, in the midst of the wonder, the fear & the worship, His people simply & faithfully did one single thing: “They remembered His words.” God on Easter morning sent angels to the tomb to help His people remember, & this morning through His Word Yahweh helps us also to remember! God has made the empty tomb a place of remembering for us this morning in order that we might truly rejoice in what Christ does for us on Easter. But, what kind of remembering is this? You see, memory does many things. Have you noticed how a person, friend or foe, can come into your life & with a few simple words change everything?
They say, “I remember when you used to. . .” or “Do you remember when. . .” It’s in that remembering that things begin to change. That’s the power of memory, but how do things change? This morning, I’d like to consider two ways in which remembering changes our lives.
On the one hand, remembering can take us away from our present & lead us to a world that is past. We commonly encounter this at funerals. Members of the family gather by the casket & someone walks up & simply begins to remember. “I remember when people would come over, he’d love to tell his fishing stories.”
“Yeah,” says another, “and he never talked about the one that got away. Nope. He always caught the big ones.” “Got bigger each year.” “In the end, they got so big you couldn’t take pictures.” And soon, you see these people taken away from the present to another place, a place where shoulders relax, weary faces brighten, & you can hear laughter. . . even at a funeral.
Such is the power of remembering. It can take you away from the present. On the other hand, there’s another kind of remembering that does not take you away but brings you more fully into the present. You see this type of remembering all the time with grandparents. The day they hold their 1st grandchild; you bring your daughter & place her in your mother’s arms.
At first, grandma is nervous. It’s been so long since she held a baby. She holds the child awkwardly. Afraid she will hurt the little one. But after a moment, she remembers what this was like. She cradles the child’s head, rocks her, whispers silly things to her. She leans down & kisses her forehead & then looks up & begins to talk about what it was like when you were young. This time, memory is not taking your mother away from the present. It’s bringing her more fully into it. Through memory, she’s able to delight in the joy of holding her granddaughter in her arms.
Two types of remembering, then: one that takes you away from the present, & one that brings you more fully into it. The question for you this morning is what kind of remembering happens at Easter? What happens when God comes among us today &, through His Word, helps us remember? Does He take us away from our present or bring us more fully into it?
For these women, remembering the words of their Lord brings them more fully into the present. With the words of Jesus, they begin to understand the strange new world that surrounds them, with empty graves & men who dress like lightning. These things begin to make sense: Jesus had talked about a heavenly kingdom.
The world is God’s, & God’s kingdom has come. What about the pain of the crucifixion? Was this all a mistake? No, Jesus had told them: His betrayal & death were part of God’s will. God so desired to save all people that He gave His only Son to bear the punishment for their sin.
And now, punishment is gone. Divine vengeance is over, & the open grave gives a glimpse of heavenly joy. Angels talk to humans. Humans speak to one another, sharing a message that saves every man, woman & child. “God loves you. In love, He gave His life for you. Now He lives & reigns – eternally your God.”
Suddenly, life for these women has become worth living, & they run from the tomb to live fully in His grace. Remembering, you see, can bring us more fully into the present. But our world will tell you differently. Our culture shakes its head at us Christians. When we remember Easter, our culture says we’ve entered the realm of the imagination & lost touch with the present.
“A Savior rising from the dead? A world filled with sin & the devil & angels & demons?
That’s a world with puritan morality & strange views of creation, with answers to questions people no longer ask,” they say. “Too much of this & you will not be able to function in this enlightened & modern world. You won’t be able to enjoy the good life. You won’t get ahead in business if you try that ‘love your neighbor’ kind of stuff.” That is the world’s reaction.
But this morning, we’ve learned that God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. When He causes us to remember the resurrection, He does not take us away from this world & lock us up in some religious belief system that has no relevance to the present. No, God sets us free to experience life already today in His kingdom with far deeper meaning.
Today, the Church remembers the death & resurrection of Jesus because they make life in this world richer & full of meaning. Sins in our past make us fearful about going on. Anger at the boss has fractured your working relationship. Gossip about co-workers has made friends your enemies. Ending an unwanted pregnancy began a life of horrible regret.
A broken marriage, a broken childhood, a broken relationship with God – these things come to mind, & we’re uncertain how to move on. It seems as if our past has destroyed our future, but God comes today & speaks to us: “Remember My Son, Jesus. He gave His life for you. Your sins are forgiven. He has risen & reigns & is now the author of life.
Through Him, you are a child of My kingdom. In Christ, you are a member of My family. With Him, your life is now part of My work in history.” When God makes His love known in Jesus, we are freed from our sins & live in God’s kingdom. Christ has risen. He has defeated death. He has overcome sin. He is the author of life – now & forever.
And when the God who is love is the author of your life, every day deepens in purpose & meaning. Some people think that in order to have a vibrant Christianity, the Church needs to make God relevant. For them, Yahweh is some distant power, a deity who is far away, buried in ancient-sounding names in ancient-looking manuscripts. They claim the Church needs to bring this God into the 21st century, so He’s on the correct side of history. For them, the Church should identify the needs of the people & then look through the Scriptures to see what they can find about God that fits those needs.
If the world has people who need more self-esteem, the Church should look through the Bible & find a Jesus who can give us principles for personal development. If people need a prayer life, the church should produce a Jesus with a five-step method for prayer. Jesus becomes an ever-changing figure, the latest god to hit the market, offering people what they want.
Somehow that makes God relevant. I wonder about such people, because I think they’ve misunderstood the ways of our heavenly Father. Yahweh does not need to make Himself relevant. He’s God, after all. He rules everything. What God does, however, is make people relevant to Him. God’s gracious work makes your life relevant to Him & to His kingdom.
We see God doing that in the Gospel reading for today. Luke wrote, “Returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven & to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene & Joanna & Mary the mother of James & the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.” (vv. 9–11)
Did you notice that Luke stops in the middle of the story to give us the names of these women? He stops to give us their names because these women have suddenly become something. They have become witnesses to the working of God. They went to the tomb as mourners. They come back as witnesses. They have names & life experience & a story to tell.
When God graciously intervenes & brings people into His kingdom, He makes their lives relevant. People are relevant not because of anything in them or anything done by them but simply because they belong to God & they live in God’s world & God has a strange way of pouring out all that He has for the sake of reaching out to His world. Daily business is more than business: it is a vocation. That difficult conversation you have with your daughter is an occasion for graceful speech. The fragile moments of our lives are filled with a meaning beyond our making & a love beyond our strength.
Our lives are in the hands of God, & there, in His hands, we become part of the way God is at work in the world. His kingdom has an impact on the world through us. For you & me, as for these women, life becomes more meaningful because Christ has risen & sends us forth to live in His world by His grace.
Today, Luke proclaims the resurrection & asks us to remember. Remember the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, you are forgiven. By Him, you have new life. With Him, your living is part of His unfolding kingdom. Yes, it is easy to get overwhelmed at Easter. That’s because this love of God . . . is overwhelming. Amen.
Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth its song begin, let all the world keep triumph & all that is therein. Let all things, seen & unseen, their notes of gladness blend; for Christ the Lord has risen, our joy that has no end! All praise to God the Father, all praise to God the Son, all praise to God the Spirit, eternal Three in One! Let all the ransomed number fall down before the throne & honor, power & glory ascribe to God alone! Amen.
Maundy Thursday LSB #436
Text – Luke 22:20
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
The Last Supper: A Place of Forgiveness
She had a tattoo. There, on the upper part of her back, just over the shoulder blade. At times it looked more like a scar than a tattoo. It was only one color. This was before tattoos were fashionable & had been done in a back alley garage in spite of the risk of infection & scarring. It was a dark blue scratch making the shape of a crown.
She didn’t know which was worse, the tattoo or what she did to get it. There were many men, boys she should say, & petty crimes that made her worthy of bearing that scar & being a part of the gang. Only that was years ago in another city. That was before night school & a promotion & relocation & a husband & a family.
Now, here she sits at the Christian education committee meeting & they’re asking her to offer an opinion about children & the streets. One member already removed her child from Sunday School:
“If you are going to bring kids from gangs into this program, then don’t expect my child to be there,” she said. “Why do you think I bring my kids here? I want to give them a good upbringing.”
As the meeting continued, the woman with the tattoo thought to herself, “If you only knew. If you only knew where I’ve come from & what I’ve done, you wouldn’t even be asking my opinion! You certainly wouldn’t be sitting here with me.” That night, her world became a little smaller & all she could think was, “If you only knew.”
We all experience moments like that, don’t we? Moments when our world feels like it’s
getting smaller. There may be no tattoo to mark your past. Your moment might have happened in a different social setting, but we all carry scars from the things we have done. Then, in a moment, our world becomes smaller as we find ourselves surrounded by people who don’t know what we’ve done. We are intensely aware that we’re alone – alone with our scars.
We’ve had a failed marriage or broken a vow. We’re a recovering alcoholic. In the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, we aborted our child. We have a parent we haven’t spoken to for over a year. We’ve fought with our children for so long we don’t know how to begin again. Sin disrupts the lives of God’s people & it leaves many scars.
When we gather, there are times it hits us how radically different it all would be if the people around us only knew. Our back muscles tense, a polite smile masks our face, but we’re thinking, “If only you knew where I’ve come from, what I’ve said, what I’ve done, you wouldn’t even be talking to me. If you only knew…”
Tonight is Maundy Thursday; a time when we remember our Lord’s Last Supper & celebrate the Sacrament. As we do, we gather in the presence of a God who does know. We draw near to worship a God who knows all about us. As you meditate on our Lord’s Passion & come to receive His body & blood this evening, my prayer for you is that you experience the wonder that Jesus does know & for that reason this table is a place of forgiveness.
In Luke’s account of the Last Supper, he’s very clear to tell us that Jesus knew about Judas. Like a movie where you see one person & then another & then both of them together, Luke brings Jesus & Judas together in this account.
First, he points to Judas, telling us the Feast of Passover is approaching & Judas goes to the rulers to betray Jesus. This was the Passover preparation of Judas – betraying His Lord. Then, Luke points to Jesus. He tells us the day of Passover has come & Jesus sends Peter & John to locate the room where He will eat His last Passover meal. This was the Passover preparation of Jesus – preparing a table for His disciples. Then, Luke brings Jesus & Judas together. Luke tells us that the hour of Passover has come. We have moved from Passover approaching to the day of Passover & now to the hour of the feast.
Luke sets before us Jesus & Judas & the Passover table. This is where Luke tells us that Judas is in the presence of a God who knows. At the Passover table, Jesus says, “the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me on the table.” (22:21) Jesus told Judas, “I know.”
How did the disciples react to this knowledge? Luke tells us they began to argue among themselves. Which one of them was it? At the conclusion of a religious celebration, the disciples are involved in an argument about sin. Typical, isn’t it? Most rumors in churches arise out of similar questions.
Someone talks about an unnamed member who once had an abortion, so everyone wonders, “Who is she? Who are they talking about?” Somebody says, “I’d like to pray for someone who is having marital problems” & the questions & the gossip & the quarreling begin.
Soon, the spiritual work of God is set aside & everyone is digging around in everyone else’s closet looking for the certainty of sin that is present there. So Luke shows us disciples who are no longer looking to Jesus but looking among themselves. And that’s what happens. In the shadow of wrongdoing, we become engrossed in seeking out the certainty of sin.
But not Jesus. That is what’s so amazing about this Last Supper. Jesus knows about this evil. He begins the meal by talking about His suffering, & He closes the meal by talking about His betrayal. Yet in the face of certain evil, Jesus does not try to keep Judas away from His disciples. He doesn’t turn His disciples against Judas, & He doesn’t run to another city in fear.
In the face of certain evil, Jesus does the certain work of God. Yes, one will betray Him,
another will deny Him & all of them will fall away. But in the midst of everything that is wrong & weak & evil about human flesh, there remains one other thing that is true: God is alive. His love is certain, & this night, the reign of God is coming into the world. In the face of certain evil, Jesus came to offer certain forgiveness.
It’s through God’s Word, Baptism & the Lord’s Supper that He reigns in this broken world. “This is My body, which is given for you. . . This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (vv. 19–20)
The freeing of Israel from slavery is what the Jewish people remembered in the Passover. Tonight, Jesus calls His disciples to remember Him. He is their freedom. In Him is eternal love. In Him is the new covenant. In Him, sin, death & the power of the devil are destroyed. In His body, He will bear the punishment of our sins on the cross.
With His blood, He will claim us as His own so that the angel of death puts away His sword. In His body & blood are eternal forgiveness, & as often as we eat this body & drink this cup we proclaim the benefits of the Lord’s death for all people until He comes. There, at this Last Supper, we see the gracious work & reign of God among His disciples.
Here, in the Lord’s Supper, we see the gracious work & reign of God among us tonight. Yes, we come with scars, with parts of our lives that we’d rather not remember. There are things we’ve done that make us say, “Pastor, if you only knew.” For some of you, I do know. For others, I don’t, but for all of us, God does know. He sees & He knows.
Tonight we confess to Him the certainty of our sin, but God comes & proclaims the certainty of your salvation. In the death of His Son, He has forgiven your sin. In His body & blood, He comes to assure you of the certainty of His love. Here, you are no longer known as a sinner; you are known & acknowledged as a child of God. Tonight, God prepares a place for you at His table – a place of forgiveness. Come. I invite you to experience the wonder that happens when God knows all about you: He chooses to know you only through the gracious work of His innocent Son. It’s difficult to express the beauty of this wonder.
An artist once tried to capture it on a painting that would be used on an altar. Around 1500, in Alsace, there was a monastery church of the Order of St. Anthony. There Matthais Grunewald created what is now known as the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is a carved shrine, with two painted wings that open & close over a main painting, like doors on a cabinet.
There are two views for which this altarpiece is remembered: one is on the outside, when the wings are closed; the other on the inside, when the wings are opened. Closed, the altarpiece shows the crucifixion. This could be described as gruesome. Christ is hanging on the cross, His body discolored by a greenish hue. His wounds are torn flesh covering an emaciated body.
When the wings are opened, however, there’s a radically different view. Here, the painting is of the resurrection. Christ bursts forth from the tomb in an explosion of color. His hands are raised in blessing. Behind Him, in orange & startling yellow, a sun rises against a brilliant blue sky. His body is wrapped in swirls of clothing: yellow, white, red & blue garments.
But most amazingly, the artist has placed rubies in His hands & His feet & His side. The wounds of Jesus have been transformed by the artist. They are precious jewels that shine with the brilliance of the resurrection. In that simple act, this artist has captured the wonder of this night. Christ’s body will bear scars which come from a punishment we will never know.
But after His resurrection, these scars stay with Him. Only they are jewels, for they tell the world of a perfect love. Tonight, we have a Savior who invites us with wounded hands to His table. With these wounds, He continually reminds us of a love that our God will never forget. These scars are the marks of a God who truly knows His creatures, knows their suffering, their sin, & the punishment of their death. But these scars are also on the hands of the risen Savior. He carries these with Him, after death. They communicate His perfect love.
In this life, we can’t help but see our scars. We wonder what would happen “if anyone really knew.” Our heavenly Father sent His only-begotten Son in the flesh so that in Jesus, God would know our scars firsthand. In His death, God took on our scars to demonstrate His love for us. The resurrection of Jesus then demonstrates His power to rescue you & me from death.
With that in mind, Jesus invites you to His table this evening – a place of forgiveness. Because He knows of your scars, He comes to feed you, to forgive you, & to cover your scars with His wounded hands. Christ is here this evening to cover you with the wonder of His eternal love. Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior teach us so to rise. Amen.
Palm Sunday – C LSB #570
Text – Luke 22:2
And the chief priests & the scribes were seeking how to put Him to death, for they feared the people.
The Jewish holiday of Passover is a celebration of their deliverance from a type of death. It is similar, in a way, to the Christian celebration of Easter. Being slaves in Egypt was like death, but the blood of the lamb caused the angel of death to pass over their homes. After that 10th plague, the Pharaoh gave them their freedom. Being set free gave them life.
Setting off towards Mt. Sinai, the people of Israel were as good as brought back from the grave. Jesus & His disciples were about to celebrate that meal. It was supposed to be a time to remember how Yahweh had rescued them & delivered them from the agony of their suffering. Unknown to the people leaving Egypt, their deliverance also foreshadowed the coming Messiah.
Now, He was here, on earth, preparing to shed His blood, by sacrificing His life so the angel of death will pass over the homes of everyone who believes in Him. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is what this morning’s Gospel reading from Luke is all about. Jesus suffers death & hell in order that we might be freed from slavery to sin.
We’re used to hearing the events of Palm Sunday as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the joy & celebration of the crowd. However, the Church also refers to this as the Sunday of the Passion, what the Gospel is about on this morning. As Jesus & His disciples were celebrating Passover, we are gathering this week to remember His death; next Sunday to remember His resurrection.
Doom & gloom, yet life & celebration. They’re brought this close together, all in a span of eight days. We begin as St. Luke writes: “And the chief priests & the scribes were seeking how to put Him to death, for they feared the people.” It all began with the first-born son of Adam & Eve: “One day Cain suggested to his brother, ‘Let’s go out into the fields,’ & while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, & killed him.” (Genesis 4:8 NLT) Cain sought how to put his brother to death. The chief priests & the scribes sought how to put Jesus to death.
“Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’” (John 11:49-50 NLT)
In the next verse, St. John wrote this to explain what was happening: “[Caiaphas] did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation.” (John 11:51 NLT)
Satan, Cain, the chief priests & the scribes, Caiaphas himself, men like Adolph Hitler & Joseph Stalin, you, me, & everyone we know, in some way or another all mankind is seeking death. After all, the wages of sin is death. That is the reality of this broken world. At some point you might as well get used to it.
In this day & age, it seems there are many people willing to help others find death. Every week, sometimes every day, we hear about suicide bombers, terrorism & mass killings. It appears to us, even in our sinful nature, as if the world has gone mad, yet King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:9:
“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” (NLT) “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me & that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” (LSB 570:1)
How many times have you heard that hymn? You’re hearing it today. You’ll hear it again on Maundy Thursday, if you’re here. Yes, the sinful world looks to death for answers. It’s the answer to rage & anger. It’s the answer to embarrassment & shame. It’s the answer to wealth & power. It’s the answer to politics & corruption. It’s the answer to ending your life with dignity. Jesus called Lucifer the father of lies, & maybe the greatest of his lies is that death is the answer to our problems. How many times have you heard these words, & yet, never once considered, that in singing this hymn you & I are seeking death – “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me…”
I’m not saying it’s a bad hymn. I’m not asking you to consider this because I want to shame you, or embarrass you. Along with the high priest Caiaphas, we too should seek the death of Christ, because it is better “…that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” It was, after all, God’s Holy Spirit who led him to prophesy that.
Jesus Himself predicted His death on numerous occasions, yet Peter rebuked Jesus for doing so. That’s when Jesus spoke these famous words to His disciple: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23 ESV)
Our sins are too great, our suffering too agonizing, hell is too eternal for you or me to pay the price & live. “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way & live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11 NASB)
As priest & prophet during the darkest days of Judah’s history Ezekiel presents the promise of God’s grace that He will restore & renew His people spiritually. Each day of our lives, our Lord & Savior would call us back to Him, for shelter & rest & joy & life. The harsh reality of this sinful world is that we must seek the death of Christ for us to live.
“Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away & conferred with the chief priests & officers how he might betray Him to them. And they were glad, & agreed to give him money. So he consented & sought an opportunity to betray Him to them in the absence of a crowd.” (Luke 22:3-6 ESV) “Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings & fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” (LSB 570:3)
The Son of God took on human flesh in order that He might live & die in our place. He did so in order to offer us eternal life in heaven. Fortunately, His mission did not end in the grave. His resurrection began the new creation. With Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father the rule & reign of God in that creation has been established in Jesus Christ.
That reign & rule does not look at all like the earthly kingdoms we’ve known or studied. This kingdom is one of mercy & peace which is all too invisible today. On Judgment Day it will be obvious for all to see. The reign of peace, in heaven & on earth, announced to shepherds in Bethlehem, was brought to fulfillment in the suffering, the death & the resurrection of our Lord.
The Gospel reading for today, highlights, against the Satanic power of darkness, Jesus’ courageous conviction that Yahweh would fulfill His gracious promises through the suffering & death of His only-begotten Son. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) Amen.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Just as I am; Thy love unknown has broken every barrier down; now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come. Amen. (LSB 570:5-6)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet