3rd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #476, TLH #207
Text – Luke 24:13
Now that same day two of them were on a journey to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.
SEVEN MILES FROM JERUSALEM
Quite some years ago I came across a saying that has helped me keep a more balanced approach to living. It says: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” In a way that summarizes today’s Gospel reading, because Luke uses elements of a journey to provide a structure for the lesson we’re to learn from today’s reading.
In fact, his entire Gospel was written with the idea in mind of a journey. After the first 4 verses complete Luke’s introduction, we find doubting Zechariah on duty in the temple at Jerusalem. The Gospel ends with the followers of Jesus joyfully returning to the temple at Jerusalem; always praising God as they await Pentecost.
It helps us then to put our lives, especially our spiritual ones, into the perspective of a journey. Like Zechariah, all of us start out with unbelief & hopefully, by the grace of our heavenly Father, through the journey of life, end up joyfully praising God in His temple.
How do you look at life, is it journey or destination? In the past month, have you been paying attention to what God might be trying to do in your journey here on this earth? What kinds of twists & turns has that journey taken in the past year? In May of 1999 I’d never heard of Rugby, ND & by July of that same year I was living there.
No matter how confusing & disconnected things may appear, our Creator knows exactly which twists & turns are awaiting us at the next fork in the road. You see God already knows every choice we will ever make & He’s factored those into the plan He has for each of you. He’s like the Ultimate Travel Agent. He has all the connections & reservations prearranged. Figuratively speaking, He knows when your flights will be delayed & when you’ll miss the connections He had set up.
In the fall of ‘97, after moving from Indiana to Colorado, the 4000-foot increase in altitude had me very focused on one of my destinations. That was getting my lungs adjusted to the much thinner atmosphere so I could continue running. However, in focusing too much on that destination, one day I totally missed a connection that God had set up in my journey.
I’d just started teaching a 7th grade religion class & didn’t know yet all the students by sight. While I was out running one evening, three young girls were sitting on the curb across the street from my path. They started harassing me about the Batman shirt I was wearing but I joked along with them. Eventually, one of the girls said she was in my class at school.
Still, it never occurred to me to stop running & actually spend time getting to know them. I was too focused on myself, & my destination, to pay attention to the need of those girls for the respect of an adult role model. As it turned out, the girl in my class was a very troubled young lady who already at the age of 12 was frequently running away from home.
Do you see how, in my self-centeredness, I missed an important stop in the journey? God had prepared that moment of my journey in advance, but I was watching the clock. God had also prepared in advance that moment of that young girl’s journey, & I failed her as well.
Where are you in your spiritual journey? Are you paying attention? Or, is there some destination you have in mind that’s blinding you to the will of your heavenly Father? Are you so focused on how far you have yet to go, that you’re not stopping to consider why it is that God has you alive here today? PAUSE
The structure of today’s Gospel reading takes us from Jerusalem to Emmaus & back again. The two disciples on that journey were very confused & disappointed. They had met a prophet who was powerful in word & deed, & they’d hoped he was the One who was going to redeem Israel. But then their rulers handed him over & he was crucified. Finally, some women amazed them with a story about this prophet’s body being missing from the tomb. What on earth were they supposed to make of all this?
None of it seemed to fit in with the destination they thought they were headed to. They believed this prophet was going to reestablish the kingdom of David here in Israel, but that belief sure seemed to hit a roadblock when their prophet was crucified. “It is finished!” He cried out before He died. To these disciples, those words seemed ever so true.
Their plan was finished. You can’t rule the kingdom with a dead king! PAUSE
Have any of your plans ever ended that way, like trying to rule your kingdom with a dead king? Life becomes particularly hopeless when all our best-laid plans come to naught. Pain & confusion take over & they rule our kingdom when our dreams are shattered.
For the disciples from Emmaus, the cross had shattered their hopes, but they had their eyes fixed on the wrong destination. That’s why they couldn’t understand the recent events of their journey. They had all the elements of the resurrection truth but were unable to perceive how they fit together, or even perceive what the real truth was.
People’s dreams are shattered every day in this world. Our cars break down, role models ignore us, jobs are eliminated, illness & age destroy our bodies. Recently a man randomly shot & killed an elderly gentleman in Cleveland & then broadcast it on Facebook. The president of Syria dropped Sarin gas on his own citizens. Dreams, large & small, are shattered every day.
Where is God? People ask that in the confusion of our sin filled world. The disciples from Emmaus were asking that question as a stranger drew near to them on the road from Jerusalem. Their confusion over the events of the previous days set the stage for that Stranger’s teaching on the necessity of His suffering, death & resurrection. The Stranger says to them, “How foolish you are, & how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things & then enter His glory? And beginning with Moses & all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.”
The journey of the Emmaus disciples is for their transformation through the teaching of Jesus on the road, where their hearts burn, & through the breaking of the bread where their eyes are opened. Their journey summarizes the entire Gospel, which began with doubting Zechariah in the temple at Jerusalem, & which ends with joyful worshippers in the temple at Jerusalem.
These disciples travel from skepticism & ignorance to enlightenment & faith; faith in Jesus’ as the suffering & dead king, who is raised to life. Their eyes were opened not only to recognize this Stranger as Jesus, but also to an understanding of the work of Jesus that is intimately connected to the Last Day.
This understanding stretches way back, to the very beginning of salvation history in Genesis 3. The phrase used in today’s Gospel lesson is the same phrase used where the eyes of Adam & Eve are opened to the knowledge of good & evil. There’s a striking irony here.
The opened eyes of Adam & Eve are the 1st expression of the fallen creation recognizing that the image of God has been trashed by their disobedience; but the opened eyes of the Emmaus disciples are the 1st expression of the new creation recognizing that the image of God is now restored to mankind.
The new Adam, the crucified & risen Jesus, has made possible that restoration and put it into effect. The meal of broken bread at Emmaus reverses the 1st meal, the fruit of the forbidden tree in the center of the Garden. Paul works with that same concept of Godly reversal when he writes, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him.” Likewise, we celebrate a meal in our service today, which also reverses the effects of our sin. In the Supper that our Lord instituted He promises life & salvation through the forgiveness of sin.
Whenever we are too focused on our own plans, our own goals & our own destinations, we’ve made ourselves god. Because of sin, that’s like trying to rule our kingdom with a dead king. No matter how hard we try, a dead king can never reach its destination. A dead king can never overcome the shattered dreams of this world.
What dreams & destinations are you focused on? Are they God’s dreams & destinations for you, or are they your own dreams?
As you think of the empty tomb this 3rd Sunday of Easter, consider this question. What is there in my life for which God would send His own Son? Was it merely to solve my day-by-day problems & to achieve my earthly destinations? Or did God’s Son need to die for MY sin? Did He live, & die, & live again, so that I could live for the journey of this life? PAUSE
That’s the case as Luke makes it. Jesus lives, that we might live. Jesus draws near to us on our journey in order that He might open our eyes to His plan. Often, that plan is vastly different from our own. As Luke unfolds the story, Jesus begins as the one asking questions. He finishes as the teacher. He begins as the guest at the meal. He finishes as the host.
One moment Jesus is present with them, breaking bread, the next moment He vanishes. Our lives take similar, unexpected twists & turns, & those trials, as we see them, can seem to prevent us from reaching our destination. But this presence & disappearance of Jesus should help us understand that He is with us, even though He is unseen.
That tension that still exists in the church today, especially in the ugliness of a church & people marked & scarred by sin. Yes, Jesus still promises to be with 12 year old girls that run away from home, & with pastors so focused upon themselves that they literally run away from opportunities to share God’s love. Those are the sort of failures we encounter too often in this journey, & yet God’s Word assures us that He is powerful to work even those failures together for good for those who love Him. That is the tension of our journey in this world.
That tension in this journey is used, by God, in order to open our eyes that we might recognize the Stranger called Jesus. It is in the recognition of Jesus that we also find understanding of His work, a work that is intimately connected to the Last Day.
As Luke begins, we find doubting Zechariah on duty in the temple at Jerusalem. As Luke ends the followers of Jesus are joyfully returning to the temple at Jerusalem. Do you notice the repetition of words, Temple at Jerusalem? That’s what the journey in the Gospel of Luke was revolving around, the temple at Jerusalem.
“Then their eyes were opened, & they recognized Him. And He vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?’ And they rose that same hour & returned to Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:31-33a)
Our heavenly Creator is this very moment revealing Himself to you through the preaching of His Word, & in that word He is calling you to Jerusalem. No matter how far away you are, He is strong to save & to bring you back. In fact, He draws near to you that He might walk with you along the journey of life.
You & I are on a journey to a temple at Jerusalem, but our journey is to the New Temple, & to the New Jerusalem. We read of them on the Last Day in the 21st Chapter of Revelation:
“I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty & the Lamb are its Temple.” (Revelation 21:2 & 22 NIV) You see, the saying I’ve found so helpful, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” is not completely true. For children of God life is also very much a destination, & our Savior Himself is bringing us there, to that Last Day. That’s His work, & we never walk this road or this journey alone. Amen.
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, & they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking & discussing together, Jesus Himself drew near & went with them. Amen. (Luke 24:13-15 ESV)
P: Heavenly Father, as weak & unfaithful children, we do not handle well the tension of being Saint & sinner at the same time. We’re tempted to look only to our destination & forget the journey, or we’re tempted to focus only on the journey, & to forget that You have already promised to bring us to our final destination. Lord, help us to balance that tension in our lives, through the saving power of Your Word & Sacraments. As we fail to share Your love in our journey, forgive us. As we fail to accept the free gift of eternal life, but strive to earn it instead, we also ask Your forgiveness & mercy. Reveal to us the love & work of Your only Son, that we might be comforted & encouraged for the journey. Lord, in your mercy,
 Luke 24:25-27 NIV
2nd Sunday of Easter – A LSB #698
Text – Acts 5:29
But Peter & the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
How many of you can remember back to the days when you played a game called, Simon Says? Simon says, “Put your hand on top of your head.” Simon says, “Touch your toes.” Now, “Touch your nose.” Did any of you fall for it? You remember, you’re only supposed to obey the command when it is directly preceded by the words – Simon says.
That’s kind of petty, but those are the rules of the game. Sadly, far too many Christians look at religion as nothing more than a game – one they are tired of playing: “Of course you should obey God when it’s convenient for you. If it’s going to cost you something don’t be so hasty to just blindly follow what God says. After all, maybe it’s just a huge misunderstanding.”
When playing Simon Says we voluntarily give up control so we can be part of the game. Simon Says only lasts so long as the players are willing to play. That makes it easier for us to give up control. In addition, control does not always stay with the same person. You can take turns with who gets to make up the commands.
Giving up control to God, however, is eternal, & the 1st commandment makes clear that we don’t get to take turns. That is problematic for our culture. People see it as unfair & overbearing. It’s not democratic. Human beings struggle with giving up their values & priorities for any length of time. We feel that way for two reasons.
One – each of us is by nature self-centered. Our thoughts, words & deeds instinctively revolve around me, myself & I. All of us prefer to be the one who makes the decisions concerning our daily lives. The 2nd reason we have a problem with letting go of our desire to be in control is this, there are so many times we’ve seen things go wrong when someone else is in charge. So you just assume that if someone else is calling the shots you’re going to get the short end of the deal. That attitude is learned in the school of hard knocks & it is a very realistic attitude. Someone cuts you off in traffic & they make the green light. You get the red. A fellow employee calls in sick & you get stuck working overtime. That stuff happens a lot.
Our heavenly Father does not expect us to deny the reality that in this life we do, often, get the short end of the deal. He doesn’t want us to deny the grief we encounter because of sin. However, our Lord does call us to a higher standard of living, & He’s not talking household income. St. Peter wrote about that in the epistle reading for this morning:
“…He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, & unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV)
It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that changed everything about history. The 5th chapter of Genesis encapsulates the limitations of life after the fall into sin: “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, & he died.” “Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, & he died.” “Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, & he died.” (Verses 5, 8, 11 ESV)
“When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son & called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work & from the painful toil of our hands.’ Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years & had other sons & daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, & he died.” (Genesis 5:28-31 ESV)
Genesis 5 lists a brief history of nine different men, & the record of eight of them ends with these exact same words, “& he died.” Mixed in with them, in contrast to the other eight, is the record of Enoch foreshadowing the upheaval of history that Jesus’ resurrection would bring: “Enoch walked with God, & he was not, for God took him.” In spite of the painful, yet clear, record of history, death would not be the end of all things. Through Baptism & through the Word of God, we have been born again to a living hope along with Jesus when He was raised from the dead. That is the essential message of Easter & of the Christian religion.
Those of us who trust in Jesus have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled & unfading.” We struggle with the fact that it’s being “kept in heaven for you,” because we want it now. If you & I were in control we would have it now. Yet, St. Peter makes it clear that our Lord has not abandoned us even in this sinful world, as he writes of you:
“Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV) Heaven is waiting for us & the glories to be revealed there will make everything we endure here worth the while.
Until then, you & I do not need to live as the dead. We do not need to look at religion as nothing more than a game. Satan’s only weapons are the lies that he tells. They are the old history which Jesus has since rewritten with His own flesh & blood. It is sin that has taught us to believe that whenever someone else is in control of our lives we get the short end of the deal.
That is not true when we surrender ourselves to Jesus. Yes, when sinful humans are in control of our lives there will always be suffering. Since you & I are included in that category of sinful human beings, even if we do not surrender control to other sinners, we still suffer.
Chapter 5 of the book of Acts began with Ananias & Sapphira lying to God about the offering they gave, & they died on the spot. The chapter continues with a whole cluster of signs from God. The high priest reacts to this by arresting the disciples. They’re miraculously released from prison, continue proclaiming Christ & get brought before the council again:
“…the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this
name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, & you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter & the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5:27-29 ESV) The church leaders have followed Satan’s lies & refused to surrender to Jesus.
Now that the apostles have seen the risen Jesus, they are no longer afraid of getting the short end of the deal. So Peter gives control of his life to Jesus, refusing to deny Him under threat of prison, & even directly accuses the council of murdering Jesus:
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree. God exalted Him at His right hand as Leader & Savior, to give repentance to Israel & forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, & so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:30-32 ESV)
It is the lies of the devil that tempt us to not obey God. Our disobedience always brings suffering into our lives, into our families, into our communities & churches. Giving control of our lives to sinful creatures always brings pain & suffering. That is the lesson we learn from the school of hard knocks, but Holy Scripture teaches a completely different lesson about Jesus.
We can surrender control of our lives to Him, & things turn out differently because only God is good. He is almighty, & He is love. Surrendering control to our heavenly Father still leaves us looking & feeling vulnerable, yet Jesus promises that we, “…by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5 ESV)
Our heavenly Father does not expect us to deny the reality that in this life we do, often, get the short end of the deal. He doesn’t want us to deny the grief we encounter because of sin. Our Lord simply promises that He has already overcome all the brokenness of this world, & He is powerful enough to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.
In the final analysis, obeying God is not so much about what we do, or do not do. It has
more to do with which relationship is more important to us. Is our relationship with God more important than any other relationship we have? And in your personal relationship with God who is more important, you or God? At Baptism this morning Jesus has called Laina into a personal relationship with her risen Lord & Savior.
She’ll never obey Him perfectly, but He will never allow anyone or anything to snatch her from His loving hand. She has been born again to a living hope. That is the essential message of Easter & of the Christian religion. It is certainly not a game that we’re playing. Amen.
May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill & do on earth our Father’s will as angels do above; still walk in Christ, the living way, with all Thy children & obey the law of Christian love. Spirit of life, of love & peace, unite our hearts, our joy increase, Thy gracious help supply. To each of us the blessing give in Christian fellowship to live, in joyful hope to die. Amen.
LSB 698:1, 3.
 Genesis 5:24 ESV
Easter Sunrise – 2017 LSB #461:1-4
Text – Job 19:25
For I know that my Redeemer lives, & at the last He will stand upon the earth.
I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES
“Daddy?” A little hand touched my forehead. As my eyes opened they were fixed on the nightstand clock. It read “3:44.” That would be A.M. “Yeah, Jonathan?” “I need to go to the bathroom.” “Thanks for the update son. Go!” Jonathan was four at the time. Our house had just been remodeled & one bathroom was now at the end of a long hallway.
When you’re four years old & wandering the house in the middle of the night, a new hallway looks five miles long with multiple side rooms, where giants are waiting to jump out & eat little children for late-night snacks.
“Daddy?” “Yeah, Jonathan?” “Please come with me?” “Thanks for the invitation son, but for some reason, I’m a bit tired right now. You go ahead. I’ll be with you in spirit.” Shuffle. Shuffle. Stop. Turn around. Shuffle back. “Daddy?” “Yes, Jonathan?” “I need someone with their skin on!”
Jonathan knew that dark hallways are not conquered by the promise, “I’ll be with you in spirit.” A mystical, abstract, impersonal, vague presence does no one any good. Jonathan needed a strong hand guiding him, & a tender heart loving him. Jonathan needed someone with their skin on!
Job also knows about long, dark hallways. Come with me, to a God-forsaken, ash heap. There sits Job with a shaved head & sores all over his body. His ten children died when a tornado destroyed the home in which they were celebrating. Raiding bands from neighboring lands, & lightning from the sky, have taken all his animals & killed each of his servants.
It has all reduced Job from his former position as the greatest man in the east to being a
pitiful, ghastly sight, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery. Any number of giants had jumped out & chewed up Job for a late-night snack. On this day of days, resurrection day, we wrap up the sermon series on the book of Job. The text is from Job 19:25, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
What does it mean? It means we are not insulated from life’s tragedies, but neither are we intimidated by them. It means we have someone to walk with us through life’s long, dark & winding hallway. And He has skin on! This verse is the Mt. Everest of the book of Job! This morning we unpack that truth.
As we climb the mountain, we begin at the first base camp – “I know.” Job is living his worst nightmare: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” (Job 3:25) Yet Job doesn’t say, “I kind of think...” nor, “I sure would like it if...” nor, “Wouldn’t it be nice if...” nor, “Knock on wood... maybe...” No way, Jose!
Although Job has been severely assaulted, he is not defeated. Although he’s lost much that was valuable to him, he still has what was most precious. Although he is down, he is not out! Job dares to confess, “I know,” in spite of the fact that there’re a lot of things we don’t.
We don’t know why we had to bury the love of our life. We don’t know why that child turned against us. We don’t know why we lost that job. We don’t know why our parents emotionally abandoned us. Many times we don’t know what God is doing. But instead of living in whimpering sadness, letting the giants consume us, with Job we dare to say, “I know!”
“I know” what? “I know that my Redeemer.” Job does not say, “His Redeemer. Her Redeemer. Their Redeemer. Or even your Redeemer.” It is personal & particular. It is intimate & individual. It is, “my” Redeemer. In the OT, a redeemer was a close relative – someone with skin on – who would rescue, ransom, recover, or redeem anyone who had been, or who was in danger of being removed from the family by poverty, war, death, or a poor economy. For instance, if someone had fallen into debt & sold himself into slavery to pay it off, the redeemer bought him back & set him free.
If a piece of property had to be sold, the redeemer made sure that the title to the property remained in the family. If a member of the family was hurt or killed, the redeemer pursued the legal options & collected the damages assessed against the offender. Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. Let me say it again.
Whatever goes bad your redeemer will make good. What is broken will be mended, what is sick will be healed, whatever is lost will be restored & what is dead will be made alive! Really? That’s what Job 19:26 says, “And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”
“I know my Redeemer.” His name is Jesus. He is not a mystical, abstract, impersonal & vague idea. Jesus has a strong hand guiding us & a tender heart loving us when we are faced with a long, dark hallway. As our Redeemer, Jesus comes not simply to see that justice is done, but that mercy is given.
Jesus bears whatever needs to be borne & carries whatever needs to be carried in order to see that our wrongs are righted. If a sentence needs to be served, He will serve it. If a fine needs to be paid, He will pay it. He does whatever it takes to set us free, even if it means giving His life for ours. You can say it, “Jesus forgives my guilt & Jesus destroys my grave.”
He did all of that with skin on. Skin that felt the Roman whip at a place called Gabbatha. Skin that felt the blazing Palestinian sun while carrying His cross-piece on the Via Dolorosa. Skin that felt the thorns on His head & the hammering of the nails into His hands & feet. Skin, muscles & nerves that, for six hours, bled on a cross all alone in the long, dark, God-forsaken hallway called Golgotha. And you can bet that there were giants who jumped out & chewed Jesus up like a late-night snack. Romans. Scribes. Pharisees. The thief on either side of His cross. And there was Satan who stalked our Savior, took aim, shot straight, & killed.
Three days later this cry rocked the world, “I know that my Redeemer . . . lives!” Now we stand on the top of the world. We can see everything! The angels announced, “He is alive!” John outran Peter to the tomb. Mary cried out “Rabboni!” The Emmaus disciples recognized the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread.
And when he saw the scars on the living Redeemer Doubting Thomas climactically said, “My Lord & my God!” Death is dead. The grave is defeated. The free gift of eternal life is absolutely yours forever & ever & ever!
People saw Jesus, literally. They didn’t see a phantom or experience a sentimental feeling. Eulogies often include such phrases as, “She’ll live on in my heart.” Christ’s followers didn’t say that because they saw Him, alive in the flesh. Jesus was physically & factually resurrected from the dead & many gave their lives to preach it. There’s a word for all of this.
Grace. Grace is the amazing gift our Creator gives us that says even when wrong is all around us, & at the very core of our lives, where we really are the most wrong, we’ll be all right because God forgives all our sins. Grace is the gift of power – the power to be freed to be the person God wants us to be.
Grace is the promise that on the days when we can barely cope with the circumstances of life we can carry within us the faith that our future will be better. Grace is the love poured out for us so that all our debts are paid, we are released from slavery, & our brokenness is repaired.
What’s it all mean? It means that whatever your dark hallway looks like, whatever your giants are saying, you do not walk alone. And why is that? “He lives, all glory to His name! He lives, my Jesus, still the same. Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives: ‘I know that my Redeemer lives!’” (LSB 461:8) Hallelujah! Amen!
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Easter Celebration – 2017 LSB #644:1-3, 5
Text – Jeremiah 31:1
At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.
THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS
Years ago, there was a family that lost three of its four children within just two weeks, to a virulent disease. One child was left, a four-year-old boy. The family had buried the 3rd child just two weeks before Easter. On Easter morning the parents & remaining child went to church.
The mother told her Sunday school class about the resurrection of Jesus. The father read the Easter story in Sunday school as he led the devotions. People who knew of their great loss wondered how they could do it. On the way home, a 16-year-old youth asked his father: “Dad, that couple must really believe everything about the Easter story, don’t they?”
“Of course they believe it,” said the father. “All Christians do.” To which his son replied, “But not as they do!” That is the kind of faith the prophet Jeremiah writes about in the OT reading for this Easter morning: “Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness...’” (31:2 ESV)
Right now, people across the world are facing the sword in many ways. Twelve days ago chemical weapons were used to kill over 50 men, women & children of a town in Syria. One week ago, on Palm Sunday, two Christian churches in Egypt were bombed leaving over 50 more dead. They’re so afraid they’ve cancelled their Easter morning services.
In the nation of South Sudan, members of the Dinka tribe are slaughtering people who belong to other tribes, & the United Nations, along with the major news outlets, are completely ignoring the massacre. How’s your Easter morning going so far? Was the Easter Bunny nice to you? In light of the tragic suffering going on around the world, I hope it’s obvious that our celebration of Easter can easily become an exercise in triviality. We may be going through all the ‘right’ motions, but do we really love God, & long for His presence, with our heart, & our soul & our mind? If not, what will bring us back to Him? You see, no matter how long you have been a follower of Jesus, there is always room for a reality check every now & then.
Maybe you came here this morning because of fond & happy memories of Easter. There are plenty of people in the world today who don’t have that opportunity, & they sure as hell are looking for answers. The prophet Jeremiah gave the answer some 2500 years ago. Along the way you may have lost track of that answer.
If you have, no wonder your faith is lifeless & stale. It’s not surprising you feel no need to be in God’s house every Sunday of the year. The devil may not be attacking you with bombs, like he is the Christians in Egypt, but Lucifer is certainly working to destroy your faith all the same. At least God’s children in Egypt are aware they’re being attacked.
Once you become aware of that, the question comes to mind, “What to do about it?” The prophet Jeremiah had the task of declaring the coming judgment of God. The people he was preaching to felt like they were under attack, not just from the devil, but from God Himself. While this was true, Yahweh’s purpose in discipline is to restore, never to steal, kill & destroy.
The two verses immediately before today’s reading in the book of Jeremiah say this: “Behold the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed & accomplished the intentions of His mind. In the latter days you will understand this.”
Today’s OT reading, & our sermon text, begin there, “At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.” Jeremiah now writes about those latter days when the Lord’s people will understand His discipline. The culture Jeremiah is preaching to has abandoned morality & long since forgotten the true God. They’ll be conquered by the nation of Babylon & hauled off to that foreign country in a 70 year exile. That defeat is discipline from their heavenly Father because His people had drifted away & no longer gave their hearts to Him. His wrath went forth & burst upon the head of the wicked.
During the stripping of the altar, on Maundy Thursday, it’s customary to read Psalm 22. It’s a prophecy by King David picturing Jesus as He is crucified: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, & by night, but I find no rest.” (22:1-2 ESV)
There too, the wrath of God has gone forth & burst upon the head of the wicked. Jesus had become sin for you & for me. He endured more suffering than you or I could ever know. As we heard on Good Friday: “Although [Jesus] was a son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.” Jesus learned perfect obedience for us because on earth we never will.
Aware that Satan is attacking us, we wonder what to do about it. Aware that Jesus learned obedience by dying for us, a child of God is amazed by the wonder of that miracle. We struggle in hanging on to that hope & joy when life is difficult. Leaning how to navigate all the challenges of living – the blessings & the discipline – is a constant struggle.
Yet, for those moments when you have just passed through to the other side of the storm, your new found humility allows the love & mercy of our Savior to shine very brightly. For those who’ve rejected Jesus as Savior, their frustration & resentment only grows. Belief in Jesus versus unbelief makes all the difference.
As Psalm 22 begins with perplexity & anguish, it rises to a song of jubilation as it draws to a close. Today’s lesson from Jeremiah has already passed through the storm so it begins on a note of joy that ascends to the mountaintop of Yahweh’s promises: “For there shall be a day when watchmen will call in the hill country of Ephraim: ‘Arise, & let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.’” (Jeremiah 31:6 ESV) Because of all the extra attention given to decorating the sanctuary, & because normally, there are quite a few more people in church on Easter, today’s services are a picture of Jeremiah’s prophecy being fulfilled.
The final fulfillment will be seen on the Last Day. Then, those who believed in the Word of God will be raised from death to an everlasting life without sin, or sorrow or suffering. They will never need another reality check for all of eternity. No one’s faith will be rendered lifeless & stale because Satan will never be able to attack anyone in heaven.
The children of God who were persecuted & looking for answers will never question again what their heavenly Father was doing. Like Jesus, through our suffering we also learn obedience. Yet, Jesus leaves us with more than that in answer to questions about our suffering. John 16:33b-c tells us:
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (ESV) Jesus has not only overcome those who are persecuting Christians, He has overcome our stone cold hearts & our sometimes trivial celebration of His resurrection from the dead.
And, Jesus does not leave us all alone here on earth. He gives us brothers & sisters in Christ to walk with through this world of tribulation. We confess that every time we get to the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints...”
Our heavenly Father did not create us to be Christians in solitary confinement. He created us to be together, in our families & in the Church. In the day of Jeremiah, the prophet was particularly writing about the reunification of God’s people. When King Solomon died they had split into two groups, the 10 tribes of the north & the 2 tribes of the south. Looking to God’s power to overcome the effects of sin, Jeremiah wrote: “At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, & they shall be my people.” Restored to favor with God, the chosen people will no longer be torn by strife among themselves. The healing of the breach between North & South was to reestablish joint worship on the height of Mt. Zion.
Yet, their restored unity of faith also foreshadowed the common bond of fellowship by which God would link all believers with one another in the communion of saints. The common factor for us is being redeemed from the bondage of sin. (John 10:16 ESV) Ultimately, the writers of the NT see in Jesus Himself the full realization of Jeremiah’s prophecy.
It is in Christ that we find the communion of saints. It is in Christ that we find healing from persecution & suffering in the name of Jesus. It is in Christ that we find healing from our sins. It is in Christ that we find resurrection from the dead. It is in Christ that we find life when our faith has become lifeless & stale.
It is in Christ that our celebration of Easter is rescued from being only an exercise in triviality. Jesus didn’t just die for our sins. He also perfectly kept, on our behalf, every aspect of the 3rd commandment so that His heavenly Father would see the lives of His children as perfect & complete & in full communion with God & with one another.
Going back to Maundy Thursday & Psalm 22, we hear the ascending song of joy in verse 27: “All the ends of the earth shall remember & turn to the Lord, & all the families of the nations shall worship before You.” There too, as in Jeremiah, we find the communion of saints.
Suffering around the world & persecution of Christians will continue until the last day, yet our almighty God is powerful enough to use even that for our good. That is our hope & our Lord’s promise, for Jesus has already overcome the world & is creating for us a kingdom in heaven. Amen.
Though with a scornful wonder the world sees her oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. Yet she on earth has union with God, the Three in One, & mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O blessed heavenly chorus! Lord save us by Your grace that we, like saints before us, may see You face to face. Amen. LSB 644:3 & 5.
 Jeremiah 30:23-24 ESV
 Hebrews 5:8 ESV
Good Friday – 2017 LSB #’s 448, 451, 439
Text – Job 42:8b
My servant Job will pray for you, & I will accept his prayer & not deal with you according to your folly.
TEARING DOWN THE SPITE HOUSE
[Note: the illustration on the Spite House comes from Max Lucado, You’ll Get through This.]
In 1882, a New York City businessman named Joseph Richardson owned a narrow strip of land. It was 5 feet wide by 104 feet long. Another businessman, Hyman Sarner, owned a normal-sized lot adjacent to Richardson’s skinny one. Sarner wanted to build an apartment that fronted the avenue so he offered Richardson $1,000 for the slender plot.
Richardson was offended by the amount & demanded $5,000. Sarner refused & Richardson called Sarner a tightwad, slamming the door on him. Sarner assumed the land would remain vacant & instructed the architect to design the apartment building with windows overlooking the avenue.
When Richardson saw the finished building, he resolved to block the view. No one was going to enjoy a free view over his lot. So Joseph Richardson built a house – five feet wide & 104 feet long & four stories high. The house was so narrow that only one person at a time could use the staircase. The largest table in any room was 18 inches wide.
A newspaper reporter of some girth once got stuck in the stairwell, & after two tenants were unsuccessful in pushing him free, he got out only by stripping down to his undergarments. People called the building “The Spite House.”
The Spite House was torn down in 1915, which is odd – very odd. I distinctly remember spending a few nights there some time ago. And, if memory serves me well, I think I saw you squeezing through the hallways. The spite house is a lonely place isn’t it? There’s only space enough for one person, & people who live in the spite house are reduced to one goal: make someone miserable. They’re often successful. Who is that person? Themselves!
This sermon series is about Job. If anybody had a reason to live in the spite house, with large amounts of animosity & resentment, it was Job. At the top of the list was his wife. Job had lost everything, & then his wife said, “Curse God & die.” If Job doesn’t already feel abandoned, he certainly did the minute his wife tells him to pull the plug & be done with it.
Then, there was Eliphaz the Arrogant, who says in Job 4:7 that the upright never perish, & in Job 4:8 that those who sow trouble reap it. Both comments imply that Job is getting from God exactly what he deserves.
Add Bildad the Brutal to the list as he says in Job 8:4, “Your children sinned against God, so He gave them over to the hand of their transgression.” For Bildad the only explanation for the tragic death of Job’s children is that they sinned against God. Then there is Zophar the Zealot. He adopts, like the others, an aloof, stoic attitude toward Job’s suffering & grief.
These people never address God & never pray to their Creator on Job’s behalf. In Job 11:6 they all agree it’s surprising that Job doesn’t suffer more. What Job needs to do is stop claiming that he is righteous in God’s sight &, instead, repent.
There are few experiences in life more painful that being rejected by friends & family members who should understand & sympathize with us. We wouldn’t be shocked if Job decided to build a spite house & live in it the rest of his life.
But, wonder of wonders, in our text from Job 42:8 God says, “My servant Job will pray for you, & I will accept his prayer & not deal with you according to your folly.” In Job 42:7–8, Job is called “servant” four times! What does God’s servant do? He intercedes for his enemies. He blesses those who cursed him. He does not return evil for evil. Though Job is still a broken man, still scraping his boils with shards of pottery, he refuses to unleash weapons of revenge. You understand, don’t you? All of this foreshadows & previews the greatest act of forgiveness. If anybody, & I mean anybody, had a reason to live in a spite house with large amounts of animosity & resentment, it was . . . Jesus.
At the top of the list were the chief priests & the scribes. They paid Judas to betray the Master, sent temple soldiers to arrest Christ in Gethsemane, brought Messiah’s case before Pilate, & stirred up the crowd to demand that Jesus be crucified.
Then there were the Pharisees & Sadducees. The Pharisees were the 1st to actively plot to kill the Son of God. And when the Savior cleansed the temple, the Sadducees joined in the plan to murder Christ, at any cost.
And don’t forget the Roman soldiers. They brutally butchered Jesus at Gabbatha; placed a crown of thorns on His head; blindfolded Him & struck Him in the face with their fists; spit on Him, railed against Him & finally, with three nails, the Roman soldiers crucified Him.
Add to the list Pontus Pilate who had found Jesus innocent. Yet, because of Jewish pressure, the Roman governor sentenced Jesus to crucifixion & then publically washed his hands. What a crass, political, double-faced act of betrayal! That’s quite a list, wouldn’t you agree? But it’s not complete.
There are other notorious sinners that Christ could have, should have, had huge amounts of spite toward. And who are those people? Brace yourselves. You & I are on the list. Our sins sent Jesus to the cross as well – our corruption, our pettiness, our indifference.
The soldiers hoist Jesus up, the cross swaying forward, then back until it is secured with wedges to hold it upright in the hole. Then they gamble to decide who will get the Savior’s garments. We’ve heard the words Jesus spoke at that point. Can you recall them? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Who is the “them”? The chief priests & scribes; the Pharisees & Sadducees; the Roman soldiers; Pontius Pilate; you & me. God’s servant intercedes for His enemies. He blesses those who cursed Him. He doesn’t return evil for evil.
Jesus is a broken man. He hangs in pain & misery. Yet still He refuses to unleash His weapons of revenge. Jesus refused to build, or to live in, the spite house.
How about you?
Oh, I know. It’s so easy to hold on to raw anger & bitter resentment. I know. I know. He treated you like trash! She left you when you needed her the most. They let you down in the most crucial moment of your life. You can flee. You can fight. You can forgive.
Some opt to flee: to get out of the relationship & start again elsewhere, though they are often surprised when things go sour, again.
Others fight. Houses become combat zones, & offices become boxing rings. Tension becomes a way of life. Still others choose to forgive. Where do they get that power? In the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Does that make forgiveness easy? No. Quick? Seldom. Painless? I don’t think so.
But stay the course. You’ll spend less time in the spite house & more time in God’s house – the grace house. As one who has walked the hallways of both, I can guarantee that you’re going to love the space of grace. Amen.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning, was there ever grief like His? Friends through fear His cause disowning, foes insulting His distress; many hands were raised to wound Him, none would intervene to save; but the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that justice gave. Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost: Christ, the Rock of our salvation, is the name of which we boast; Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded who on Him their hope have built. Amen. LSB 451:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet