2nd Sunday of Easter LSB #’s 461, 930, 475
Text – Daniel 3:11
And whoever does not fall down & worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace.
The Fiery Furnace
How happy are you with the way things are going in our nation today? Aside from all the politics & economics, of which there’s plenty to argue about, we are in God’s house & the spiritual state of our nation should be a chief concern. It’s what Daniel is concerned about as he makes his contribution to the OT.
Each of the 1st six chapters narrate an historical event that occurred during the Babylonian captivity of God’s remaining people. Chapter three brings us a conspiracy against three of those children of God. From many years of Sunday School lessons, we know them by the names given to them by the Babylonians – Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego.
The OT reading skipped the first seven verses of the chapter, but it’s there that king Nebuchadnezzar made a statue of gold. At the dedication ceremony, he orders that whenever anyone by the statue hears the sound of any musical instrument, they are to fall down & worship the statue. Whoever does not will immediately be thrown into the fiery furnace.
All the officials of the government, under the king, had been invited to this ceremony. Not a single one of them is reported to object. They are reported as flat, colorless, mindless characters who have no individual loyalty, but blindly follow the pagan religion of their king.
Thus, Daniel sets up a powerful contrast to the uncompromising loyalty of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego to the one true God. It’s in that context that some people come forward trying to “cancel” the three followers of Yahweh. They use their words well, making this out to be an issue of politics by describing the behavior of the Jews as an affront to the king.
However, with these words of verse 8, Daniel reveals the true heart of their accusers:
“…maliciously accused the Jews.” The people bringing the charges are not simply out to protect the interests of the king. They are trying to cancel the Jews out of jealousy: “These men, O king, pay no attention to you…” (Daniel 3:12b ESV) The words of the accusers played beautifully into the pride & arrogance of the king. Nebuchadnezzar is furious.
In a rage, he commands that Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego be brought before him. Still, Nebuchadnezzar knows them personally &, even in his rage, has enough respect for them that he allows them to make their case before him. When they arrive, he warns them by saying, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15c ESV)
In his way of thinking, he had defeated the nation of Judah so his gods must be superior to the god of the Jews. He could not even begin to imagine that they would not want to fall down & worship the statue he had made. Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had wiped out the city of Jerusalem. They were so clearly the losers here.
That attitude describes quite well how the politics in our nation play out today. In any given election, the side that wins, cannot even imagine that the losing side would not want to bow down & obey the winning side’s every wish & command. And win or lose, some people in our nation cannot even imagine that others would think that a fetus could be a child of God.
So, Nebuchadnezzar gives Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego a chance to explain themselves & this is the 1st thing they say, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.” They don’t call him stupid. They don’t insult his ancestry. They simply stand on the faith given to them by the true God. They do not compromise at all with a false religion:
“…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, & He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV) They know their very lives & eternal future are on the line & they will not bow to what is false. People who are opposed to abortion know where God stands on that issue & they will not bow to what is false. However, we can take our stand while not calling the other side stupid, & we can love them as much as we love the unborn child. Does the pro choice side do the same?
When the three foreigners, who’ve been given really cushy jobs by the king, defy him, it blows his mind. He orders the furnace to be heated 7 times more than normal. Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego were bound & thrown into the furnace. It was so hot that the men throwing them in were killed by the heat.
If you remember, the king had asked, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15c ESV) He now has his answer. Looking into the furnace, he sees “…four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, & they are not hurt; & the appearance of the 4th is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25 ESV)
In the struggles of our lives, we often do not see one like a son of the gods. Yet Jesus has certainly promised to be with us even when we cannot see Him. Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego did not see Jesus until after they were thrown into the furnace, yet they trusted in Yahweh all the same. They trusted Him whether He would save them in the furnace or not.
In some respects the things that are going on in our nation today are like that furnace. You & I are being challenged by the kings of this world, “And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (Daniel 3:15c ESV)
Our culture, our world, our government & schools, even our own sinful hearts are asking us that question every day. That is the challenge of living in a sinful & broken world. Faith in Jesus Christ as Savior is the only answer. The words of the Introit this morning describe that life of faith: “I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me. The LORD is my strength & my song; He has become my salvation. I shall not die, but I shall live, & recount the deeds of the LORD. The LORD has disciplined me severely, but He has not given me over to death. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!”
This event in the lives of Shadrach, Meshack & Abednego is meant to encourage us & to give us hope, not just in the heaven to come, but already in the here & now. They were convinced of life after death, in a paradise of perfection. Daniel wants us to be convinced as well, & Jesus died & rose from the dead, to convince us.
Whether God spares us from suffering in this life or whether He chooses to strengthen us through it, we belong to Him & He is always good & His love endures forever. Even the politics & economics of this life cannot separate us from our Creator. His children can never be cancelled, because even death cannot hold us. Amen.
Come, humanity, sing along, sing, you people of God a song; priests & servants, your Lord now bless, join, you spirits & souls at rest: Bless the Lord, all you pure of heart; all you humble, His praise impart; God the Father & Son adore, bless the Spirit forevermore! Raise your voices high, praise & magnify, all you works of God, bless the Lord! Amen. LSB 930:5-6.
Easter – 2022 LSB #’s 457, 466, 478
Text – Luke 24:6-7
He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, & be crucified, & the 3rd day rise again.
THE POWER OF THE EASTER PROMISE
Christ is risen! [He is risen, indeed!] Alleluia! This morning we’ll begin with a story about a nice wooden bookcase in the living room of some friends – & about the power of a promise. Yes, the power of a promise.
These friends bought a leather sofa, & the company that made the sofa made a promise – if you buy a warranty to repair damage to the leather but you don’t end up using the warranty, in 7 years you would get credit for $180. The husband & wife talked about it, & they bought the warranty. The husband forgot about the promise, but the wife did not.
Seven years went by. Seven years. The couple did nothing (except live their lives & sit on the sofa). At the end of that time, the husband had forgotten completely about the promise, & in fact, did not believe his wife when she told him about it.
But they went back to the store where they bought the sofa; taking their receipt with them (the wife was also very good at keeping receipts). They asked for the promise to be kept, & the store kept the promise. With the $180 the couple bought a nice wooden bookcase that was on sale, & to this day it stands in their living room (with the sofa, by the way).
When the husband walks through the living room, as he sees the bookcase, he often remembers how they got it, & is amazed at the power of the promise. He had not believed it, but the promise was powerful, whether he believed it or not.
The reading this morning from Luke 24 puts on display the power of a promise. It’s a promise that was good because of who made it. It’s a promise that was good, even though people forgot that the promise was made, even though, when they did think about the promise, some people just knew that the promise wasn’t any good after all. But the angel said to the group of at least five or six women that 1st Easter morning, “Remember. Remember how He spoke to you. Remember what He said would happen. Remember the promise.”
And the promise came true in power back then. That same promise is true also today. Ponder this reading with me & marvel at the power of the Easter promise. We’ll start with something obvious. A promise is only as good, as powerful, as the person who makes it.
So, when we reflect on this reading, we can ask, “Who is the powerful person? Who are the powerful people?” I’ll start by saying that it’s not the holy angel, oddly enough. Angels are powerful, but this one is just a messenger. He does nothing but speak to the women (though he does terrify them, which holy angels do really well). The promise’s power is not with the angel.
Here’s another obvious thing to say, but this one is more important. The powerful people in this reading are not the women, & not the apostles nor the others with them on that 1st Easter. What the reading shows, in fact, is the weakness, even more, the impotence & complete inability & helplessness of the women & the men who were there.
We’re not pointing fingers or mocking them. None of us would have been any different if we had been there. But when you think about it, it’s almost funny, in a way. Luke writes that the women rested on the Sabbath, which is what they normally would do. They thought that life was still going on the way it had gone on before.
They rested on the Sabbath, & then thought it was their turn to do the work. In their minds, nothing had changed since Friday afternoon. In their minds, nothing had changed since evil had done away with their teacher & master. Nothing had changed – so they came to do their duty for the corpse. It’s very beautiful in a way, & brave & loving, yet completely, utterly wrong. They didn’t even know that He was the Lord, but He was. So Luke writes that they entered the tomb, but they did not find the body of Jesus. The angel’s words to them show how unaware & helpless & confused they were: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead?”
They’re in a place with tombs, & they’re at one particular tomb. And we all know – just as they did – how it works when people die by crucifixion. Governments are good at killing people; the Romans were very good at it. What sort of people do you find in a tomb? Dead ones, & they believe Jesus is dead.
Do these loving, confused, wrong-headed women have anything to do with the Easter promise? Nothing at all. In fact, they are living as if the promise had no power, as if the promise was never made. The apostles come off worse, in a way. The women tell them about the empty tomb, & what the angel told them, & about the promise. But it doesn’t do any good.
Luke writes that the women’s testimony “seemed to the apostle an idle tale.” Peter runs to the tomb (it’s not very far – half a mile or so). He sees there is no corpse, but all he can do is marvel as he goes home. He doesn’t get it – not yet.
So, here’s the point again. The power of a promise does not reside in the people to whom the promise is given. The power comes from the one who makes the promise. In a beautiful way, this Easter story shows us, actually shows us, that no one is saved because of their own efforts, their own sincerity, or their own anything.
The powerful promise was there but the women & the men had nothing to do with providing its power. The power comes from the one who made the promise. That’s why the angel told the women, “Remember!” Remember what you have forgotten, what you did not believe. Remember that He told you, while still in Galilee, that these things must happen.
These are the things that had to happen. Jesus told you: He would be delivered into the
hands of sinful men, He would die on a cross, & on the 3rd day ... today ... He would rise – dead no more – never to die again. It must happen, the angel said. It was the Father’s plan, & Jesus promised it. It happened because, as we’ve been reflecting during the season of Lent on the Gospel of Luke, Satan & Pilate & everyone else meant it for evil ... but God meant it for good.
Jesus – who preached good news & healed crippled hands – was betrayed into the power of sinful hands. And sinful hands are strong. They do evil things. You know that; so do I. Our own hands are too often sinful ones. Sinful hands crucified Jesus.
The evil of injustice, mockery & blasphemy came against the innocent Son of God, & it had to happen. It was necessary, though no one at the time knew why. Jesus was numbered among the transgressors, with a criminal on His right & on His left, & in front & behind & before & after – all the way down to this very day, to you & to me.
Jesus is in His own category – pure, holy, perfect, innocent, and righteous. But God’s plan was for Him to take our place, to die when He did not deserve to die, to take the evil of the world upon Himself ... so it would not come against you. This way, your sins would not cling to you or be fastened to you. God’s plan was for the evil to be fastened to Jesus – fastened to the cross.
The plan did not end there. Jesus had to rise because He came to bring light into darkness, to drive back the power of evil. The unexpected, strange, saving promise meant that God would take the evil & use it for good. Through the resurrection, death was undone. The tomb was opened & no body was there.
That is the promise, & it happened because of the one who made it – Jesus, in the power of the Father’s plan. Easter is not about the women, or about the apostles, or about you or me. It is about the Almighty One who made & kept the promise. As He promised, Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!] Alleluia. And the power comes from Him, not from them or from you. Yet – the power was for them. The power is for you. Luke’s gospel shows the beginnings of this, especially in the lives of Mary Magdalene & the other women. The power of the Easter promise is a power to turn things around, turn them upside down, reverse & transform lives, then & now & forever. The power of the Easter promise transforms people from darkness to light.
It may seem strange to say this, but the 1st life transformed by the promise ... is the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. When He came so long ago at Christmas, He came in a certain way. It was God’s plan from eternity; it was the willing choice of God’s Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Jesus came in a certain way – lowly & vulnerable.
And although He had power – just ask the people that He healed! Jesus moved toward the time when He would set His power aside, lay it aside & be numbered among transgressors. In a mystery that we can’t actually understand, Jesus emptied Himself to become weak & vulnerable. He was mortal, & they killed Him. Evil seemed to have the last word.
But the power of the promise that Jesus Himself has made transformed Him as the Father raised Him from the dead. Don’t misunderstand – He is still Jesus – still the God-Man, but now the lowliness is gone. Not the gentleness but the lowliness & the weakness are gone. God is still our human brother but He is no longer mortal. He can no longer die.
He lives ... forever. That was the plan, that was the promise, & it has come true. Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father’s power & rules & reigns in the power of the Easter promise. Humble no more; powerful to save, to save even sinners whose hands were so willing to put Him to death. The power of that promise emptied the tomb.
And right at the tomb, you can see the power of the Easter promise beginning to turn the women around, turn their lives right-side up. They come, thinking they have work to do, work for the dead Jesus. But the angel says to them, “You’re too late! The work is done! Remember! Remember the promise He made.” Luke simply writes, “And they remembered Jesus’ words.” That doesn’t mean only that in their brains they recalled what Jesus had said. It’s that they remembered; they realized; they believed. And the change begins. Their agenda is gone. Their plans have vanished, like fog burned off in the warmth & sunlight of the day.
They literally turn around! Luke wrote, “And they remembered Jesus’ words & returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven & to all the rest.” What were the women saying to each other after the promise turned them around? I wish I knew. Luke only says they were changed; they returned & spoke to the eleven & the others.
The gospel reading stops at verse 12. Stopping here gives us a chance to remember something about promises that are filled with power, about promises of any kind, really. A promise – any promise – is an invitation to trust, to faith, to extend an open hand. The promise says, “You have nothing – let me give you everything.”
The awful mystery is that not everyone trusts the promise. The women began to trust right away, but it took some time on the 1st Easter before the apostles began to be transformed. Why? I don’t know, & no one else does, either. Why do promises come to some people, but the power never gets to work because it is not met with faith?
All we can do is remember & speak the promise. Then we trust in its power to transform. It did transform the apostles, of course. As you read the NT book of Acts, you see that the Easter people of Jesus were not perfect. They frequently faltered. But the power was there, the power of Jesus to forgive & restore helpless people like Mary, Peter, & many others.
That power is available today, this morning, because the promise remains the same. All the evil of the world – Jesus took it & overcame it. Jesus died faithfully carrying out God’s plan to take evil & use it for good. Rising from the dead, Jesus broke the power of death, & the power that sin has to accuse & to separate you from God. Make no mistake. Sin is evil, & every day sin separates people from God. But Jesus lives, & He has the power, the authority, to forgive, to restore & to preserve – Mary Magdalene, Peter, me & you.
This promise is for everyone. Right here & right now I offer you the promise & invite you to believe it, once again, to trust it. The promise turned the women around – literally & spiritually. Today, you & I can turn away from thinking that our lives belong to us or that our need for Jesus isn’t all that great, or we know best what to make of our lives & our world.
Whatever form it takes, turn away from pride or unbelief or despair & receive forgiveness. Be restored. Be changed. What will happen when we do that? Some things we know for sure. God will forgive you, for Jesus’ sake, because He died & rose. As far as the east is from the west that’s how far Christ has removed your sins from you.
And God will welcome you, no matter what your past, no matter what you have done. Peter fell as far away as you can fall, but Jesus turned him back, claimed him & welcomed him. God does the same for us through the power of the Easter promise.
What else will happen in my life or in yours because of Easter? To be honest, only God knows the whole answer to that question. Because of Easter, all bets are off. If God can take all the world’s evil & mean it for good, who knows what He will do with me or with you?
I don’t know what blessings & opportunities await you. But I do know this. Jesus lives! He is at work. He never quits. He will be working all the way till the day of His return in glory, the day of the final transformation. By His almighty power He will raise you from the dead, & will give to all who trust in Him a pure & beautiful & strong eternal life – one that’ll never end.
It will be life with God & with one another, in a renewed world, the new heaven & earth. This is the power of the Easter promise because God made the promise, & He meant it for good.
In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For three long days the grave did its worst until its strength by God was dispersed. He who gives life did death undergo; & in its conquest His might did show. Go spread the news: He’s not in the grave; He has arisen this world to save. Jesus’ redeeming labors are done; even the battle with sin is won. Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy; death’s fearful sting He has come to destroy. Our sin forgiving, alleluia! Jesus is living, alleluia! Amen. LSB 466:2, 4.
Good Friday – 2022 LSB #’s 432, 436, 447:19-21
Text – Luke 23:47
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
EVIL FRIDAY IS ALSO GOOD FRIDAY
Are you ready for change? I’m going to take a bit of a risk this evening. I’m going to take something very familiar & very precious & change its name. I’m going to add something to what we call it, & I’m aware in advance that may sound very odd, very strange to you. It might even sound wrong. But I ask you to bear with me, & I will explain what I mean.
Before I take the risk, recall how we began our Lenten journey this year. The theme came from the OT story of Joseph. After the patriarch Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that it was pay-back time. Joseph was powerful, they were not. Joseph could get revenge, & they could not stop him. Oh, & the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery.
But Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to keep many people alive today.” It was important on Ash Wednesday not to misunderstand what Joseph was saying. He was not saying, “Well, you tried to do evil things, but what you did wasn’t really evil.” No. His brothers sinned & did evil to him.
What God actually did was to use that real evil in a plan much larger than that of Joseph’s brothers. No one could see it at the time. But that’s how God often works.
Now back to the risk. Based on this rich, profound reading from Luke 23, I want to say this to you: Evil Friday is also Good Friday. There’s the risk out in the open. We never refer to that Friday long ago as “Evil Friday.” We always call it “Good Friday.” And let me say that I will continue to call it “Good Friday,” & so should you.
Tonight, however, I want to try & bring out both sides of what Luke tells us. That way,
we can take the world as it still is seriously, & we won’t sugarcoat things. But we can also marvel at our God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, & how He was at work so long ago on that Friday, & how He still is at work in our lives & in our world today, even in Ukraine. Stay with me & ponder this: “Evil Friday is also Good Friday.” The 1st point begins when Luke writes:
“It was now about the 6th hour [about noon], & there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.” We have questions about this, & we can’t answer all of them so we won’t try. But we can be pretty sure of one thing: the darkness is bad! It’s a sign that evil is close at hand.
All the way back in Luke 1, Zechariah, father of the newborn John the Baptizer, was finally able to speak again. He praised the true God & His mercy, “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness & in the shadow of death.”
God had begun to work in the world in a new way – His light was already living in the womb of Mary as Zechariah spoke those words. God’s mercy brings sunrise, light in darkness. But at noon on that Friday, there was darkness over the whole land. Less than a day before, as Jesus was arrested by people doing the will of Satan himself, Jesus said to those people:
“This is your hour, & the power of darkness.” Even though we know how the history goes, when we read about the darkness over the whole land, it should be enough to make us tremble. There is a real Satan. There is real evil. Evil is at work that Friday afternoon long ago. There is no question that evil is afoot, out to destroy the Son of God.
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:45 ESV) Who tore the curtain? God did. God the Father tore the temple curtain. Why in the world would He do that? This temple was dedicated to His worship; sacrifices & forgiveness happened at this temple for every believer who approached!
But now God makes a split ... or we might say, a crack in the temple. Even worse is
coming. Jesus predicted it. Not one stone will be left upon another. Why? Because, as a group, the leading chief priests had lost their way, & have used their power & influence against the person to whom the temple pointed, the person who knew at age twelve that He was to be in His Father’s house.
In their blind ignorance they have hated, & now are trying to do away with, God’s only Son. For that evil, God’s judgment is coming within the span of one generation. This is not about pointing fingers. Would we have been any different? But evil was at work on that Friday; darkness came over the land, & the temple curtain was torn in two.
Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father’s care, & died. But in every way imaginable He did not deserve to die. You deserve to die; I do as well. The wages of sin is death, & we have sinned. Yet, over & over Luke has told us that Jesus is innocent, that He does not deserve this fate, & the centurion will say it yet one more time in the very next verse.
Still, Jesus dies. He dies the death of a criminal, covered with nothing, in dishonor & shame because they’ve taken His clothes & divided them among themselves. Death by crucifixion is an evil death. Darkness had descended. The temple curtain was torn & then a turning point occurs.
A centurion is a Gentile soldier in the army of Rome. He’s in charge of up to 100 men & he’s been watching & listening. Maybe he oversaw the men who fastened Jesus to the cross. We don’t know; Luke only tells us that he was there. We aren’t told what the centurion knew or believed. Like the believing criminal a few verses earlier, we only have what Luke tells us.
What Luke does give is precious & beautiful – this unexpected Gentile believer (for that is what he is) can be like a hinge to help us see that Evil Friday is also Good Friday. He can help us turn a corner of faith & understanding, turn around & see the amazing good that God is doing in the face of evil, in spite of evil, even using the evil so that His good will is done as well. Luke writes, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he glorified God saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’” Pause with me over the words “He glorified God.” Travel with me quickly through the Gospel of Luke to notice others who do the same, who “glorify God.”
On the 1st Christmas, the shepherds returned to their fields glorifying God over all they had seen & heard. Did they get it all? Hardly, but they knew that God was doing something wonderful. When Jesus forgives & heals a paralytic with a word, both the man & the gathered crowd glorified God. They knew Yahweh was at work.
At Nain, the crowd saw Jesus raise a widow’s son back to life, & they glorified God. A woman was crippled & bent over for 18 years & Jesus healed her. What did she do? (You can probably guess by now!) Yes, she glorified God. Ten lepers were healed, but only one, the Samaritan, came running back to Jesus – glorifying God.
All these people saw God at work – it was obvious – & they glorified God because of what they saw – angels & healings & wonderful deeds. The centurion glorified God because he knew that God was at work even in the presence of evil. There in the darkness, faced with cruelty & death, the soldier glorified God.
How much exactly did he know? We can’t be sure. But he did know that the execution of this perfectly innocent man had to be part of the plan of God, so he glorified God. So can we, & so must we. When Jesus breathes His last, that cannot be the end, it can’t be the last thing – not if God is God, not if justice matters.
Evil must not have the last word, which means Jesus’ complete trust in His Father to receive His spirit will not be the last thing. Not if God cares about the world & about sin & about Satan’s wreckage. No! The centurion knew that Jesus was deeply, cosmically, eternally innocent, pure & righteous. The soldier glorified God because more was coming, because good was coming. He may not have known in what form – but good was coming. Today, we know that Evil Friday was also Good Friday because Easter was coming. The centurion helps us to turn the corner even in the darkness & see God at work.
The curtain of the temple was torn in the middle. God is rejecting the former place of sacrifice & forgiveness; it was corrupted by its leaders & their sin, yes it was. But rejecting the temple also means that there is a new place of sacrifice & forgiveness, a new place where God can be present among His people to strengthen & protect & restore.
The new place, the physical location for God’s blessings now will be Jesus – the body of Jesus. He is the new way. His blood is the new covenant, the new place where God is present with His people, with His people now – Jesus, body & soul, true Man & true God. The temple was cracked. Something more was coming. Easter was on the horizon.
Satan meant it for evil, & it was, but God meant it for good, & it was also. God planned to bring men, women & children out of the darkness of Satan’s lies, out of the darkness of their own sins, & into the light of His peace, His acceptance, His fellowship.
Satan did his worst. He waited for the opportune time & it came. He entered Judas & Judas did Satan’s bidding. The authorities were pawns & tools in the hand of the devil. There was darkness all around Jesus, coming against the Lamb of God. But it came against Him & against Him alone. The darkness could not snuff out His compassion:
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The darkness could not snatch any believer, no matter how fragile, from Jesus’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ESV) Jesus stood in the gap; He hung where all of us deserve to hang. The darkness came against Jesus alone, but He did not flinch. He took it all & perfectly performed the Father’s plan. Therefore, in faith, Jesus entrusted His spirit to the Father’s hands, knowing that the darkness would give way ... to light. Jesus knew that the darkness would give way to light. Evil at work, but God at work more strongly still. Evil Friday – even more, it was Good Friday. Light & life would return because Easter was on its way.
Luke tells us about Joseph of Arimathea, & the Galilean women who bought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. What they did was very beautiful on that evil day. More beautiful, still, is the fact that their loving efforts were in vain. The tomb where no one had ever yet been laid will become the tomb where no one is lying anymore.
That night long ago was the turning point, the hinge of history. Everything depends on Friday, & on Sunday. Our lives depend on how God took that evil & used it to destroy the power of evil with the new resurrection life of Jesus, the Lord. No darkness of sin or guilt can overcome Christ, & He is for you.
When darkness does come, remember Good Friday, & entrust yourself to Jesus who bore the darkness in your place. When engulfed by confusion & hardship, & you can’t find your way back into God’s presence, remember Good Friday, the torn curtain, & Jesus who is God’s presence now. Turn to Him & to His presence in the Lord’s Supper.
There, hear God’s promises in Jesus. He is God’s presence in the world, & He is for you. If life becomes so hard that it seems like you can’t trust God & have no idea what good He can bring out of evil – lean on Jesus, & let Him trust His Father. Let Jesus glorify God because our Creator is still at work, still creating, even through Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Evil Friday was also Good Friday because Jesus stood against the darkness for you. What a God! And Easter was coming. So we end this evening in hope, & in faith. We will go home & rest as the women did long ago. But we’re not going to prepare spices to anoint a body because we know that it was, & is, & always will be ... Good Friday. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good – for you, for me, & for the world. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. 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. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet, mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die. 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. LSB 436:1, 3-4.
Maundy Thursday – 2022 LSB #’s 634:1-4, 543, 634:5-8
Text – Luke 22:15
And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
THE ETERNAL PASSOVER THAT JESUS DESIRED TO EAT
During this season of Lent, we’ve tried to be realistic as we continue learning to trust God. The realism has to do with evil: the evil that betrayed & condemned & crucified Jesus long ago, along with the evil in our world & in our lives today. In the face of that evil, we trust our God, & the plan He carried out in the Lord Jesus.
We have considered how we can say to Satan, to the world, & even to ourselves, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” This evening’s service will be a break in the action because of the gift that the Lord Jesus created that night long ago in the upper room.
Tonight is not a night to be somber, but to be quietly joyful. It’s a night to marvel at what happened when Jesus ate the Passover meal with His apostles, to marvel at the new gift that has come down through the ages also to you & me. Jesus said to them that night, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”
That was a particular ritual happening at a particular moment in a particular place. I want to suggest – & I’ll explain this as we go – that it was also an eternal Passover that night. By “eternal” I mean that it was not isolated, disconnected, alone, or even limited.
That Passover gathered up & brought to fruition so many things from the past, & its past gave meaning to that night. The Exodus Passover became part of the most significant “present moment” in the history of the world. History was turning a corner on Maundy Thursday & from that Passover ritual came a new gift for the future, for us tonight, & until the Lord returns.
All of it happened just before Jesus was betrayed – past, present, future. So, consider with me this evening “The Eternal Passover that Jesus Desired to Eat.” If you listen, you can almost hear the past rushing into the upper room that night. In our calendar system, Luke describes an evening that happened about the year AD 30. The 1st Passover event occurred more than 1400 years before that. The time gap is six times longer than the United States has existed.
But the point is this: beginning with the 1st events in Egypt, with Moses & Pharaoh, the ten plagues & God’s rescue – every Passover throughout the centuries had been pointing to, leading up to, the night that Jesus desired to eat this Passover with His 12 chosen apostles.
Quickly review with me. The descendants of Jacob, whose name God changed to “Israel,” had become a nation; twelve tribes. They were enslaved by Pharaoh, king of Egypt. If you asked the man on the street how the Egyptians could do this, the answer would be, “The Egyptian gods were stronger than the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.”
The true God changed that perception. The blood of the lambs marked Israel’s homes & the angel of death spared them. With an outstretched arm God brought the Israelites out of slavery, to the edge of death at the shore of the Red Sea, through the death of the waters that drowned the Egyptian army & Pharaoh, then out into a new life on dry ground.
The Passover meal began as a remembrance of that, & down through the centuries, the people were supposed to remember. But they didn’t always remember very well. The history of God’s people was up & down, for sure, & the time came when they finally succeeded in breaking their covenant with the great I Am.
He was eager & willing to be their God, but they wanted to be His people at the same time that they were the people of Baal, & the people of Molech, & the gods of the nations around them. A covenant with the true God is exclusive – He accepts no rivals, because all of them lead us to eternal death. Yet, Israel broke the covenant.
That covenant that Israel broke was in need of something greater. In hindsight, we can
see that God always planned it that way – those past events were always pointing forward to something greater. That night in the upper room, with sin & evil all around, with quarreling disciples seated with their master, the past came rushing up to them, crying out:
“How long, O Lord? How long until you deliver us again? How long will your people wander? When will you do a new thing!” And the answer was, “Tonight. Right now.” That particular night long ago remembered the past mercy of God & magnified it. On that particular night Jesus confronted the slavery of all of the gods of the world – even Satan himself.
Jesus faced that slavery, took hold of it, & did not let go. On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He freed sinners of all the ages & invited them to the table. It all came together in the eternal Passover that Jesus desired to eat, right then, in that present moment.
In a way, that evening, & the hours that followed, were the turning point in all human history. Jesus embraced the old even as He created something new. Not utterly new, with no connection to the old, but larger, new in the sense of “recreated,” stronger & more beautiful.
Jesus begins that turning point in history with the old ritual the disciples had probably known their entire lives. He takes a cup that is part of the old ceremony, blesses it, & asks them to divide it among themselves. Then He says: “That’s it. I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes,” until the great & last day. (Luke 22:18)
Turning from the old, Jesus gives them something new – really new. None of the Gospels tell us how the disciples reacted when Jesus said such completely unexpected things. The Gospels don’t tell us, so we shouldn’t speculate; it’s not important. But it was new.
“This bread is my body which is given for you. As you have remembered deliverance from long ago, now you will have a new deliverance to remember. Do this in remembrance of me.” It was new. “This cup being poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood, through my death.” It was new. And the old Passover meal has now passed away. In the most important way of thinking, the old Passover cannot be observed again – at least, not by the disciples of Jesus. When Christian congregations host a Seder meal in our day, they are not celebrating the OT Passover. It’s not possible for Christians to do that. Something new & stronger has come.
Yes, we can remember & rejoice in God’s faithfulness of old. We can see connections that come together in the eternal Passover that night, but something new has come into the present, that Maundy Thursday long ago.
As the letter to the Hebrews especially says over & over, this new deliverance, the new deeds of Jesus are one & done, once & for all, unrepeatable & unrepeated. Jesus will be the Lamb, whose blood is over the people; whose death protects the people from God’s wrath, from the angel of death, from every evil.
His death, one & done, once for all, enables people to leave slavery behind, to be God’s people in freedom & mercy. Jesus is the new & greater Passover lamb. And there’s more. Jesus is not just the lamb who protects from death. He is the deliverer, the leader, the One infinitely greater than Moses whom God chose to deliver Israel. Jesus is both deliverer & sacrifice.
In that present moment beginning Thursday evening, Jesus performs a new exodus. He goes ahead of His disciples, ahead of His enemies, ahead of everyone into death – the death of the cross. Jesus goes ahead of us so you & I can avoid dying for our sins.
Jesus goes through the sea, through death, coming out onto dry ground, to a new life that leaves our sins drowned & death permanently undone. The old Passover ritual would have ended at 6:00 pm on Friday evening. What Jesus did would never end. He rose to life, as the Lamb who was slain but who lives. He is Lamb & Deliverer.
He did it for His disciples, & for you, & for the whole world. That present moment was
the turning point of all of history. The past rushing forward, to be taken by Jesus & fulfilled. This was the eternal Passover that Jesus desired to eat, so He could do something new, something eternal, for you & for all people. Centuries of longing & promise rushed forward to the eternal Passover that Jesus desired to eat. All of history changed as He did something new.
That night, & on Friday, & on Sunday when Jesus stepped out of the grave onto the dry ground of new life for us & for all people – Jesus was Lamb & Deliverer, all for you & me. One & done; once & for all. But the events of that night were for the future as well, & in saying that, I’m thinking about two specific words that Jesus said.
The two words are these: “until,” & “remembrance.” Twice Jesus says, “until”: “For I tell you I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:16) Two verses later, “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18) That’s the first word: “until.”
The 2nd word is “remembrance”: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We’ll take that 2nd word first. Even though the unique, eternal things that Jesus will do are one-and-done, once & for all ... the new meal that He gave to His disciples is a gift that He keeps on giving.
The events of that night push out, they come running out into the future & around the world as the gospel goes out & is believed. That new gift-meal has come from the upper room through the cross & out of the empty tomb to us, tonight. Jesus lives & the living Jesus gives us to eat His true body, & to drink His true blood. And He says, “Remember.”
Not “recall,” something you might only do in your head, but remember, something you do in your heart – & believe. Remember & give thanks. The gift is real in itself. Your remembering does not make it real; my remembering does not determine whether the living Christ gives His body & blood for us to eat & drink. We don’t make that happen – the living, reigning Jesus does that, from the right hand of God. But remembering in faith, in humility, in need – remembering is how all of God’s gifts are received to our benefit, to our blessing. Remembering is faith, faith that says:
“Yes, Lord. The new gift is here again for us, protecting us from the death of our sins. The new gift is here again for us, strengthening us as we draw together in love for one another. We remember you, Lord, so we eat Your body & drink Your blood & we are one body in you. Yes, Lord. The new gift is here again for us, & it will be ... until.”
That’s the 2nd word. The gift of Jesus stretches out into the future until it is fulfilled in the reign of God, until the reign of God comes in all its glory & power. And so, the Lord’s Supper is a temporary gift; it is, as we sometimes say, a foretaste of the feast to come.
Holy Communion is a banquet, at which death will be swallowed up forever, a banquet with a table at which Abraham, Isaac & Jacob are sitting, at which a believing criminal is sitting, at which all who remember & believe will be sitting. By God’s mercy, you will be sitting there, & so will I.
Past, present & future – that was an eternal Passover that Jesus ate with His disciples that night. The past fulfilled, the present changing all of history, the future reaching out even to us this evening.
One last question to ask. Why did Jesus earnestly desire that night? There are probably many answers, but I’ll offer two. Jesus earnestly desired it because He loves His Father & was eager to do the Father’s will, to carry out the Father’s plan. And Jesus earnestly desired to eat that Passover that night because He loves sinners. He loved His disciples & loved His enemies.
And He loved you. He loves you still. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is that that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, to bear the dreadful curse for my soul! LSB 543:1.
Palm Sunday – C LSB #’s 645, 761, 576
Text – Deuteronomy 32:37
Then He will say, “Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge?”
WHICH ROCK IS YOURS?
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine & does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24 ESV) Those are well-known words to people who’ve spent a good deal of time in the Christian church. Jesus’ teaching in that regard is completely obvious to anyone who has spent time constructing buildings.
However, even though Jesus was a carpenter, His point had nothing to do with the physical realities of this world. Jesus was actually teaching about the heart & the soul of man. Three verses earlier, Jesus had said: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
So, Jesus is teaching that the wise man who built his house on the rock is the one who will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven that you & I should build our house on the rock. Do you know who that rock is? The only way any of us are truly alive is when our house, or life, is built on Yahweh, the Great I Am.
But Jesus’ teaching was not new in His day. It had been sung about already over a thousand years before in the Song of Moses. The OT reading for today is just a small portion of that song. See if these words, earlier in the song, remind you of anyone:
“Jeshurun grew fat & kicked; filled with food, they became heavy & sleek. They abandoned the God who made them & rejected the Rock their Savior. They made Him jealous with their foreign gods & angered Him with their detestable idols… You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” (Deuteronomy 32:15-16 & 18 ESV)
Jeshurun is another name for the ancient nation of Israel, but to my mind those words
could be written about a very much more modern country that all of you know about today. If you gage it by attendance at church on Sunday morning, the people of the USA have abandoned the God who made them & rejected the Rock their Savior. However, there are many other ways to determine which rocks our people are taking refuge in.
The point is, the people of our nation are increasingly rejecting the true God in favor of all kinds of false gods. Our nation has been prosperous for so long that, in the words of Moses, we’ve grown fat, filled with food we’ve become heavy & sleek.
What’s interesting about the song of Moses is that it had not yet happened to Israel when Moses spoke those words. Instead, they were a prophecy of what was to come. Israel had not even entered the Promised Land when Moses sang this song, but God knew they would turn their backs on Him. He also knew that when their false gods failed them, Yahweh would rescue them.
The sermon text could be taken as a taunt, “Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge?” Or, it could be simply a question to point out the reality that those false gods had failed to deliver whatever it was that Israel was hoping for by seeking them. In any event, Yahweh is pointing out that He is the only rock of refuge that will deliver.
Which rock is yours? Where do you turn for deliverance? Back in the year 1984 a movie made these song lyrics famous: If there’s something strange In your neighborhood Who you gonna call? If there's something weird And it don’t look good Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters!
As entertainment goes it was a great movie. As theology goes it’s a humorous way of pointing out that human beings are suckers for false gods. When we feel the stressors of time, pain, losses, sickness & past mistakes weighing heavily upon us, how often don’t we lean upon the wrong rock? And when that fails, who is there to pick us up? In the Garden of Eden, Adam & Eve chose to lean upon the wrong rock. By the time they realized they had been deceived, they could already feel the curse of death. Yet, in their failure, Yahweh came to deliver them, & what did they do, they ran away to hide. When He found them, they put the blame on anyone but themselves. Their Creator promised them a Savior anyway.
When, except for Noah & his family, all of human civilization had chosen other rocks, Yahweh came to Noah & delivered them through the Ark. Later, God came to Abraham, who was nobody & nothing. The Great I Am delivered him & made out of him a great nation. When that nation ended up in slavery to the Egyptian pharaoh, Yahweh sent Moses & delivered them.
Today, we remember the triumphal entry into Jerusalem when a single rabbi rode into town on a donkey. The people shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” which means deliver us. By the end of that week, His own people, whom He’d been sent to deliver, were shouting, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him.”
In response, Jesus willingly submitted to their demand, in order to fulfill His Father’s promise to deliver, made in the Garden of Eden: “He shall bruise your head, & you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV) Then, as Jesus hangs on the cross, with a criminal on either side, one of them still chooses a rock other than the true God:
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself & us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)
Which rock is yours? Deliverance is what each one of us needs. Our Creator has promised to deliver us, & even to recreate us into something glorious & holy. Can we cling to Him & to no other? It’s difficult to be honest when faced with that question. The true answer is that no, we cannot cling to Jesus & Him alone. Even for that, we must rely upon the Savior. The corruption of our hearts & minds is too great. As St. Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions & sins.” (Ephesians 2:1 NIV) Dead people cannot do one solitary thing, not even cling to Jesus. He must save & Him alone. And so He does. Once God claimed us as His child in Holy Baptism, the only choice we can make is the wrong choice, the wrong rock.
In effect, every time we sin, we are choosing the wrong rock, but God has brought His punishment down on Jesus instead of you & me. As the sermon text closes, God speaks, “‘See now that I, even I, am He, & there is no god beside me; I kill & I make alive; I wound & I heal.” (32:39 ESV)
Those words may sound frightening, & they should be, however, Jesus stood in our place. He is the One who was wounded, & He was the One who was healed. Jesus is the One who was killed & He was the One who was made alive. And we are the ones who receive the benefit of His suffering, death & resurrection.
Today, Yahweh is calling you to leave the other rocks behind, whatever they may be. Since all of us are unique, we each have our own set of rocks, or false gods, that we are drawn to. Yahweh has made us alive. None of the false gods are even real, let alone able to accomplish anything on our behalf. As the opening verse of the OT said:
“For the Lord will vindicate His people & have compassion on His servants...” (Deuteronomy 32:36 ESV) Amen.
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy law’s demands; could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone; Thou must save & Thou alone. While I draw this fleeting breath, when mine eyelids close in death, when I soar to world’s unknown, see Thee on Thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee. Amen. LSB 761:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet