Monday, March 21, 2016

Palm Sunday [The Passion according to St. Matthew 26:1-27:54]

It is a glorious witness to the power of God when we hear the same Gospel reading from Advent 1, on Palm Sunday. Glorious, because Jesus is coming; not just to a Silent Night in Bethlehem, but to fallen creatures singing His praise today, but shout “Crucify” on Friday.

Thus, Jesus speaks today, saying:
“When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.”

Another wonderful witness comes from the Pharisees. Their patriotic speeches are littered with unintentional prophecy. The high priest declares that it is better for one man to die than for a multitude to suffer and the Pharisees incite the Good Friday crowd to say, “His blood be upon us and our children!”

Pilate gives one final witness before the cross. He inscribes upon it the charges brought against Jesus. In his eyes they were meant to deter anyone else from doing this same thing, so they would not be crucified as well. It read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Even the Moslems are not to be outdone. 1000 years after Jesus on the same highway that Jesus is riding upon and the same Great Gate He passes through to Jerusalem are, today walled up and blocked with a graveyard. Their thinking is that if a Jewish Messiah were prophesied to come in through the East Gate (the King’s gate) he would have to be ritually clean. Touching dead bodies negates that and here’s a wall just in case.

They are all better witnesses of the person and work or Jesus Christ than you, because they are willing to sacrifice everything for it and take Jesus at His Word. They believe putting Jesus to death would show everyone just how not-godlike Jesus really is.

Remember, death is not your friend or their friend. So, while Jesus will die, death is not going to do what everyone wnts. This is because death is not a thing, in and of itself. Just like sin is not a thing. Both of them are not created things and they have no business being here.

Yet it is here. We can not explain it. We can not rationalize it. It is something that should not be. It causes much harm, much sorrow, and much regret. It is the one thing you avoid at all cost and yet, here Jesus is practically running to His death.

The first time we hear of death, it is from the lips of the Lord. He says that eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil will only lead to the death of Adam. Thus the Prophet of prophets tells us of death and also tells us it is not His doing.

Think about it this way: your bodies cannot handle heaven. They can’t even handle life on earth and yet they were made by God. Does this mean God is a failure? Many of you love various sins and vices and use the excuse that God made you that way. Does this mean God is schizophrenic?

God created all things. There is only one Creator so anything that is here or that we discover is made by Him and yet it is also true that God did not make death. How we understand that is how we understand sin. God created your bodies and souls, but He did not create them corrupted or fallible and yet they are.

Likewise, God created life, but He didn’t create life to end. He is life. That would be ridiculous. In light of this, we call death what it is: a corruption. God created life; sin corrupted it. And it is corrupted beyond repair. It is corrupted to the genetic level, never to be undone.

In your sin, you deserve nothing but this death. In your sin, you also cheer on those who wish to prove God to the world by putting Him to death. You wish to see for yourself, for you are not completely convinced, Jesus dying just like you: alone and afraid.

However, Jesus dying is exactly what the plan is. He says to you, “Your will be done”. You wish to see God share in your struggles and grief? He does. You wish to see God handle the stress of life and the anguish of despair? You got it. You desire to see God having to die? Sure thing.

What the Pharisees don’t understand is that it is precisely through death that Jesus is proven to be faithful and true. It is exactly in His Blood poured out upon them that they save everyone. What Pilate doesn’t get is that a true King lays down His life for friend and foe alike. What the Moslems don’t understand is that not even death can stop this King of Life.

Death is the last enemy to be overcome because it is the last door for a Christian to go trough. Death is the last enemy because it is the final cut between old creation and a new creation, for one who has died has died to sin and sin and the Law can no longer condemn him. However, in Christ, the Christian does not die, but falls asleep.

Jesus, the Lord of life has had His creation wrenched from His hands and thrown down a death spiral. What was once forward, life, is now backwards, death. However, Jesus goes backwards, into death, in order to once again right the ship.

Jesus reverses the reversal. It can not be explained any better. Death, which is irrational and unnatural, must be conquered by the irrational and unnatural; namely the death of God.

And, as we heard last Wednesday evening, this death is proclaimed by your entire body in the Lord’s Supper. No more does sin and sorrow reign, because Jesus has given us His pledge. The sign of all this is the cross of Jesus. His pledge to you is the Sacrament of the Altar.

The real misunderstanding of unbelievers is that God can be both spiritual and physical. Not only that, but that God can die, being one substance and one person with Jesus. That He can be buried in the ground, same as you. That He can fulfill your will in striking the final blow against Jesus and in the same act, relieve you of your guilt as you cry out, “I put my Lord on the cross!”

It was the will of the father to sacrifice His Son. It was the Son’s joy and delight to give His Body and spill His blood upon you and your children, in Baptism. It is the great endeavor of the Lord that the Bridegroom die and bleed upon your sins, in order that Jesus now be your life in death and bring you to heaven’s portals.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Life from death [Lent 5; St. John 8:46-59]

Jesus speaks to you today, saying:
53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?”

On Good Friday, you will hear the Jews make a startling declaration. They publicly confess that they have no king but Caesar. At that point it was either admit that Jesus was a king or take Caesar and you know they hated the former more.

Thus they declare a prince of this world as their ruler. Today, you hear something similar. The Scribes and the Pharisees love to claim Abraham as their father; their direct blood-line to the promise of God. They will also do the same to the prophets.

But here, they are not. Notice what they say. They say, “Our father Abraham”, but then note that he died. They say, “Our prophets”, but also note that they died. So who really is their father? Who really is the one that rules over them? Who is this mysterious Caesar that they have voted for unanimously?

As the Jews see it, they are hearing God’s words and are living by them. They have Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets written down for them. They have their faithful teachers preaching and teaching them and yet Jesus says that they do not hear God.

The reason is this: they are dead in their sin and death is their true father. Rather than have Jesus be God, they challenge Him with their god: death. Abraham died and even the Prophets died, Jesus. Are you greater than our God, death?

Can you blame them? Is it easier to believe in death, which you experience everyday, or to believe in life after death of which no one has reported to you?

Think about it. Death is seen as a friend, because he lets you live a full life and then takes you in your sleep. Death eases your burden by removing you from this life. Death quietly waits until you are ready and gives you rest. What a kind and merciful master!

Repent. The dead do not hear God. The dead do not see God and death is not the friend you force him to be. Sure, in your youth, when illness is far away, death is a great adventure waiting just around the corner, but he is really an unwanted intruder, snatching and grabbing when and where he chooses.

Yet, here is where you find yourself: in death’s grip. It is a sure thing. Youth can not prevent it. A fountain or a grail are not going to remove it. Make-up, vegetables, or even right-living all turn on you, when you need them the most.

You find yourself in sin. You find yourself taking up arms against your brothers and hauling them before unbelievers to judge them. You find yourself dead in sin. You find yourself not listening to God. You find that you have no king but Caesar.

Jesus says that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He says that the Father will glorify Him. He says that He speaks the Word of God. He says that there is a day in which your father Abraham was glad to see and that day involves death.

You and the Jews ask Jesus, “Who do you make yourself out to be, Jesus?” “Are you greater than our god, death?” “We’ll put you on a cross to prove that you aren’t.”

Jesus answers by saying that Abraham has already seen His day and he rejoiced. Jesus answers by saying, “Watch me go to the cross, and I’ll prove it to you.” And when He does, Jesus, who is both God and man, does not become less, but more.

Where last week, Jesus told us of eating heavenly bread, at the cross Jesus eats death for you. You see Jesus crowned with glory because of His suffering and death in order that He would taste death for everyone (Heb.2:9).

The God of all creation; indeed, the only God out there, lowers Himself to sit at your “god’s” table and death lays it all out. The spread is awful. The fare is each and every person’s death since Abel. The main course is your sin and dessert is God on a cross.

And death is swallowed up in life (2Cor.5:4). Death is swallowed up in victory (1Cor.15:54). Jesus makes what the devil has kept in his mouth to come out and the nations no longer stream to him (Jer.51:44).

Jesus has swallowed you, uniting with you; baptizing you into His death in order that you would share in His resurrection (Rom.6:5). The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God in Jesus’ suffering and death is eternal life (Rom.6:23).

The Lord did not create death. He did create the resurrection. The Lord did not create you for death. You body can not handle it, quite literally. As the Jews tempt Jesus, they teach you this by saying that all the really special, godly people died. Even though God was with them, feeding them, and working through them, they still died.

True, but now that even God has died, death is no more, and in faith, though you die you will live. You will know suffering. You will experience dying, but you will never know death. Jesus has taken that away. Even Abraham and the prophets did not die, but fell asleep.

In baptism, you share in this wonderful Gospel. In baptism, you are united, flesh and blood, to the Body that death could not hold onto. In baptism, you are one with the one true God and one true man who has tasted death and yet come out alive. There is no more reason to fear death.

You do not have to bow to it. You do not have to plead with it. You do not have to make bargains or strike up deals with it. Death now serves God in every way. The only power it has over you, now, is to remove you from its shadowed valley.

That’s it. It can not tear you from Jesus. It can not remove faith from you. It can not destroy what God has promised you. It can not take anything from you, for what death has taken, Jesus gives back in the resurrection 100 times over. Death is now a slumber; a portal, from this life of sin to the promised life of eternity, in Christ.

Where this world turns on you and all your efforts yield no fruit in front of death, Jesus turns to you and yields imperishable fruit. Jesus turns to you and offers this fruit in His Sacraments, for there is no other way to obtain fruit from the Tree of Life except from the Lord of Life Who hung on a tree.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Certainly true [Wednesday prayer; Rom.6 & 1 Pet. 3]

Thus far, we have concluded the first three Chief parts of the Catechism. First: the 10 commandments; Second: the Creed, and Third: the Lord’s own Prayer. You could call these first three the Foundation. Not only, in that order, do they explain themselves, but they prepare you for the Sacraments.

In giving the 10 Commands, we hear God tell us what we are to do and not do. Yet, from these commands alone, we do not know God. The Creed then explains the Commands in a way in which we may know Who God is and what we can expect Him to be doing.

Then, in seeing our complete failure with the first part; hearing God’s perfection in the Second part and realizing our utmost need in the Third, we finally come to the sacraments that give Faith something to cling to.

It is at this point that Dr. Luther admitted Christians to the Lord’s Table. On top of confessing Christ’s true Body in the bread and His true Blood in the wine seen on the altar, these first Chief Parts form the kernel of true Faith, in a simple way.

Of course, there is always more to learn from the Bible and the catechism. It would take more than a lifetime to master either of them. Thus, the catechism continues to the second section: the ways in which God gives Faith on earth; also known as the sacraments.

 St. Peter minces no words and describes the sacraments in perfect simplicity: baptism now saves you. Plain as plain can be, St. Peter gives Faith a solid, immovable mountain to stand upon in an ocean of shifting sand. On these four words, false belief is prevented and shame is overcome.

This is because the Word of God promises something here. Now, it is true that God promises long life to those who honor their father and mother, but where is this long life? Can I taste it? Can I touch it? I see people honoring their parents and yet they die the same as everyone else.

The sacraments are different than just a promise made by Jesus. They are a promise attached to a physical location. With Baptism, Jesus promises salvation in a washing with water and the Word. You are not doing the washing. You are not creating the water and you are not imagining the Word. All this is done outside of you.

And that’s the main difference. With honoring your parents or following Jesus or anything else God demands of you, you can find it inside yourself or its something you can attempt. With the Gospel, it is only something you can find outside of you and being done to you.

Thus, holy Scripture presents baptism as the water combined with the Word of God. In fact, God stakes His very honor, power and might upon this sacrament to do what He says it does. This is found also in the Word as Jesus commands and promises, “Go into all the world, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

The command is plain. The promise is plain. Do not doubt that baptism is God’s own creation; that, even though it is performed by men’s hands, it is God’s own act of washing you.

“Therefore we always teach that the Sacraments and all external things which God ordains and institutes should not be regarded according to the coarse, external mask (as we regard the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed. 

For we also speak of parents and the civil government in the same way. If we propose to regard them in as far as they have noses, eyes, skin, and hair, flesh and bones, they look like Turks and heathen, and some one might come and say: Why should I think more of this person than of others? But because the commandment is added: Honor thy father and thy mother, I behold a different man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment (I say) is the chain of gold about his neck, yes, the crown upon his head, which shows me how and why I should honor this particular flesh and blood.

Thus, and much more even, you must honor Baptism and esteem it glorious on account of the Word, since He Himself has honored it both by words and deeds; moreover, confirmed it with miracles from heaven.