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John 10:11-18 - What's So Good About Our Shepherd?

John 10:11-18

What’s So Good About Our Shepherd?

4th Sunday of Easter (and Quilt Sunday)

April 26, 2015

 

What do you think of when you think of a shepherd?  We often see the nice, warm shepherd looking Jesus who cuddles the sheep.  Maybe we have the picture in our mind of Jesus with the little lamb slung over His shoulders carrying them around.  And so He does. But is this really the full picture we have here in our Gospel reading?  Is this really how Jesus is describing Himself to the Pharisees who are questioning Jesus’ teaching and His actions?  Let’s take a closer look.

When we consider Jesus’ words here and look at what He says He does, it becomes very clear.  5 times Jesus mentions that He lays down His life for His sheep.  Twice He mentions He takes it up.  And twice He mentions knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing His voice.  And once He mentions bringing in sheep from another fold.  There you have it.  A shepherd who gives up His life so that they might live.  A shepherd who is truly “good.”

CS Lewis’ quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is quite appropriate.  The children have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia and are hearing the details about Aslan, who represents Jesus, for the first time: “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..." Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

Jesus, is not safe. He is the very Son of God, the King and the Judge over the world.  He does not tolerate nor condone sin, of any kind or of any degree.  His judgement will come upon the earth and woe to those to whom it comes.  This is something that we often overlook, or downplay. Our God, our Savior, is not safe in the least.  He speaks a condemning word of the Law to each of us here today. We are sinners. We are not good. Our sin drove Jesus to the cross as surely as the sin of the High Priest, the Sadducees and all others involved with Jesus’ crucifixion.

But do not fear, for Jesus is good.  Not just in a moral sense, but in the sense that He does what a shepherd is supposed to do. He does not run away when trouble comes. He does not flee because wolves are on the prowl.  No, He cares for those who belong to Him.  He loves deeply. He is the shepherd who gives His life up, who sacrifices Himself for His sheep. His goodness is expressed in His love, as we heard about from St. John in our epistle for this morning.

This stands in stark contrast to the “shepherds” of Jesus’ day, and still today, who take from the sheep but do not give to them.  Those who try to sneak in by other means than Jesus are not good shepherds, but thieves and robbers, false prophets and teachers.  So how do you know?  How do you know that it is Jesus we are following and not someone, or something else?  How do we know who our shepherd is, and who is simply a hired hand that will turn and run at the first sign of trouble? How do we know that we are right, that Christianity is right, and everyone else is wrong? 

These sorts of questions are what St. Peter was addressing in our First Reading this morning from Acts 4.  These are questions that we all have at times, and the world bombards us with.  How can you know for sure?  The content, authority, and response to the questioning world and our doubts and concerns center among Christ who was crucified, raised, and in whom is the only source of our salvation.  Jesus is the only name by which we must be saved because He is the only Son of God who loved the world in the way of giving His life up to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil.  How do we know?  Because Jesus lives!  We believe the Bible is true and that it is God’s very Word because Christ is risen. 

It is through this wonderful news that people are called to be His sheep, part of His flock.  He calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian Church and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith and He does this through His Word.  He still speaks to His people today. He still searches out and calls His sheep, gathering them from all over the world into His flock.  Sheep know the voice of their shepherd, and our shepherd is the One who calls us out of sin and death and into His abundant life.  So that you are now “good” as well.  Because our shepherd is good and shares that goodness with His flock purely out of His grace and received only by faith in Jesus.

As sheep, we follow where our shepherd goes, even though sometimes kicking and screaming.  We are led through the valley of the shadow of death. He leads us to and from the life giving waters of Baptism.  He abides in us through His promised Holy Spirit whom He has given us.  He abides in us through His Word, and so we live and abide in Him by faith.  Jesus travels to the cross and to the resurrection.  We follow Him through a life of self-sacrifice to others. Of serving others in their time, not running away when things get hard and trouble shows up.  Loving one another as Christ has loved us, not being safe, but goodness of the Lord.  Standing with our Shepherd.  So where should we expect Him to lead us?  Ultimately, through our death and to our resurrection with Him. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John 20:19-31 "An Empty Tomb Is Not Enough"

John 20:19-31

An Empty Tomb is Not Enough

Easter 2B

April 12, 2015

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

 It was in the years following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. A Communist Party official went to a remote Russian Orthodox Church and spoke for an hour on why there is no God. At the end he asked if there were any questions. An old priest rose in the back and shuffled to the front. He stood before the people and said, "Christ is risen!" The people all responded, "He is risen, indeed!"

An empty tomb is not enough.  An empty tomb could mean that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body, or that he had only seemed to die.  Worse, it could mean the empty tomb was just a hoax, a myth, a metaphor to say that Jesus rises when the hearts of His people come alive with faith.

The disciples were worried and uncertain.  We see this most clearly in Thomas with all his doubts and unbelief.  They had all heard the reports of the empty grave, from the women, from John and Peter who saw the empty tomb.  We are not unlike them in this way, sometimes not that unlike Thomas even.  We demand proof from God.  Proof that defies our doubts, that assails our worries, that comforts our fear.  The empty tomb is not enough. What we need is Jesus, the crucified One who is risen.  And it is the risen body of Jesus that the Lord provides.

The Lord came to His disciples despite all the fear and doubts and worry and unbelief.  He stood in their midst.  The stone covering the tomb could not keep Jesus in. Locked doors in an upper room could not keep Him out.  He comes to them in His resurrected body, flesh and blood, nail holes and all.

What the eyewitness accounts provide is proof of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus shows them His scars in order to show that He really died, that He is the crucified One.  He was slain as a substitute, dying the death we deserve, so that we may receive the forgiveness He earned. But He has come through death. He is alive in His body.  Jesus, the Son of God, is still a man.  He has the scars to show it. We have an advocate with the Father, a high priest who has endured all our temptations and punishment for our sins, and has overcome them all.

Thus the corpse, the very body of Christ, that was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, has been renewed.  Jesus is alive!  We praise God for the resurrection of Jesus. As glorious as His death is, His life is more glorious.  We preach Christ crucified. And yet the Church’s proclamation remains, “He is risen.” 

Still today you can visit Jerusalem and see the grave where many believe Jesus was buried within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  But it is just an empty hole in the ground.  Jesus is not there.  We do not see Jesus in the grave, but by faith, we see Him when He comes to us in His Word and in His Sacraments.  It is no accident that the Lord’s Supper is consecrated on an altar underneath the cross.  Here you eat with God.  He gives you His body risen out of death in, with and under the bread.  Here He gives you His blood that burst from His side from the spear thrust in, with, and under the wine.  It is not a corpse you receive.  It is the living, risen, glorified body, true man and true God, which God joins to bread and wine to satisfy your soul, to forgive your sins, to grant you His life and eternal salvation, to encourage and strengthen your faith in Him.

In our lives, here in America, things are not going well for Christianity.  It may not be too long before officials stand in our churches and teach that there is no God, or that God can simply be whatever you imagine Him to be, as long as it isn’t the God of the Bible.  May God preserve us from such evil.  But even if He does not, despite our fears of what has happened and what may happen, we are not left simply with an empty tomb.  For we have Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, alive, the killer of death. The resurrected Christ still comes to His people, and may God preserve in us the faith to always believe and to confess that He is our Lord and our God, for “Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus. Amen.

*This sermon was adapted from a sermon by Pr. David Peterson, Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons, “Easter Tuesday”, which was in turn reworked from the Rev. Dr. Burnell Eckeradt, http:gottesblog.blogspot.com/2008/03/empty-tomb-is-not-enough.html.

Mark 16:1-8 "Victory Delivered"

Mark 16:1-8

Victory Delivered

The Resurrection of our Lord

April 5, 2015

 

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!  Have you ever noticed how we say those words.  Christ IS risen.  St. Mark records the angel’s words to the women at the tomb.  He has risen; He is not here.”  He has risen, and He still is risen from the dead.  He is not in the grave. He is alive now and forevermore.

The Gospel of Mark ends without telling us the rest of the story.  We know that Jesus has risen and that He is not in the grave.  We know that Jesus will meet His disciples later on, just like He told them He would, though we don’t hear of that today. Today, we are left with a little bit of a cliff hanger.  What is Jesus going to do next?  Where is He going to go? 

This isn’t just a question for history, but it’s a question for us here. Where is Jesus now?  Where do we find this one was raised, and still is raised? We confess in the Nicene Creed that after His resurrection, He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  Did Jesus come out of grave just to turn around and abandon the world?

Just like those women, fear and trembling faces us in our lives and we are left to wonder where God is in the midst of it all.  Why does He allow the suffering, the sadness, the death in this world?  Why doesn’t He do anything about it, at least for me?  A Jesus who is left in heaven is as good for us as Jesus who is left in the grave.  What I mean is this: All that Christ did on the cross, His perfect and pleasing sacrifice, does no one any good unless it is delivered. 

Today we are truly blessed by our Giver and Provider of all good things.  For all that Jesus did on the cross is delivered to you today.  You can’t go back in time 2000 years to Golgotha. So Jesus comes to us, today, here and now.  This isn’t just in some spiritual, I feel Him in my heart kind of way.  But Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, comes to us today. He delivers Himself to us through, speaking to us through His Word. He delivers Himself to us, giving us His body and blood in the Sacrament.  As surely as He opened the tomb, He opens up heaven and comes.

Jesus’ victory over the grave is not only won, but it is now delivered to us, personally, substantially, freely through God’s Word and His Sacraments.  And all this is received solely by faith in Him who was crucified, died, was buried, and three days rose again.  The gifts are given through God’s Word and Sacraments, but these means of grace require all hearts to believe in the promises of God that they are for you, given freely by our Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When receiving a gift, we know what is good, right, and salutary for us to do—give thanks!  How can we react to Easter, to receiving the benefits of the cross and the empty tomb, in any other way than with joy and thanksgiving?  Of turning first to God in such a way, then turning to our neighbor to tell Him of this great news, these great gifsts, that are being handed out freely!  Rejoicing in the risen Redeemer, we cannot help but spread the news that all men have been reconciled to the Father in the death of Jesus Christ.  No one who believes in Him shall die forever.  Jesus has risen for our justification.  He has declared us righteous and holy.  So that we now live in the freedom that Christ has given to us through our words, though our good works, through giving of our time, our talents, and our treasures for the benefits of others so that they too might receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

All who believe in Jesus Christ, the good and the bad, whether honored or despised by men, whether rich or poor, whether having it all together in life or a complete mess, all who believe in Jesus Christ receive from Him eternal life.  Since the Head has risen, the members cannot remain in death.  All will come out of the grave in their bodies.  The resurrection is not just for Jesus, but He is the firstfruits of those who will be raised.  Just as in between Good Friday and Easter we waited for the resurrection of Christ, so we wait now for the resurrection of the dead.

But we do not wait alone, for the message given to the women at the tomb has reached us.  He has risen, He is not here.  In reaching us, the resurrected Christ still comes among us.  Easter is not a surprise ending for us but the ending we know and for which we hope. What comfort that brings in our sufferings.  As Jesus lay in the grave for three days and then rose again, so the time of our afflictions are short.  The clock is ticking for our suffering to end, our graves to open, for the day of deliverance is coming soon.

And so, beloved in the Lord, do not fear the grave.  Not the empty one where Jesus once rested, nor the one into which you will one day rest.  For Christ will provide while we live, sustain when we suffer, refresh in our dying hour, keep while in the grave, and finally receive us into glory to adorn His Church with the crown of everlasting life.   Alleluia, alleluia. Jesus lives. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In the Name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John 18-19 "Forgiveness from the Cross"

John 18-19

The Way of Grace: Forgiveness from the Cross

Good Friday

April 3, 2015

In the world, forgiveness is rare. People usually have to earn forgiveness to get it. When prisoners serving jail sentences receive pardons, we hear explanations attempting to show that he has merited it either through good behavior or enough suffering. Do you want forgiveness? You have to earn it.

We might think we Christians are better at this forgiveness thing. But we too would prefer people to work their way up to being forgiven. How many times has someone sinned against us, and we are ready to forgive them, but only if they ask. And when they ask, they have to at least do so sincerely like they really mean it.  But for those who don’t, we are often passive aggressive, trying to give them hints of what they need to do to make things up. We prefer to forgive good people, those who have earned it, or at least who are well intentioned.

Today is Good Friday.  To the world this is just another Friday, the day before the weekend.  It goes by quietly for many in the world.  But for Christians, this day is one of special devotion, where we ponder again upon the suffering of Jesus that He took upon Himself out of love.  And what love it is that allowed the sinful world to get their hands on God.  God who became flesh, who lived His life among us, handed over to be crucified.  Human hands that held Divine hands against rough wood and nailed them there. 

Today is also the day where we give the Romans and the Jews a hard time for killing Jesus. How could they have done such a thing? We took part tonight in reading the passion narrative from St. John, even saying those words, “crucify Him!”  Those are hard words to say and we’d like to think that if we were there that we would have stuck up for Jesus, or at least kept our mouths shut in condemning Him to die.  But we are no better than the Romans and the Jews. While we may not have drove the nails into His hands or feet, it was our sin just the same that led Him out of His great love to die for us sinners.  We don’t deserve forgiveness any more than those who were there that day crying out for blood.  So why then is today called “Good”?

Good Friday is not “good” because of you or me. It does not require our goodness to be good for us. We are not, and never can be, good enough. Good Friday is good for us because God is good to us. Good Friday is all about the goodness and the mercy and the love of a gracious Father who has sent His Son, the only Good One, to forgive our lack of good, our evil, our sin.

Good Friday is good because Jesus is good to us. Good Friday is all about the divine Son who became our suffering Servant, the one anointed with the Holy Spirit to take upon himself our sins, the sins of an unworthy people, the sins of his enemies, to the cross. Forgiveness might be rare for us. But it is not rare for God. Forgiveness is what God does. Plain and simple: God says the word of absolution and it is done for you!

And why does God forgive us? Why does God look favorably upon us even when we mess up, when we rebel against God in our sin? The answer lies in the crucifixion itself.  For there we see what love really is.  It is not tolerating evil.  It is not condoning sin. But Jesus freely takes our “no goodness” upon Himself for our sake.  There the Son of Man is rejected, and hanging from the cross, as His death approaches, Jesus speaks His last words, “it is finished.”  But it is not a prayer for himself. Jesus is not selfish. What great love that Jesus does not think of Himself in that great moment of suffering and death, but thinks only of the needy, thinks only of sinners like you and me. What we are unable to do, Jesus does for us.  He offers up His perfect and sinless life, and takes upon Himself the punishment for our sin, the chastisement of us all.

Beloved in the Lord, let us never take this for granted.  We don’t deserve this forgiveness, for we are not good of ourselves.  We are like sheep gone astray, each to his own way.  But for the sake of His Son, God looks favorably upon wandering sinners.  By His Spirit, He calls us to Himself to receive the forgiveness won by the Son of God through faith in Him and His good works for us.  So that when God looks upon a world full of evil and sin and death and the power of the devil, for all those who believe in Him, He now calls “good” for the sake of His Son.

Today is Good Friday. Today we see in Jesus’ sacrifice and prayer the love of God in Christ. On the cross, we see how good Jesus is to us. See what Jesus has done for you. See his blood shed for you! Hear His prayer given for you! Forgiveness divine. Forgiveness from the cross.

“It is finished.” And so it is. Our forgiveness, our life, our salvation was won upon the cross, earned by the life, suffering, and death of Jesus, and received by us solely through faith.  For Jesus’ sake, God the Father says to you today: “I forgive you all your sins.” You are no longer enemies but friends of Jesus, and children of God.  Today truly is good, for from the cross, the Son earns it, God declares it, and the Spirit delivers it. Amen.

*This sermon was adapted from: THE WAY OF GRACE: A Sermon Series on the Sacraments Copyright © 2011, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

Mark 14:12-26 "Something New"

Mark 14:12-26

The Way of Grace: Something New, Until All Things Are New

Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

 

Human beings like rituals. We like patterns and celebrations that we observe time and time again. They help to identify us, to reassure us, and to make sense of the world around us. Athletes have their pre-game “superstitions”—these are just rituals. Families have their seating arrangements at the dinner table, or traditions at Thanksgiving or Christmas—these are rituals. Little children love rituals—you always have to read that favorite book the same way, with the same tone of voice, every single time.

What happens when you break the pattern of a ritual? Well, you can have full-scale rebellion, that’s what can happen! There better be a good reason for it, that’s for sure. And for a while, there will be confusion and uncertainty. So, if you’re going to do something different, something new, you need to be sure you know what you’re doing.

The Passover festival was a ritual.  Jesus’ disciples probably observed it every year throughout their lives. No matter what else they were thinking, then, when Jesus asked them to prepare to celebrate the Passover, they were expected a ritual. Even though Jesus had been telling them troubling things that they did not understand about His rejection and suffering and death, this evening would be the old unchanging familiar ritual.

But no. There will be something new. In the middle of the danger, the uncertainty, the troubling prediction that one of the twelve will betray him, Jesus gives his disciples something new, a new gift that had never been given before. Something new that the disciples only understood later, but that once they did understand and believe, became a gift that would carry them into the future. This same gift comes to us every time we gather for the holy supper, to sustain and carry us into the future—until all things are made new.

Let’s put ourselves back into the events of that night long ago. We can’t know specifically what the disciples were thinking. If the disciples thought that this Passover meal was going to be normal, they were soon shaken out of that way of thinking. St. Mark writes, “And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me, one who is eating with Me.’” What a shocking thing for Jesus to say! Passover was about how God had saved Israel long ago from their enemies—their enemies the Egyptians, their enemies “out there.” But now, Jesus says that the enemy is in here, right in that upper room, among the inner circle of the twelve.

The security and peace of the old ritual gone. The enemy is among us, one of us. And it’s even worse than they realize. The enemy is within us. The old ritual, as good and as important as it was, is not enough. A new relationship is needed, a new covenant is needed. And God will have to do it because one of them will betray him, and they will all fall away. Jesus made it clear that something new was needed if there was to be forgiveness, if there was going to be a people of God, and people for God, people who are following Jesus.

So, somewhere during this familiar, old ritual, Jesus gave them an utterly unexpected gift. It’s a gift that comes because of who Jesus is—God’s Son, with absolute authority to give the gifts He wants to give. It’s a gift that comes because of what Jesus said. He said, “Take this bread, and eat it. This is my body.” Talk about something new! It’s not, “This reminds us of the bread of affliction, the bread of haste that our fathers had to eat when they left the land of Egypt.” It’s not just participating by faith in something that happened long ago. It is right now, amazing, miraculous, stunningly new. Take this bread and eat it. This is my body.

There’s more. Jesus took the cup of wine, and gave it to them, and something new happened. That very night, Jesus would be betrayed, and His betrayal would mean His blood would be poured out to forgive sins. The old sacrifices were pointing forward to this all along. Now, the Son of God’s blood would flow, to bring cleansing and forgiveness for everyone. Jesus gave them the cup and said, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Long ago, that night when he was betrayed, keeping old promises, Jesus gave a new gift that would sustain them in their life as his disciples. Jesus’ body and blood would forgive them, as they believed His words in the days and years to come. Jesus’ body and blood would bind them together as a people through faith in Him crucified and raised.  Jesus’ body and blood would strengthen and preserve them in this life until that glorious day when God will set the full heavenly feast and the whole creation will rejoice. On that day, all things will be made new, in heaven and on the earth.

This is what happened that night, so long ago. It was unexpected. It was new, a new gift from Christ, His body and blood to strengthen and forgive His disciples, to bind them together as one people. It was a new gift, until all things are made new. And all things are not yet fully made new—still there is sin and darkness and brokenness in the world and in our lives.

Since the glory and the banquet are not fully here, this gift that Jesus gave long ago—this new gift—it here also for us. It is Christ’s new gift for us, until all things are made new. This old, old story of what Christ gave His disciples—this story comes true again, right now, among us. What we do today is not just a remembering, it’s not just a symbol, it’s not an echo of what Jesus did. What Jesus gave His disciples that night, He gives also to us, and for the same reasons.

You see, we need this gift as often as we can receive it.  Every time Christians gather to believe what Jesus said about this bread and wine, Jesus gives Himself to poor miserable sinners. We believe His words that tell us that our mouths eat His body and our mouths drink His blood. Our hearts believe that this gift is to forgive us and to bind us together with each other in Him until all things are made new. We eat and drink together, as one people, even as we long for the day when all disciples will eat together at the table of the Lord. Because all things will be made new.

It was dark outside that night, long ago, and the disciples were troubled, afraid. They didn’t even recognize the new gift that Jesus was giving them. But after He rose from the dead, then they saw and believed.

It can be hard to be His disciples, also today. The same fear plagues us. It can be dark in our world, dark in our hearts. But fear not! Christ Jesus has given his body and poured out his blood to conquer your enemies both those without, and those within, to forgive your sins, and to bind you together in faith and in purpose. This old gift—is new again today. Receive it, receive Him again and again and again, until He comes to make all things new. Amen.

*This sermon was adapted from: THE WAY OF GRACE: A Sermon Series on the Sacraments Copyright © 2011, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.

Philippians 2:5-11 - Humbly Exalted

Philippians 2:5-11

Humbly Exalted

Palm Sunday

 March 29, 2015

The excitement could be felt in the air.  Everyone was talking about it.  Pilgrims from all over the world had come to town for the week that would end with the biggest celebration of the year.  The city swelled from 275,000 people to 2.75 million. 

But along with the excitement comes anxiety, especially with so many extra people.  It’s no wonder that some feared the crowds. He who controls the mob controls the city.  And so extra police were called in just in case, but there was fear that the crowds would react to this badly.  And even more, with the question that the whole city was talking about, “could He be the one?  Could He be the Christ?”

And then He comes riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, just like the Israelite kings of old.  “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel!”  The crowds met Him with joy and praise and hope, waving their palm branches and laying down their cloaks in front of Him. 

Today their song has become ours.  We welcome the Lord who comes into our presence with joy and thanksgiving and praise and hope.  And yet it’s a bittersweet day. For it also serves as the beginning of Holy Week, of focusing upon the passion and death of our Lord.  This week, this Sunday until next Sunday is what our Christian faith is all about.

Our closing hymn for today explains it really well.  The first and last verses capture Palm Sunday and Holy Week perfectly.  “Ride on, ride on in majesty, Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry! O Savior meek, pursue Thy road, with palms and scattered garments strowed.  Ride on Ride on in majesty in lowly pomp ride on to die.  Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign.” (LSB 441)

Jesus knows that His being glorified is not being received by the crowd with palm branches.  The welcome is appropriate, but neither Jesus’ disciples nor the crowds completely understand what that really means.  But they’re going to find out. But His being glorified takes place in going to cross, His glory of giving His life for us, followed by His glorious resurrection from the dead. 

And so St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks God’s Word to strengthen both our understanding and our faith.  “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with Gad a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  The cross is the entire point of Christianity, and thus of Palm Sunday, of Holy Week, and of our lives.

The way of grace leads to the cross; to the cross where Jesus died for us.  And then the way of grace flows from the cross to us through God’s Word and Sacraments. As a response, our praise and thanksgiving ascend back to God for what He has done for us. There is sadness in this day and this week, to be sure.  But there is also Easter. 

We too often don’t understand the reality of this. There’s a reason why Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services always have lower attendance than Sunday morning: we don’t always get it.  And what we understand, we don’t always like.  We hear about it over and over again, which is good. Yet, we become numb to the cross, numb to what Christ underwent for our sake, numb to the glory of the Son of God lifted upon a tree to die, and hence numb to the glory of the resurrection.

Repent.  Repent for waving your palm branches in praise today, then tomorrow forgetting what this is all about.  Repent for wanting only Easter but ignoring how Jesus got into the tomb.  For God the Father exalted His Son upon the cross and there bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name—Jesus, the Lord saves.  This salvation, this justification, the forgiveness of your sins, life, and salvation are won by Christ the crucified.

We do not, we cannot, justify ourselves, but by God through Christ who was like us in all ways, though without sin, humbled Himself to serve us by forgiving our sins upon the cross. As believers in Christ, in bowing our knees to our Lord through faith, we too are exalted with Christ. His glory is for us.  Jesus is lifted up so that all who believe in Him might be lifted up.  That we might be lifted up out of our sin. That we might be lifted up out this sinful world. That we might be lifted out from 6 ft under.

The exaltation of a Christian in this life looks like that of Jesus’ life.  Stricken, smitten, and afflicted.  Beat down by the world, our sin, and the devil.  Our Christian exaltation is most clearly seen in suffering. But again, not in our suffering, but in the suffering of Christ upon the cross.  There, He suffers for you. There is humbled for you. There He dies for you. There He is lifted up for all the world to see, the death of the Son of God.

In our life, as we look to the cross, we realize that not everything is going to be perfect.  Christ was crucified between two criminals. So we the church exist between in a sinful and fallen and rebellious world.  We often want to live our lives secluded from the all the evil of the world, attempting to protect ourselves and our families from danger.  Yet the Kingdom of God exists surrounded by enemies, and those who would distract us from the cross and the empty grave.

May God gives us the strength and courage to not look away this week but to rejoice in the Son of God who was humbly exalted to save us. The Father has glorified the name of Jesus by placing it upon us.  In the name of the Father and of the T Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10 - The High Priest

Hebrews 5:1-10

The High Priest

Lent 5B

March 22, 2015

 

In all fairness, the punishment ought to fit the crime.  And in perfect justice, atonement for sin demands a blood covering. Blood for blood.  Life for life. In the Old Testament, the animal’s blood was a substitute for the life of the person. The blood was carefully separated from the animal’s flesh, collected, and used in accordance with God’s command as a blood covering for the people’s sins.  The ones who were responsible in getting this done were the priests.

During the ordination of the Old Testament priests, the blood of sacrificial animals was sprinkled on them to cover their sin and set them apart for service before the Lord in His tabernacle (Ex 29:21). The priests collected the blood from sacrificial animals and applied it daily to the tabernacle altar.  Without this blood rite, nothing could be burned on the altar, no one could eat in God’s presence, no priest could enter the Holy Place, and no blessing could be pronounced upon the people. In this daily blood rite, the life of the animal was a substitute for the life of the people.

Also, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered the Most Holy Place and approached the ark of the covenant, the throne of grace, where God in His love dwelt with His people (Heb 9:7; see p 495).  The High Priest was chosen from the sons of Aaron, but did not take this responsibility upon himself.  His main job was simply this: to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer prayers and sacrifices for sins. The high priest had to bathe before entering the Most Holy Place to avoid certain death. He applied some of the sacrificial animal’s blood to the mercy seat. Then he retreated from God’s presence and brought the remaining blood out of the Most Holy Place and applied the most holy blood to the altar’s horns as a blood covering (atonement) for the people’s rebellion (Lv 16:1–16).[1]

You might ask, even though this is interesting, why are we hearing about it right now?  In the Old Testament, these priests and their work was simply to serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5).  All the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But you see, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, He is also a priest, and not just any priest, but THE High Priest.  Again, the High Priest’s main job was simply this: to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer prayers and sacrifices for sins. 

Just as the high priest in the Old Testament took the animal’s blood into God’s presence in the Holy of Holies and brought the most holy blood out to cleanse the altar, so Jesus offered His own blood, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and entered into the heavenly sanctuary to be with His Father. As true God and true man, Jesus lived a perfect life under the law. When it was His hour-then, and not before-He laid down His life of His own accord, as a gracious, life-giving sacrifice. The Lord provides Himself as the sacrifice. He is the scapegoat, the peace offering, the whole burnt offering, the guilt offering and the meal offering. His blood is the required blood covering for the sin of the world. And what’s more, He is the One who offers. He has done it all, and He had done it all for you. He did what we are unable to do with all our filthy good works and sinful motives.

This has incredible implications for us here and now.  Because if Jesus is the High Priest and the perfect sacrifice for sin, then you are not.  There was a mistake made sometimes in the Old Testament, one which still lives on today unfortunately.  That mistake was that the sacrifices of the people, doing the Law, in other words what we do for God, makes up for our sin.  We talk about our sacrificial service to God and others, which is all well and good.  But when we start to think that our good works earn God’s favor, that we make God smile because we are a good person, then we are in for a world of trouble. 

King David gets it after he is caught in his sin with Bathsheba. He writes in Psalm 51:16-19, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will You delight in right sacrifices…”

Our good works, our sacrifices we make for God and for others and good, right, and salutary.  But they do not earn our forgiveness. They do not make up for our sin. Rather, they flow out of a contrite heart full of faith in the Christ who freely forgives.  He acts first, and our sacrificial response is simply one of thanksgiving and praise for what He has done for us.  God does not need these works, but our neighbor does. And so we strive throughout this life to do godly service to our neighbors, but always being on guard so as not think of ourselves too highly.  The sacrifice of Christ dying on the cross is enough for the sins of the whole world. There is no need for other sacrifices, as though Jesus’ was not enough for our sins.  Jesus came to establish an everlasting covenant and atonement for our sins.

Jesus’ sacrifice is done, it is finished, as He proclaims from the cross.  But His work is not over. He continues to act on behalf of His people.  In Holy Baptism, Jesus sprinkles us externally with His most holy blood, cleansing us and pardoning our sin, setting us apart to be His holy people, to serve God has a royal priesthood of believers in our vocations.  In the Lord’s Supper, He sprinkles us internally with His most holy blood, setting us apart to serve in the heavenly sanctuary with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

The Son who represents the Father to us, presents us to the Father.  We can approach God through His Son confident not in our merits, but in the merits of Christ.

 

[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2117.

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