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I Have Overcome the World

John 16:23-33

In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    In the Gospel appointed for today, our Lord Jesus makes reference seven times to the Father.  On the secular calendar, today is the occasion in which we honor our mothers.  But there is no conflict between the two.  For not only are motherhood and fatherhood inseparably connected with each other, both are instituted and given by God.  Our Lord gave tremendous honor to motherhood by being born of woman. 1 Timothy 2 even goes so far as to say that woman is saved through childbearing; for every birth points us to the birth of Christ our Savior in the flesh.

    The early church father Cyprian said that you can’t have God as your Father without having the church as your mother.  Martin Luther said, “The Christian church is your mother, who gives birth to you and bears you through the Word of Christ.”  

    So just as every Christian has a Father in heaven, every Christian likewise has a spiritual mother, the church.  Our Lord Jesus told us that we must be born again.  And just as our earthly mothers birthed us amid water and blood and pain and joy, so too we are given new life in the Church at the baptismal font where the cleansing water and blood flows from Christ’s side–from the pain of the Lord’s suffering and from the joy of the Lord’s resurrection.  Each one of us has been given this new birth, having a Father in heaven and a spiritual mother on earth, who continues to nurture us all our lives with the words and body and blood of Jesus, with the preached Gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ.

    We need this ongoing nurture and care week by week throughout our lives because of a truth that Jesus speaks at the end of today’s Gospel.  He says quite bluntly and straightforwardly, “In the world you will have tribulation...”  In this life, our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t promise us prosperity and wealth, freedom from illness and pain, or a life untouched by physical and spiritual struggle–far from it.  Of course, there are plenty of religious hustlers out there selling that nonsense.  But what does our Lord tell us?  He speaks plainly and without figures of speech, saying: “In the world, you will have tribulation.”

    Earlier in this same chapter of John 16, Jesus tells us to expect to be ostracized for the sake of His name, and that people who try to kill us will actually think they are doing a good and moral deed.  The Greek word for tribulation here literally means “pressure” or even “constriction,” like a snake trying to squeeze its prey.  Even though most of us today are not being threatened with death, we do face real pressure to compromise our faith from “respectable” and supposedly smart people who mock Christianity, who scoff at God’s Word.  We also have time pressure: the cares and worries of this life that choke out our time and energy to pray, to attend Divine Service, to teach our children the catechism, to study God’s Word, to volunteer to serve the body of Christ. And we have the pressure of the sinful flesh: our own greed and laziness that we indulge all-too quickly.  No, instead of tickling our ears with a “prosperity gospel,” the Lord Himself soberly warns us that we will have tribulations, pressures in this world.

    Back in the early 400's AD, as the unthinkable was happening and the Roman Empire was slowly collapsing, St. Augustine wrote a book called The City of God.  In it Augustine compares the world (the City of Man) with the church (the City of God).  The world, he noted, runs by pressure and force.  And just like the City of Rome eventually was overrun by Barbarians, this fallen universe is running down and will one day perish.  By contrast, the City of God is everlasting.  The Church is eternal.  It operates based on God’s mercy and grace, as our Lord said: “the Father Himself loves you.”

    Right now, you live in both worlds, both cities.  The situation for us today is not all that different that in Augustine’s day.  We see American power and influence winding down at breathtaking speed as the culture and our institutions collapse.  In Augustine’s day, the people were stunned that their country was falling.  They wondered how God could let such a thing happen. They were frightened for themselves and their children.  But Augustine did what he was called to do: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to forgive sins, to pray for their leaders and for the coming of our Lord.  He exhorted the people to store up treasures in heaven, and not to put their trust in princes and fading earthly powers.

    For the only thing that can bring us comfort in time of tribulation is the fact that we know how the story ends.  We know that sin, Satan, and the world do not win the day.  We know that the City of God overtakes the City of Man.  For our Lord Himself said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  The Greek word that is used there is one we associate with a shoe brand, Nike, and it means to conquer.  Jesus has niked, overcome; He has conquered the world.

    So all those things that trouble you now–be it your health, your losses, your brokenness, your sinful flesh–those tribulations Jesus took into His own flesh and bones, and He crucified them at Golgotha.  Jesus knew tribulation of the worst sort, being under such pressure in the Garden of Gethsemane that He sweat blood as He prayed, even before His blood was shed.  Jesus said in the days before His death, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  Father glorify Your name.”  And the Father’s name was glorified as Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross, like the bronze serpent in the wilderness.  It is the glory of Christ to bear your troubles and sorrows to set you free.  Truly, Jesus did overcome the world by taking away the sin of the world.  He conquered death by swallowing it up in His own death and then rising on the third day in glory.  

    And all of this He did for you, so that your tribulations will only be temporary, so that they will not overwhelm you who believe.  Jesus’ victory has been given to you, the baptized, as it is written in Romans 8, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And 1 John 4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” in Christ the Conqueror.  That is how we can be of good cheer, even in the midst of tribulation.  “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32).  In Jesus we have the sure hope of the resurrection of the body and all the gifts of the world to come.  And already now we have the comfort and the assurance that all things are in the hands of the Lord who is full of goodness and loving kindness.  Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace,” the calm assurance in your hearts that all things are made right in Christ.

    And don’t forget that even tribulation itself can be God’s own instrument to work for your good.  By it He humbles you and brings you to repentance–as He did with the children of Israel, who were turned from their sinful grumbling to cry out to Him for help.  He lays you low in order to lift you up and exalt you in due time.  Prayer happens best when we are bowed down before the Lord.

    So as Christians, let us learn to live with and even expect tribulation.  Let it drive you to pray all the more fervently.  For Jesus is the one Mediator between God and men who gave His life as a ransom for you.  He invites you to pray in His name, using His credentials, as beloved children of the heavenly Father.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  Call upon the Lord in your troubles; trust in Him and cling to Him in times of trial.  For He will deliver you.  

    The Lord doesn’t promise that you will necessarily be rich in this world, but He does guarantee that you are spiritually wealthy beyond measure. The Lord doesn’t promise you that if you have enough faith, you will never suffer or struggle, but He does guarantee that you will overcome all these things by His power and grace, His might and mercy. The Lord doesn’t promise you that you will not suffer due to the burdens of your own fallen nature, but He does guarantee that the sin that lurks within you has been atoned for and will be removed from you in the fullness of time.

    Brothers and sisters of Christ, it is easy to get discouraged and feel defeated. It is easy to turn away from the faith when life in the world is hard.  But Jesus has come to bring you to the Father as beloved children.  He has come to bring you to your mother, the Church, where you are fed and nurtured and given all that you need to grow.  And Christ our Lord invites you again today to share in His victory when He says, “Take heart!  Be of good cheer!  Have confidence! Have courage!  For I have won the victory.  I have overcome the devil and the world, and in Me, you too have overcome and conquered and won the greatest victory of all.  Be at peace.”

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Larry Beane)

Sin, Righteousness, & Judgment

John 16:5-15
Easter 4

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    What is the worst possible sin that a person could commit?  What is the absolute worst thing that someone could do in God’s sight?  The first thing that pops into most of our minds is probably something that has to do with a felony.  An act of violence and hatred, or perversion and immorality–something like that would have to be the worst.  And such things would be egregious and terrible sins against God and the neighbor.  But there is something that fundamentally is even worse than that in the eyes of heaven.

    In today’s Gospel Jesus is in the midst of telling the disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  One of the things Jesus says the Spirit will do is this: “He will convict the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me.”  What is the most damnable sin there is?  Unbelief.  Not to have confidence in Christ, not to trust in His words.  There is nothing worse than that–stubborn, self-focused unbelief.  

    This is the real problem with the world and with us fallen human beings.  It’s not simply that society is immoral and rebellious and greedy and power-hungry.  Those are but symptoms of the real problem.  The root of the matter, the heart of the situation is that people don’t love God or trust in Him or have faith in His Son whom He has sent.  They don’t worship the Father and acknowledge Him as the source of every good and perfect gift.  They don’t receive Jesus as the only Savior from sin or rely on His all-atoning death on the cross.  Instead, they believe in themselves and their own thinking and wisdom.  They’re full of pride in who they are and where they’ve gotten themselves in life.  They figure that if they keep their nose clean, they can earn their way into some eternal reward by doing more good than bad.  They may be religious, but their spirituality is oriented toward self-fulfillment.  And so God ends up being just a part of their formula for achieving personal happiness.  They’ve got no real need for a Jesus who is a Savior–maybe a Jesus who is a counselor or an advice-giver so that they can make a better life for themselves, but not a Savior from sin.

    There is no greater insult and affront to God than to treat Him in that way.  Jesus didn’t take on your flesh and blood and sacrifice His life on the cross just so that He could be another guru giving you principles for living.  Jesus came to give you a whole new life–His own.  Those who love their own lives, who have justified themselves and their behavior, in their hearts reject Jesus and the life He comes to bring.  It is this sort of self-satisfied, self-justified way of life that is the greatest rebellion against God and the biggest slap in His face.

    In John 6 Jesus was asked by the people, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”  It is God’s work that you trust in Jesus.  That is the work that the Holy Spirit accomplishes in you.  And apart from that work you can do nothing good.  For it is written in Romans 14, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”  Since everything we are is by nature tainted and infected by the fall, none of us can do anything that is truly a good work apart from Christ, apart from holding to Him and His saving truth.  No matter how good a person may appear to be humanly speaking, if they are not a believer in the Christ of the Scriptures, it is all a pile of manure before God.  For it proceeds from a heart that doesn’t trust in Him.

    Only what proceeds from faith in Jesus is good; for He alone is good.  Only works that are sanctified by Christ’s blood are good works.  Which is another way of saying that it is not our works that are good, but Christ’s works are good in and through us.  He dwells in us to live in love toward God and our neighbor.

    So let us be rid of all thinking which says, “So and so is a good person; church just isn’t their thing.”  How could that be true if they are persistently ignoring the words and the sacraments of Jesus which alone create and sustain true faith?  Hebrews 11 says that without such faith it is impossible to please God.

    Let us rather be like St. Paul, who followed the law steadfastly even before His conversion, but who said that He counted all of that as sewage, “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”  

    This is the second part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Having convicted the world of sin, having brought us to repentance, He then proclaims and freely gives out the righteousness of Christ who is seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord of all.  This is the heart of what the Holy Spirit is about.  Jesus said that the Spirit will “take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  That is the Holy Spirit’s job, to point to Jesus and glorify Him, to take the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus won for you and dish them out to you.  The Holy Spirit is the delivery driver of the Trinity, who brings the blessings of the cross to you in the package of the Word and the Sacraments, that you may receive them and open them by faith.  Just as the Son of God was sent to reveal the Father, so now the Holy Spirit is sent to reveal the Son.  And in that way, He brings you back into fellowship with God, the Blessed Holy Trinity.  

    The Holy Spirit, then, is the real preacher in the Church.  He is the One who preaches the Gospel to you that you may be led into all truth.  St. Paul declares, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. . .  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”  Through the words of the Gospel, the Spirit reveals and gives to you Christ’s righteousness.  He speaks Jesus’ righteousness into your ears, so that the Father in heaven no longer sees your sin but only the perfect holiness of His Son.  

    That’s how James in today’s Epistle can call Christians “my beloved brethren.”  You are siblings of Jesus now because the Father has brought you forth by the Word of truth; you have been born from above to a new life by the Word of Christ, ministered to you by the Spirit of truth.  Through Jesus you have been put right with God.  It is written, “Having been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  

    This is what the Psalm means about singing to the Lord a new song.  It’s not talking about some sappy contemporary garbage.  It means singing about exactly what we sang in the Introit, “His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations; His right hand and His holy arm [that’s Jesus!] has gained Him the victory.”  Your righteousness does not come within but from outside of you in Jesus.

    Martin Luther once said about this Gospel.  “It is a particularly consoling message which the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, proclaimed in the world through the mouths of the apostles.  Indeed, what is more comforting than that all sins, regardless of how many and great, are canceled, forgiven, covered up, and not reckoned to our account because we believe in Christ, and that he who has such faith is declared righteous before God without any work or merit on his part, but solely through faith in Christ?  A more comforting message could not be preached to the world!”

    You must cling to that message of the Holy Spirit with all your heart.  Don’t be tempted to look at yourself and say, “There’s no way God could forgive or accept someone like me.”  Instead say, “Even though I don’t deserve it, I know that God loves and accepts me, for He is merciful and compassionate, and He has atoned for all my sins in His Son Jesus.”  Don’t look to yourself; look only to the cross.  For through that faith you are saved.

    But at the same time be prepared for the devil and the world to oppose you because you have such faith in Christ.  The world portrays those who follow Christ and take God’s Word seriously as being a bit whacko and on the fringe of society.  They say, “Who are you to suggest that only those who believe in Jesus can be saved?  What about all the other good people and religions in the world?  Don’t my efforts at moral living count?  You Christians just want to impose your thinking on everybody else.”  

    To all of this Jesus here says, “Take heart and be of good courage; you must not let the opinion and judgment of the world affect you.  For ultimately their words come from the prince of this world, the devil.  And He cannot help but condemn and persecute Christian faith and the righteousness of Christ.  Do not fear or waver, for the prince of this world is judged.  His condemnation can do you no harm, for he himself is condemned along with all those who parrot his empty words.”  It is written in John 3, “He who believes in Jesus is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  And it is also written, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”

    This is the third and final part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the defeat and the judgment of Satan, the ruler of this world.  Christ conquered him forever by His cross and resurrection.  No matter how wise or powerful the people of this world appear to be, Jesus will retain the upper hand when it comes to judging.  He alone is wise and righteous, while all others are fools.  In the end He will have the last word on the last day.

    So then, it is indeed to your advantage that Christ went away through Good Friday and Easter to the right hand of the Father.  For only in this way could righteousness have been won for you.  Only in this way is the Holy Spirit now poured out on you to rescue you from unbelief and to bring you to saving faith in Jesus.  God grant you all to know ever more fully and deeply this help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, to whom with the Father and the Son belongs all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever.  Amen.

Your Pilgrim Identity

1 Peter 2:11-20; John 16:16-22
Easter 3

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Today’s Epistle encourages you to consider a very fundamental question:  Who are you?  What is your identity?  That’s a question the world likes to ask, too, though people stray into error when they think that they can choose whatever identity they want for themselves.  Our identity is generally not our choice but something that is given to us from outside, from above.  But the way you see yourself and your identity is what will determine the way you live in this world.  So who are you?  Often, we think of ourselves in terms of where we’re from.  We’re south-siders or Wisconsinites or Americans; or we’re Germans or Finns or Poles or Swedes, and so forth.  Or perhaps we think of who we are in terms of our job or groups we identify with.  We’re workers in a certain company or profession, we’re Packers or Brewers fans, we’re veterans of the military.  There’s our family identity–I think of myself as a parent or grandparent or spouse or child.  And in today’s culture, people more and more see their political identity as the core of who they are–an environmentalist or an LGBT crusader or a conservative patriot or a libertarian or what have you.

    What is it that really defines who and what you are in this world?  Peter would suggest that the word which best describes your identity in this world is a pilgrim, a sojourner.  To be a follower of Christ is to be a traveler, a voyager.  As God’s baptized people you are on a journey to something more; you are traveling now through foreign territory to a greater destination.  Though the pilgrims of Christ are dispersed throughout the world, yet together in small bands like this one, we journey to the same goal of a new creation.

    We must never forget that this is what and who we are; this is our deeper identity.  This fallen world is not home for us, and so any identity we have connected to it is temporary.  We are strangers in a strange land.  Like the children of Israel of old, we are on a pilgrimage through this wilderness land to the promised land of God.  It is written in Philippians 3, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And Hebrews 13 says, “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

    The real temptation for us, then, is to forget our pilgrim character as Christians.  Since the journey seems so long and is often difficult, we are sometimes enticed to give up the expedition and follow the native ways of this world, to adopt their thinking and their lifestyles.  The lure is always there for you to see yourself in worldly terms, to think of who you are not in terms of Christ and eternity, but in terms of all things that make you feel at home in this world, to see yourself more as American than as Christian, to be more passionate about your favorite sports team or your favorite hobby than you are about being a baptized child of God, to desert your identity as travelers and instead become settlers, making this passing, temporary world your home rather than setting your hearts on that inheritance from God that is undefiled and does not pass away.  It is written in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

    If you feel a bit out of place in this world, that’s actually a good thing; that’s how it’s supposed to be.  Christians are not to be conformed to this culture.  It’s not our goal to fit in with this world.  St. James writes quite bluntly, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”  For instance, while our culture teaches self-indulgence and doing whatever feels right, Peter writes here, “Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”  Such things are more than just diversions from the journey, they actually turn you around and take you in the opposite direction of your destination.  They are traps and snares which try to hijack your making it to the final goal.  They take your eyes off of Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life.  Peter says, “Do not use your liberty as a cloak for vice,” as a cover up and an excuse for sin.  Abstain, stay away from any such thing.

    Now, all of this does not mean that we should stay away from the world altogether and cloister ourselves off in seclusion somewhere, though sometimes that sounds appealing.  As pilgrim Christians who are not of the world, God still has given you to live in the world and to be reflections of His light to the world.  Indeed, St. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that if you were to try to avoid contact with the ungodly entirely, you would have to leave the world.  And God’s intention for you is not yet to leave the world, but to be the salt of the earth as you travel on your way.

    Therefore Peter writes in the Epistle, “Have your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Live honorably and with integrity among the pagans and unbelievers and skeptics of this world.  Though they may put down Christians or Missouri Synod Lutherans as being closed-minded or self-righteous or speak ill of you in some other way, let your good conduct show that their accusations are slanderous and false.  Perhaps by observing your behavior, they may be drawn to respect what you believe and want to join you in this pilgrimage, so that in the end they, too, will glorify the true God for what He has done for us all in Christ.  

    That’s one of our primary reasons for wanting to do good works, to lead lives that honor God and His saving Gospel.  It’s not so that we can somehow win our way into God’s favor.  For not only is that impossible, but Christ has already won us into the Father’s favor by His good works and by His death for our sins which has reconciled us to God.  No, we do good works, rather, as it is written in Titus, “to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”  The Gospel of Christ is the most precious jewel we could possess.  And we want our lives to be a setting for that jewel which ornaments and glorifies it, which draws others to the Gospel rather than dragging it through the mud and giving others the occasion to call Christians hypocrites.  Out of love for Christ we seek to live honorably and with love toward our neighbor so that others might also know the love of Christ and honor Him.

    One of the ways we adorn the doctrine of God our Savior is by submitting to the laws of the land.  Even though as citizens of heaven we are like foreigners in foreign territory here, yet we honor governmental authority, just as we would honor the authorities if we were traveling through another country.  Peter writes, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”  Even though civil authority is temporary and of this world, yet the Scriptures teach that it is established by God.  Those in authority are put there by the Lord to punish what is wrong and promote what is right.  And that is good and necessary, even if the ruler is not a Christian–better a competent pagan than an incompetent Christian.  As long we are not caused to sin by the authorities and their laws, we are bound to obey them as God’s representatives.  This honors God and, Peter says, it puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men who would want to assign evil motives to Christians in this world.

    The other way to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior mentioned in today’s Epistle is to be a good and faithful worker, to be a diligent and honest employee.  And the situation that Peter addresses here serves to emphasize that point.  For he speaks not simply to employees but to servants.  It is written, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all reverence, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.”  Now, if that applies in a master/servant relationship, which we certainly would not describe as being the best situation, how much more does it apply to an employer/employee relationship.  It is written elsewhere, “Servants, whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”  Of course, that’s also a reminder to employers to act not selfishly but as agents of God.  But still, to honor the one in authority, in government or in the workplace or or in the church or in the home, is to honor the Lord who has established the authorities.  

    That’s how the Epistle can state that it is commendable to suffer wrongly, if you endure grief because of conscience toward God.  If a Christian endures in doing good as a citizen under an unjust ruler or as a worker under a tyrannical boss, that is praiseworthy in God’s sight, because that is the way of faith.  Such a person is seeing and honoring the God who instituted earthly authorities, even if the authorities themselves are dishonoring their God-given offices.  And, such a person is doing as our heavenly Father does, who gives daily bread even to the evil.  Now, Peter says, if you suffer by your own fault–if you break the law or are a lazy worker and have to suffer the consequences–that is of no credit to you.  But St. Peter concludes, “When you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.”

    It is indeed commendable, but it can also be quite difficult for us.  We grow weary of it and say, “How long, O Lord?”  Jesus answers that question in today’s Gospel when He says, “A little while.”  “A little while, and you will not see Me; and again, a little while, and you will see Me.”  “I am about to go the cross to suffer your sins to death in My body and win your full and free forgiveness.  And you are my pilgrim followers.  You are baptized into Me.  So don’t be surprised when those little whiles of affliction come, when you can’t seem to see Me, when life is fierce, when you are sharing in my trials, when it seems like all is lost.  Always remember, it really is only a little while that you must endure.  That pain, that disease, that heartache, that difficult situation is almost over.  Just hang on to Me.  Trust in Me to pull you through it.  It may seem like an eternity, but only three days.  Easter is coming.  “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

    This final deliverance, the resurrection of the body on the Last Day, is what you are to focus on.  It is written in Hebrews, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Trust in Jesus to carry you through.  For in fact He has already carried you through by dying and rising again.  He’s already conquered all that weighs you down.  It’s just a matter of time for that victory to be revealed.  It’s only a little while more, and then comes the forever, the unending while of dwelling in the majesty of our Lord and the perfect happiness and completeness that His presence brings.  Then comes the time, Jesus says, when “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”  

    So, fellow pilgrims, do not lose heart.  You can’t see Christ now, but you will.  And you get to behold Christ even now by faith in this place.  After the little while of this past week, you see Him again in His Supper, receiving His very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  He comes to give your hearts joy that no one can take from you.  He comes to comfort you and strengthen you to complete the journey.  For He Himself is the Way.

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

I Shall Lack Nothing

Psalm 23

In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Or as we sang earlier, “I shall lack nothing.”  That sentence is something only those who walk by faith and not by sight can say.  For we certainly don’t always see it with our eyes, do we.  Our experience sometimes is that we do want, we do lack, we do suffer need; we do feel threats.  We want for answers to our health issues.  We need friendship and companionship.  We lack time or finances or resources.  We fear dangers to our safety or to the well-being of those we love in this fallen and chaotic world.  But still we boldly say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.  I shall not want.”  Because of Him, I shall lack nothing.

This is so because Christ, our Good Shepherd, lacked everything for us. Out of His goodness He was rejected already as an infant in Bethlehem and had to flee to Egypt.  Out of His mercy He had no place to lay His head in His ministry. Out of His love He was hungry in the wilderness, attacked and arrested and abused by the authorities, thirsty upon the cross, stripped of all his clothing and His dignity.  More than anyone else, Jesus lacked and wanted and did without.  He lacked an escape route or any relief or comfort in His suffering, forsaken by all.  The jaws of the wolf that came to seize and scatter the flock laid hold of Him.  His body and soul were torn apart from each other.  He laid down His life so that we poor sheep could escape and live.

Out of that divine goodness—His want, His lack—comes your abundance. His thirsting drenches you with living water, His hunger satisfies your longing soul, His death gives you life.  That is why right now, you lack nothing—even though you may still experience want.  This is your confession of faith.  This is what you believe and know to be ultimately true, regardless of your experience. In the face of evil (which is really just the lack of good), when what you see and experience is the absence of good, yet you know that you have everything that is good because you have Christ, the Good Shepherd, and more importantly, He has you.  “I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.” 

This Psalm is a favorite to pray at funerals. How strange to the world and how wonderful before God it is to stand at the edge of the grave and say even there, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.”  “O death where is your victory?  O grave, where is your sting?” Our hearts and our eyes may sting, but not because of death’s power.  Death is defeated by our risen Lord, and one day our eyes will see it and our hearts will again rejoice.  We know and believe that victory over the grave is already a present reality in the living Jesus. 

We confess that we have no lack or want because, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also freely give us all things?  He grants us our daily bread—food, drink, clothing, a place to lay our head—but not just the realities of our bodily needs, which can suffer lack for a time. No, we have the eternal, spiritual gifts that Christ provides for us in the Church which do not fail.  We are nourished with His body and blood. We drink in His Word.  We are clothed with His holiness. That is not just poetry or a metaphor. It is a confession of reality, a reality that supersedes our sight and experience. In Christ, even in our want, we want for nothing.

Our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in the green pastures of His rich Gospel, where we find real rest and peace.  By the still waters of Holy Baptism, He who laid down His life for the sheep provides wholeness to us. He restores our souls.  Once, in those still waters, He named us as His own.  Even now, He makes those waters an abundant restoration as we return to them in repentance and faith.  They well up within us and define us.  As the baptized we belong to Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Protector and Provider who does not fail.  He has claimed us and put His name upon us.  Our souls are restored, and we are set again on the paths of righteousness.

Those paths sometimes wind through the valley of the shadow of death where we know lack and evil, and we want out.  But we must all pass through this valley. We cannot go under or over or around it.  No one gets out of the Church Militant alive.  No Christian can avoid the cross  forever, because no Christian is above his Master, the crucified One.  The sorrow may be terrible, and we should never belittle the sufferings and sorrows of others.  But thanks be to God, it is fleeting, temporary.  It doesn’t endure; it is only a shadow. 

As we walk through this valley of shadows, we can sometimes feel the darkness.  In our sheepish ways we know fear or sorrow or anger.  We feel death’s shadow even in our hearts and struggle to rejoice and trust in God.  Still, we must never forget that as terrible as it is, it really is only a shadow, fleeting and temporary.  It has no substance with which to do us any eternal harm. 

Your lives are not your own. They belong to Christ, and in Him, to one another. You do not walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. You are together in the fellowship of the Church.  So look up and you will see the pillar of cloud, Christ going before you. Look around and you will see brothers and sisters. God has given you a family, where you belong, a congregation in which to sing and journey.  You will not remain in the shadowy valley.  The Pillar Himself leads you through the valley.  Death itself has become a passage to life in Him.  The angel has rolled away the stone, and the Light of the Resurrection is straight ahead.  Keep walking.

You could not make this journey through the valley if our Lord Himself had not made the way before you.  He walked through this valley and constructed a road for you to walk.  He knows you and precisely what you’re going through.  Baptized into Him, you do not suffer as those without hope, as though the valley has no end.  You have an Advocate who very literally knows your pain.  We walk together with saints and angels, following Christ the Pillar of cloud and fire. We walk in the sure hope of passing through this valley, of coming to the City not built with hands, to the place He has prepared for us, and to our people who have gone before us. 

Already now, we know and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd. We shall not want. Our souls are restoredHis rod and His staff, His Law and His Gospel, His cross and resurrection, they comfort us.  The goodness and mercy of the Good Shepherd follows us, pursues us, hounds us if He must, so that we stay on the paths of righteousness and make it to the blessed goal of His promise.  The Good Shepherd is there as we walk.  There is no sin He has not forgiven, no accusation He has not deflected, no hair He has not counted.  He goes before us, His goodness mercy follow us, His love surrounds us.  And so we are kept safe from every attack from every direction, even the ones that come from within. 

And while our joy is not yet full, it most certainly will be. It will be!  We can already taste it.  For the table is prepared before us right in the face of our defeated enemy.  And our joy will never end.  For Jesus lives and keeps on living to all eternity.  This is our sure faith.  The Lord is our Shepherd. We shall not want. We will dwell in the House of the Lord forever. 

In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

(With thanks to David Petersen)

Thomas the Realist

John 20:19-31
Easter 1

In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

    I have to admit that I can identify with Thomas.  He’s a little bit cynical.  He’s not going to be carried along by every conspiracy theory and fairy tale hope.  I’ve heard far too many superstitious stories, sometimes involving departed loved ones, to believe everything that people tell me, as if there isn’t likely a simpler and better explanation (like wishful thinking or coincidence).  Thomas is a realist.  He calls a thing what it is, and he knows that we don’t get to contrive the meaning of something for ourselves or create our own reality.  Thomas believes that if he observes real things in the real world, he can know something about them, that there is such a thing as objective truth and objective reality above us and outside of us, regardless of what we think or feel or wish in our pain.

    In that sense, Thomas would have a definite problem with where we’re going today as a culture.  For as a society we don’t believe that things have meaning and purpose established and given by God.  Rather, we assume that we get to define the meaning of things for ourselves, even to the point of defining our own “identity.”  Meaning and truth supposedly come from within us.  And any outside meaning given to us by our Creator is to be rejected if it doesn’t feel right for us.  How else can we look at someone whose every bodily cell is male and call him a woman?  How else can we look at a clearly designed and fine-tuned universe and say that it all came to be by chance random processes?  Or look at a same-sex couple and call them married?  Or look at an unborn baby and say that ending its life is “women’s health care” or “a courageous choice?”  Or, on a more personal and uncomfortable level, how can we look at one of God’s clear commands and say to ourselves that it doesn’t really apply to us in our own particular situation?

    No, Thomas knew that you don’t get to define your own reality.  Reality has a way of imposing itself on us.  And so when it came to the events of Holy Week, “These things did Thomas count as real:/ The warmth of blood, the chill of steel,/ the grain of wood, the heft of stone,/ the last frail twitch of flesh and bone.”  Thomas needed to use his bodily senses in order to believe.  And the fact of the matter is, so do I, and so do you!  For God created our bodies as well as our souls, our reason, and all our senses.  And so, it is not necessarily a bad thing that we desire real sensory things in order to believe.  After all, Scripture says that faith comes by the sense of hearing.

    The problem with Thomas is this: Even after he heard the testimony of trusted friends who had experienced real things (that could not have been communally hallucinated), things that Jesus Himself foretold, he still did not believe.  That is where Thomas the realist goes wrong, when he says, “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will not believe.”  Now Thomas has shifted from being a realist to being a mere materialist who only counts visible, physical things as real.  He reduced everything down to the sense of sight (and touch).  Thomas had seen his Lord whipped and the cruel thorns driven into His holy head.  He had seen his blessed hands, feet, and side pierced with nails and spear.  He had seen His lifeless body taken down from the cross and placed into a tomb. The only thing that seemed real to him was that visible material reality of death.

    But Thomas really should have known better from his own experiences with Jesus.  For Thomas himself had witnessed Jesus raise the widow’s son from Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus from death.  He had seen the signs Jesus performed, confirming and fulfilling the prophecies of God’s Word.  Thomas had heard with his God-given ears and comprehended with his God-given reason.   Thomas had every reason to believe that Jesus really was risen and alive, just as He had said before His crucifixion, just as Thomas’ friends recounted to him. But still, “The vision of his skeptic mind /was keen enough to make him blind/ to any unexpected act/ too large for his small world of fact.”  In his sorrow, Thomas had become like a modern materialist.  “His reasoned certainties denied/ that one could live when one had died.”  So it is with much that passes as science today; it is a close-minded ideology, a “small world of fact,” a materialist, godless, and ultimately hopeless view of life.  

    However, our Lord is gracious and merciful. He comes to us in our fears and sorrows and weaknesses and misguided thinking to restore us and to free us from our little locked-up rooms.  Notice how both times when Jesus comes to His disciples, the first words out of His mouth are “Peace to you.”  On the first occasion without Thomas, the disciples were gathered in fear of what was going to happen to them at the hands of the authorities who had killed their Teacher.  They were feeling guilty for how they had behaved–fleeing when Jesus was arrested, even engaging in cowardly denial.  They didn’t know what to make of the women’s news of the empty tomb.  They were a sad, lost bunch.  But when the risen Lord appears to them in the flesh, His words bring them life and hope: Peace be with you.  It’s going to be OK.  I am not here to bring judgment on you, but mercy.  The blood that I shed on the cross has cleansed you of all your sin.  You are at peace with God the Father now, reconciled to Him through Me.  All is well.  Fear not.  Your future is safe with Me.  

    And that’s the message the Lord has for you this day.  We, too, are sometimes a sad, lost, and confused bunch–fearful, burdened by guilt, following wrongheaded ideas.  But Jesus has already entered our assembly today with His words of peace, saying, “I forgive you all your sins.”  For what did He say to His apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  By breathing His Holy Spirit on these men, Jesus ordained them and all those who serve in the pastoral ministry after them to stand in His stead and speak His words.  And so the forgiveness I speak to you is not mine but Jesus’ Himself; it is just as valid and certain as Jesus speaking to the disciples that first Easter evening.  “Peace be with you.  I am alive in victory over sin and Satan and the grave for you, so that you may share in my victory.  My cross has purified you of your pollutions and your errors, and my resurrection has put you right with the Father as His beloved children.  Do not be afraid but rejoice; you’re going to be alright.  In Me you have a life that cannot be corrupted or destroyed.  I forgive you.  You are Mine.”

    And then on the second occasion, a week later Thomas was there.  He had avoided the assembly of believers the week before–didn’t seem practical or necessary–and so he missed out on the good stuff when Jesus was present for them with His peace.  That’s what happens when you skip church; it may very well be the week you especially needed to be there.  That’s why we should do what the disciples surely did and invite and encourage those who are absent in our assembly to come back and receive the gifts of Christ the next week.

    Jesus comes back to the disciples the next Sunday, on the 8th day, one day beyond the seven days of this creation.  For truly with His resurrection Jesus has ushered in an eternal 8th day, a new creation freed from the curse of sin and death in this old creation.  That’s how we should think of every Sunday and every divine service, as a participation in the 8th day of Christ, where He brings the life of the new creation into this old creation by means of His words and His supper.  

    In His glorified humanity, Jesus does not need the door to be unlocked for him to enter and be present.  The omnipresent risen Lord comes into the midst of the disciples, and He says to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”  Then Thomas’ “fingers read like braille/ the markings of the spear and nail.”  By Jesus’ wounds we are healed and forgiven.  By Jesus’ wounds Thomas is brought back to faith.  He confesses the truth of who Jesus is, “My Lord and my God!”  If you think about it, Thomas’ confession of faith is just as great as Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And both are given from above.  No longer doubting, Thomas confessed Jesus to be God Himself in the flesh. And then Jesus gently says to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Thomas had everything he needed to believe, but, like we often do, he became enslaved by his desire for visible proof, and he forgot that God had also given him ears to hear the good news of His Word and believe.

    Jesus still shows us His wounds today, that our faith may be strengthened.  Our resurrected Lord invites you to behold His hands and His side in the Sacrament of the Altar so that you may share in His life.  You touch the nail marks in His hands.  For with His own hands, Christ gives you His true body, which is imprinted with the mark of the cross.  And you reach out our hand and put it into His side.  For what was it that flowed from Christ’s side but His precious blood?  Therefore, when you reach for the blessed cup of Christ and receive His life-giving blood, you are truly touching His holy side.  Do not be unbelieving but believing.  That’s why it is that the minister holds high the body and blood of Christ before Holy Communion and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”  The words and the wounds of Jesus bring you that peace, real peace with God.  By your “Amen” you are confessing right along with Thomas, “My Lord and God!”  “May we, O God, by grace believe/ and thus the risen Christ receive,/ whose raw imprinted palms reached out/ and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.”

    So by all means, use your God-given senses to be a realist, to observe and study His creation and to discern its meaning and purpose.  Use your reason and all your senses to understand and believe and receive Christ who comes to you from outside of you.  And above all, learn the lesson of Thomas and use your ears. Blessed are you who have not seen, but who use your sense of hearing to listen to His Word, the Holy Scriptures.  For His Word is Truth.  Everything that you perceive with your senses finds its meaning in the words of God.  And the words of God are all about Jesus your Redeemer.  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit

(With thanks to Jon Ellingworth for some of these ideas)

There's No Going Back

John 20:1-18
The Resurrection of our Lord

    Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

    There’s one part of the Easter narrative in the Gospel of John that doesn’t seem to fit; it doesn’t quite end how we would expect.  Mary Magdalene had gone out very early on that Sunday morning to grieve at Jesus’ tomb.  Mary was one Jesus had cast seven demons out of.  She wanted to be where his body was, to remember the teacher who had called her out of darkness, and to struggle to comprehend how it could be that the darkness had overcome him.

    When she came upon the garden tomb, she discovered that its stone covering had been rolled back.  “Grave robbers!” she thought.  Bolting in terror that they might still be lurking about, she ran and awoke two of the disciples with the alarming news:  “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb!”  Perhaps they could still pick up the trail and find where the body had been taken.

    John outran Peter to the tomb, but Peter was the first to go in.  When Mary arrived, she could see them emerging from the tomb–Peter with a look of puzzlement, John wearing a curious slight smile.  But rather than starting to search the garden, they simply walked away, saying nothing to her.  Now what?  They had abandoned Jesus when He was arrested; why should she expect them to risk their necks to track down His corpse now?  Alone and powerless, deprived even of the chance to mourn properly, angry at the useless disciples, she broke down and cried.

    Before going home she decided to take a final look into the tomb.  Through teary eyes she could hardly believe what she saw:  two angels seated where Jesus' body had been.  They asked her why she was crying, and she told them the reason, all the while wondering if she was dreaming, or if, under the stress of the moment, her mind was just playing tricks on her.

    Then in the changing light, she turned around and saw a man.  “The gardener!” she thought.  He began to ask her questions, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?” Perhaps he knew something.  In grief and hope she blurted out, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will get Him.”  But He answered, to her astonishment, only by speaking her name.  “Mary.”  Her eyes flashed with sudden recognition.  The sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice, and He calls them each by name.  She answered, now with tears of joy, “My Teacher!”  Jesus was alive!

    Now here’s the strange part.  How is this account to end?  You would expect an embrace and smiles and laughter as they walk off together–a sort of happily-ever-after finish.  Instead, Jesus says quite abruptly, “Do not cling to me.”  Even Mary, the first witness of the Risen Lord, is denied the satisfaction of being able to keep holding on to Him.  And here’s why:

    Things are not the same now.  This is not just a going back to the good old days before the horrors of Good Friday.  Easter is not a cancelling of the reality of the crucifixion, as though Jesus had just turned back time.  Jesus’ apparent snub of Mary indicates that there is no going back.  Everything has been changed.  Time has actually been turned forward.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus is bringing about something altogether better and new, for Mary and for all people.  

    Too often we have our hearts set on the good old days, when we felt better, when the world seemed to make more sense and wasn't so crazy, the days of our favorite memories and experiences.  Sometimes we’re tempted to conceive of heaven that way, too–a place where we get to engage in our favorite hobbies all the time, where we’re fishing and sharing a beer with family and friends again.  But those things, as good they might be, are just shadows of the way it will really be.  It’s not even that we’re going back to something like the Garden of Eden.  No, we’re going forward to a new creation because of Easter.  In Jesus, the old has gone, the new has come.

    So hear the message clearly: Easter is not the undoing of Good Friday; it is the victory of Good Friday.  It’s not as if the bad guys were winning when Jesus died, but now He gets the last laugh.  This is a vindication here, but the Resurrection reveals that even already on the cross, when Jesus cried out, “It is finished” and breathed His last, He had won.  The world was redeemed.  Salvation was accomplished.  Satan was routed.  Death was undone.  Today, we get to see that triumph manifested in glory and celebrate it.

    What was it that led the procession today?  The cross of Jesus.  What was it that was held high while the Easter Gospel was read?  The cross of Jesus.  What is it that is the center and focus of your attention over the altar?  The crucified body of Jesus.  What’s up with that?  Shouldn’t we leave the cross behind now?  After all, Jesus is alive!

    Fellow believers, if you remember anything from this morning, remember this: Easter is the victory of the cross, not the undoing of it.  We dare never say to ourselves, “Whew, I’m glad that we can move past all that suffering and death stuff of Lent.  What a downer!  Time for something a little more upbeat.”  Such thinking totally misses the point of Easter.  Just as the crosses now have their black veils removed, Easter unveils the meaning of the cross.  Jesus’ resurrection shows us why Good Friday really is good.  It reveals that Jesus really did pay for the sins of the world.  For the wages of sin is death, but Jesus is alive; and so the wages are paid.  Sin is no more; the gift of the cross is life forevermore!  Jesus’ resurrection means that His cross really did crush the power of the grave. Jesus really is the Son of God.  His words and promises are true.  Death and the devil have no claim over you any more.  You are forgiven; you are free. You are alive in Christ eternally.  Easter shows you that it’s all for real.

    The resurrection demonstrates to all the world that when the jaws of death laid hold of Christ, He ripped those jaws apart and broke them in pieces.  When the grave swallowed Jesus up, He was its poison pill.  When Satan bruised Jesus’ heel, Jesus in turn crushed the devil’s vile head.  Calvary was not an unfortunate setback on the way to victory; it is the victory.  The cross is our sign of triumph.

    The one who rose triumphant on Easter remains the crucified One.  That’s why it is written that we preach Christ crucified.  He reveals Himself to the twelve by showing them His wounds; His hands and side are marked by scars.  It is the Lamb who was slain who has begun His reign.  It’s not as if Jesus just hit the rewind button on Easter and went back to the time before His suffering.  No, Jesus’ suffering and death moves us forward to something altogether new and better.  It is the only way through to the new creation.

    So hear the Easter Gospel clearly: The way to heaven and to resurrection life is not by going backwards to some earlier time or through some therapeutic restoration of your youth; it’s by going forward through the cross of Jesus.  That’s the only way to get to Easter.  Only by dying with Jesus will you be raised to everlasting life.  Only by crucifying your flesh with its sinful passions and desires will you know real life and joy in Christ.  The way of Good Friday and Easter is the way of repentance and faith.

    That way was begun for you in your baptism.  “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”  In one sense you’ve already died.  The worst part of death is over for you in Jesus.  In Baptism was begun a life of drowning your old sinful nature, so that the new life of Christ might emerge and arise in you to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  Like Peter and John, we too must enter the tomb of Jesus and come out new, changed.  That is the baptismal pattern given to us: burial and resurrection, dying to ourselves, rising in Christ to love others; repenting and believing.

    Finally, our baptism will come to its fulfillment in our literal, physical dying and rising in Christ.  For it is written, “if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.”   Jesus died; and so will we.  But Jesus conquered death and rose to life immortal; and so will we in Him.  We will share in His glory with new bodies that are no longer subject to the sickness and pain and deterioration and death that we now endure.  Jesus said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”  Jesus is our head; and we who believe and are baptized are members of His body.  Where the head goes, the body will follow.  Jesus rises on Easter; you and I will surely follow on the Last Day.  In the resurrection of Christ as the crucified One, we see that our suffering too will have its end in life with God.

    That is your great comfort and joy this day.  The crucified One lives.  And He says to you, “Behold, I make all things new!”  He took your death to be His death, so that His life would be your life.  You will shine with the brightness of His righteousness in your own resurrected bodies because He passed through the valley of the shadow of death with you.  The Church is never about going back to the “good old days,” as Mary Magdalene learned, but going forward to the new day, the eternal and unending day of life with Christ in the new creation.  

    Mary could not hold on to Christ in the old way.  But in this age of the resurrection, the Church throughout the world is given to hold on to Jesus in a new way, in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Here especially, Good Friday and Easter come together as one for us.  It is the body and blood of Christ that was sacrificed on the cross that we receive.  And yet it is the living, risen body and blood of Jesus that is now given into our mouths and into our bodies, the sure guarantee of our own bodily victory over death.  The risen Jesus is among us still, giving us forgiveness and new life.

    God grant you faith to see the way Mary’s eyes were opened to see, and to seek the risen Lord here in His words and His supper each and every week–why would you want to miss it!?  Why should the church not be just as full next week?  For the day is fast approaching when your faith will be turned to literal, glorious sight, when you will behold Jesus returning in resurrected majesty and worship in His presence forever.

    Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

(With thanks to the Rev. Dr. Rick Stuckwisch for a sermon of his on how Easter is the victory of the cross, as well as a Christian Century article on Mary Magdalene and the resurrection for which I can no longer find the reference)

Four Meditations on the St. John Passion

John 18:1-27

    The contrast between Peter and Jesus couldn’t be more stark.  Peter had talked big about his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus.  He had flailed around with his sword in the garden, as if he were Jesus’ personal bodyguard.  But now he is suddenly a coward.  Now that Jesus is captured, he is fearful even of a little servant girl suggesting that he is Jesus’ disciple.  Peter is afraid of what might happen to him.  He is afraid to suffer.
    And so are we.  We’re in love with the idea of faithfulness. We look up to the martyrs of the church and believe that we too would rather die than deny Jesus.  But we deny Him in so many little ways, when we fail to speak or act, even with family and friends, because that might associate us with Jesus in a negative light.  We’re afraid of what might happen to our reputation or our income or our life if we’re stereotyped as one of “those” Christians.  We don’t want to suffer for the name of Jesus.  
    But Jesus is most willing to suffer for us.  He doesn’t hide from those who come to arrest him.  Rather, Jesus goes forth boldly to meet His captors, fully prepared to drink the cup of judgment given Him by His Father.  Jesus is not like Adam, who hid among the trees in fear.  In this garden Jesus meets his enemies head on, so that we who are the children of Adam may go free.  For this man Jesus is the great I AM, the eternal God revealed in the burning bush to Moses.  His name causes His enemies to draw back and fall to the ground.  For all who do not call on His name in faith will fall to their own destruction.
    Peter would later not deny but confess the name of Jesus boldly on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In the end Peter would die courageously for the name of Christ.  God grant us His Holy Spirit that we too may confess the name of Jesus with full confidence in Him.  Take to heart Jesus’ words, “Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

John 18:28-40

    The Jewish leaders do not want to enter Pilate’s Praetorium, especially during this time of the Passover, lest they be defiled by being in a Gentile building.  But they are already defiled within by their sinful motives and desires.  So also, we are all too often concerned about outward righteousness and appearances, when the Lord looks at the heart and desires the inward righteousness of faith.  To be undefiled is to confess your sins for what they are and to trust in Him who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  
    Jesus stands before Pilate.  Pilate received His authority from God.  And now God in the flesh humbles Himself to be placed under this authority.  The Judge of all men is being judged by a man.  Judgment should be based on truth, but the only thing Pilate can say is “What is truth?”  All fallen human beings are liars, the Psalm says.  But Jesus is Himself the truth.  He is reality.  He is the way things are, the truth of God’s mercy shown to those who have not deserved it.
    Pilate finds Jesus innocent, no fault in Him at all.  But the crowds don’t want Jesus, they want Barabbas.  The violent robber goes free that Jesus might rob us of our sin by being violently executed.  The one who took life lives; the One who gives life dies.  This is God’s good and gracious will, that Christ should die in the place of sinners.  Jesus goes to death in our place, so that we might live forever in His place, in His kingdom, which is not of this world.  Pilate’s plan to release Jesus fails.  The Passover Lamb will be sacrificed by the Father to take away the sin of the world.

John 19:1-22

    People will sometimes blame their failings on the fact that “they’re only human.”  However, the problem since the fall of Adam is not that we are human but that we are less than human.  Our sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others.  Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us.  Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, “Man is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).  
    And we don’t like anyone drawing this to our attention, either.  Better if they can be ignored or shut up.  This is the behavior of those who are less than men.  It is the behavior of the chief priests and the officers when they see Jesus.  He is a threat to their territory and domain.  And so they growl  for His crucifixion.  
    But before they can cry out their desires, Pontius Pilate speaks words that were more true than he realized.  He presents a bloodied and beaten Jesus and says, “Behold the Man!”  Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin.  Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church.  He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory.  By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.
    Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of.  Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Behold the woman’s Seed who is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a Skull, whose cross is driven like Jael’s tent peg into the skull, whose pierced feet crush Satan’s head and defeat the power of death. 
    This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.  The chief priests don’t like this inscription that Pilate placed over Jesus’ head and ask him to change it.  But the earthly authority whom God has established proclaims the truth.  “What I have written, I have written.”  Jesus truly is the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham.  He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.

John 19:23-42

    It is Friday, the sixth day of the week.  It is the day not only of man’s creation in the beginning, but now also of His redemption and re-creation.  For here is the new Adam who is put into the deep sleep of death, that the new Eve might be created from His side.  The sacramental water and blood that flow from His pierced heart are most certainly what gives the church her life.  “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
    The new Adam bears the shame and the nakedness of our sin, which the fig leaves of our rationalization and self-justification cannot hide.  Jesus is exposed and laid bare on the tree of the cross.  As the first Adam and Eve were clothed with the skins of sacrificed animals, so we who are their children are covered with the seamless garment of Christ, as it is written, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  His bloody death covers our shame and atones for our sin.  
    In the sweat of His face, Jesus cries out “I thirst!”  He who is the fountain of life is parched like the dusty ground.  His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth (Psalm 22:15).  He is given sour wine, vinegar for His thirst (Psalm 69:21).  Our Lord endures this scornful gesture that we might hunger and thirst for His righteousness and drink deeply of the Living Water that He gives and so be honored with Him in His resurrection.
    Jesus is buried in a garden, an indication of the greater Eden to come.  For in Christ paradise is restored and all creation is made new.  The work has now been completed.  “It is finished,” Jesus said.  The Sabbath is at hand.  “And God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”  “And God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good.”