Midweek Sermon 3
Lenten Sermons by Daniel M. Deutschlander
Read Pastor Deutschlander's book, The Theology of the Cross.
Behold the Hidden Glory of the Cross!
It Is Hidden in the Savior's Rejection by His Own
Text: Matthew 26:57-68
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days." Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" "He is worthy of death," they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, "Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?"
Whenever and wherever Jesus and his cross appear, we should expect hostility, hatred, opposition, and persecution, not outward glory. The glory of Christ is hidden under the cross of rejection. That's what he promised. That is obviously a truism in Lent. For Jesus carries the cross and dies because of just such hatred and opposition. What is surprising, however, in our reading for tonight and, yes, in the whole history of the church, is the source of that hostility and rejection. Who is most hostile, most vicious, most filled with hatred toward Jesus and his cross? Exactly those who should be the first to welcome him, to believe in him, to love and trust and worship him!
That's who we see in our reading this evening. Jesus was arrested and taken before the high priest. The high priest was to be the man closest to God in the whole world. He brought the blood of sacrifice into the Most Holy Place, God's throne on earth, on the great Day of Atonement and sprinkled it twice on the mercy seat, once for the sins of the nation and once for his own sins. That sprinkling of blood was a picture of the work of the Savior, who would shed his blood to blot out sin and guilt once and for all. The high priest knew that. He was the overseer of all the ceremonies and sacrifices in the temple, most of which, in one way or another, pictured the coming of the Savior, whose one great sacrifice would redeem the world.
If anyone should have known that Jesus was the fulfillment of all those ceremonies and sacrifices, it was the high priest. As one who knew by heart all of the promises in the Old Testament that pointed to the Savior, the high priest's behavior should have been far different from the behavior we hear about in this reading. He should have stood up in front of all the people and shouted at the top of his voice the words of John the Baptist: BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD! But just the opposite, exactly the opposite, is what we see and hear from the high priest. Totally contrary to the law, he presides over a kangaroo court in the middle of the night. He does not even act as an impartial judge. He has already made up his mind. Even before the trial begins, he declares that this Jesus must die because it would be better for him to die than for the high priest and his cohorts to lose their place and power. And now he goes so far as to arrange for and accept false witnesses who accuse Jesus of heresy and blasphemy. When they fail in their testimony, he charges Jesus to take an oath and identify himself. When Jesus declares that he is indeed the Son of God, the high priest cares nothing for all the proof of it. Instead, and completely contrary to the law, he rips his robes in rage and calls for the death sentence. It's shocking. Where is the glory that the Son of God should have from his own people, yes, from his own priests and official representatives on earth? It is nowhere to be seen. His glory is hidden in the rejection by his own.
But what of the rest of the officials, of the Jewish high court? That court consisted of the leading priests and Pharisees and scribes, all experts in the law and the promises of the Old Testament. So expert were they that they had all memorized word for word large parts of the Old Testament. What of them? If the high priest was corrupt, should we not expect an outcry from them, at least from the majority, at the very least from a few? But there is not a word of it. Not one rises to defend the law and legal process, nor is there a voice heard to defend Jesus. And again, that is not because they did not know what he had said and done. They had sent spies to watch his every move throughout the three years of his earthly ministry. They knew all about the raising of the young man of Nain and the daughter of the synagogue ruler. They knew all about the cleansing of the lepers, the giving of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. They knew all about the feeding of the thousands with a few loaves and some small fish. They had heard about the raising of Lazarus just outside of Jerusalem about a week earlier. All the evidence was there that this was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah. But they hardened their hearts against the prophecies about the Messiah that they knew by heart from the Bible. And they hardened their hearts as well to the evidence that Jesus was indeed that promised Messiah. They hardened their hearts and filled them instead with hatred that would only be stilled by Jesus' death. (Nicodemus was a member of this counsel. But it may well be that he was not called to this midnight meeting so that there would not be even his lone voice to protest.)
Jesus and his cross stir up hatred and hostility from the most surprising quarters. It was so in the first Lent. It has been so down through the ages. It is so to this day that his glory as God and Savior is hidden under the rejection by those who should know better, who should be the first to listen to his Word and follow it. The Jews continued their hatred of Jesus and his Word long after he was dead, as the book of Acts makes so tragically clear. And the rejection by most of his own people continues to this day. But it is by no means confined to them. Year after year after year, without interruption, one group after another rises up from inside the church to hate Jesus and to persecute his Word. If we had the time this evening, we could go through every century since Pentecost and would find that some of the most bitter persecutors of Jesus and his Word were those who claimed to be his followers. The Nicene Creed, which we all know by heart, was written to defend the truth that Jesus is true God and the only Savior against the Arian heretics who denied it and had taken control of the church in the fourth century. At the time of the Reformation, the persecution of the gospel and even wars against those who faithfully preached and taught it came at the insistence of Roman priests and bishops and popes.
Today in our country, to be sure, the gospel can be preached in all of its truth and purity. But that does not mean that everyone who calls himself a Christian loves the cross of Christ and its message that Jesus alone is the God-man born of the virgin and that he is the only Savior of the world. Quite the contrary, and you know it perfectly well, many churches that call themselves Christian want nothing to do with that message. For some, Jesus is no more than a great teacher of the law who shows us how to live a good life. For some, Jesus is the one who made salvation possible and nothing more; if we follow him, we can finish the work he merely began by our own good works and merits. It may come as a shock to you to know that some so-called Lutheran publishing houses and their synods print and peddle books that even deny that Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead. They publish and peddle books and magazines that openly reject most of the teachings of the Bible and, of course, the divine inspiration of the Bible itself.
We see it everywhere. Contrary to the Bible, a homosexual lifestyle is excused and defended, even made equal to marriage by churches calling themselves Christian. Abortion counseling is offered by many such churches. Many churches calling themselves Christian today go so far in their denial of Jesus that they even say that Jews and Muslims and ultimately anyone in any religion all worship the same God; they say such an outrageous thing even though those religions deny that Jesus is God and Savior. And many will argue that it doesn't matter at all what you believe, because whether there is such a thing as hell or even heaven is itself very doubtful.
Nor are any of these churches content with peddling their poison. Like the high priest and the Jewish high court, they heap scorn and ridicule on the Jesus of the Bible and on those who still proclaim the message of Christ and him crucified for the sins of the world. Such believers, they say, are narrow-minded bigots from the dark ages and the world would be better off without them. And all this in the name of religion. All this even while wearing a cross around the neck and claiming to be Christian. Isn't it shocking? Isn't it tragic?
It truly is shocking and tragic. But it is more than that. It is a warning to us. As Jesus told us in Gethsemane, "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). There is no guarantee that we will always belong to the right church. Nor is there any guarantee that our church will forever teach God's Word in all of its truth and purity. The high priest was in the right church. The heretics who attacked Jesus at the time of the Nicene Creed started out in the right church. At the time of the Reformation there was only one recognized church. But those churches all fell away. They all turned aside from the Word and ended up being numbered with those who despise the hidden glory of the cross. And yes, the Lutheran churches of Germany and the rest of Europe and many in this country as well have also, for the most part, fallen away. Watch and pray therefore. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his Word, and see to it that your church does too! For the simple fact of the matter is that all too often we too are lazy and careless about holding fast to all that God has revealed in his Word. All too often we too are inclined to take a smorgasbord approach to what God says in his Word. When the law stings, we are tempted and easily fall into the temptation to say to ourselves, "Well, it isn't really all that bad that I don't care for what God has to say about marriage or church fellowship or purity of eyes and mind or stewardship, or . . ." —well, you can fill in the blank. When we take a casual approach to his Word like that we join with those down through the ages who thought they knew better than God and who refused to take him and all of his Word seriously. Yes, and we run the horrible risk of losing all of that Word and its saving benefit.
Jesus went through rejection by his own to save us all from that dread fate. Even for us when we have joined with those in our text who should have known better he endured the shame and abuse of his passion. Oh may our hearts break with sorrow at the times that we have been casual and lazy about his Word. Oh may we fill our eyes with the vision of his rejection by his own as we repent of the times that we too have failed to follow him faithfully by clinging faithfully to his Word. And then, purged of that dread crime by his blood, may we resolve to follow yet again such a compassionate Savior who still comes to us in that Word with his grace and pardon. We do not hate false teachers or followers of false teachers in other churches. We have no desire to persecute them. But we also have no desire to invite them into our churches and homes, nor to let them stay, should they arise from our own midst. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples" (John 8:31). Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets" (Matthew 7:15). St. Paul said repeatedly—and he was echoing the words of all the prophets and, of course, of Jesus himself—that we should have nothing to do with false teachers and false teachings. Therefore watch and pray. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his Word. Out of love for those deceived by false doctrine, we reject the heresy that all teachings are basically the same and that it's only important that you at least believe something. No! That's poison! That's deadly error. We warn against it. We warn against it out of love for those poisoned by it. Some people may think that rattlesnakes will not harm them. That doesn't make a snake any less deadly. Nor is it an act of love to tell such people that as long as they don't believe the snake will hurt them, everything is well and they are safe. The loving thing is to warn against the snake and flee from it, not embrace it or hope it won't bite.
Yes, we need to watch and pray so that we are not sucked into the notion so common among those who call themselves Christians today that doctrine doesn't matter. We need to watch out that we are not seduced by such an attitude and become angry when our own church rebukes error and insists on teaching all of the truths of the Scriptures, no matter how unpopular they may be, no matter how many people may not like it. For the sad truth is that sometimes the biggest problem that a congregation or church body has is with its own members who want to soft-pedal and compromise the truth of God's Word. In their weakness, such members have turned aside from the hidden glory in favor of the glory they want to see; they want the glory of being popular or the glory of the easy path that runs away from the cross to whatever is convenient. They imagine that what we believe, teach, and confess is up to us, that it is some kind of smorgasbord or buffet menu from which we can pick and choose whatever suits our fancy at the moment.
Watch Jesus before the high priest and the Jewish council, and pray that in his Word you find and keep the whole of God's truth. Watch Jesus before the high priest and the Jewish council, and pray that you may be filled with such love for him that you willingly take up the cross and follow him. For you can be sure that just as Jesus and his faithful church have been ridiculed and persecuted when they followed the truth and carried the cross, so too will you taste that hostility that comes from faithfulness. Don't be scared off by it. Don't be surprised by it. For that is what Jesus has promised.
But he has also promised that he will not forsake you or abandon you when you cling to him and to his Word. There is glory in that rejection, since it is a rejection that we share with him and that he shares with us. He has promised, and he will never lie to you, that even in persecution you will learn more and more of his love and grace. He has assured you, and the witness of the church says that it is so. As you bear the cross after him, your knowledge of his love and grace will only deepen and increase—grace heaped upon grace, as St. Paul says. These may indeed be hard lessons to learn. People don't want to hear these lessons. But Jesus goes the way of the cross out of love for us to teach them. He goes out of love for us on the way of the cross to bring us salvation by his sacrifice for us and by the word of his sacrifice for us. Oh, to see Jesus and to see him only. Oh, to follow him up to the cross, gladly bearing it after him in love and faithfulness to him who loved us and gave himself for us. May God grant this to each of us for Jesus' sake!
Behold the Hidden Glory of the Cross!
Lenten Sermons by Daniel M. Deutschlander
Read Pastor Deutschlander's book, The Theology of the Cross.
Midweek Sermon 2
It Is Hidden in the Savior’s Sighs
Text: Luke 2:39-46
As we continue to look for the glory of Christ hidden on the cross, let us go with Jesus and His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. There we will see how seriously Jesus takes His journey to the cross, as well as the sad consequences when we fail to take seriously that journey and the cross. We read from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 22, beginning at verse 39:
39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." 41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
In Lent, we are following Jesus to the cross. Lent is special. It is filled with glory. But the glory is hidden on the cross. Those who don’t take it seriously will never see it, much less enjoy it or receive it. Tonight that glory is hidden under the Savior’s sighs. The sighs that end on the cross are the beginning and middle, the heart and core of what God has to say to us about ourselves and about Himself. Let us follow Jesus this evening to the dark Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There we see how seriously Jesus took Lent.
He bids the disciples, and us with them, to watch and pray as He prepares for the great struggle that is about to begin. May we never think that the struggle was easy for Him. Just look at Him in the garden. He throws Himself facedown on the ground. As the writer of the epistle of Hebrews tells us, He prays with loud cries and groans. He sees all that is about to take place. Even as He prays, His dear friend Judas is in the process of selling Him out for a few pieces of silver. The soldiers are on their way. Jesus sees it all. Soon comes the trial. Soon will come the spitting and beating. Soon there will be the flogging. Soon there will come the crushing weight of the cross. Then will come the nails in His hands and feet. Then a day of hanging on the cross naked, in shame, the object of ridicule and mockery. And then death. But that isn’t even half of it. Abandoned by all, comforted by none, all of the evil, all of the sin, and all of the vice of the whole world will be dumped on Him. And every bit of God's righteous rage against sin will be thrown into His face and onto His soul.
Oh, yes, Jesus took Lent seriously. What love He had for His Father! Who can begin to grasp or fathom it? For all of this He does out of love for the Father. Seeing all that He is about to endure, He cries out with groans and sighs to the Father He loves with every fiber of His being: If there is another way, Father, dear Father, . . . but Your will be done. Three times Jesus cries out. An angel even comes to comfort, or strengthen, His human nature in the face of such agony. But does the angel lessen His pain? Not at all! Rather, the angel somehow gives strength to the human nature of Christ to bear and endure still more. He prays, He cries, He groans all the more at the dread prospect of His Father's anger and the torment ahead for His innocent body and soul covered with the sin of the world. It was certainly painful enough to endure the shame and the abuse of men. It was certainly painful enough to be abandoned by those He had helped and those He loved, to be abandoned by family and friends. But to be punished and then abandoned by His Father—who can even begin to comprehend what agony that entailed? And so He cries to His Father for relief. But only the angel comes. And then the angels leaves. The torment decreed for the sins of the world will not be taken away, nor will it be lessened in the least.
And what love for us! We are there in the garden with the disciples. And what are they doing? Surely they hear Jesus’ cries. Surely they must see the blood and sweat that pours off His anguished brow. Surely they wrestle with God in prayer and smite their breasts during this great struggle taking place only an hour before the greatest struggle begins. Surely they take Lent and the cross seriously. After all, Jesus is going through all this out of love not only for His Father but out of love for them, for us.
But no! Look! The disciples are sleeping. They don't watch with Jesus. They do not join Him in prayer. They do not struggle even to stay awake. Is that not astonishing? Saint Luke tells us that they sleep because of sorrow. A child cannot sleep on Christmas Eve because of the excitement of the coming Christmas Day. But the disciples, on the night before the suffering that wins salvation, sleep!
Wonder beyond wonder that Jesus does not at that point give up disgust and say, “If that’s all you care about Lent and about what I am going through for you, then forget it! I’ll go back to the praises of the angels that I enjoyed before the world began. You disciples aren’t worth half, no, not the smallest fragment of the effort.”
Oh, how those words would sting our ears. For we know all too well the sleep of the disciples. With them we’re experts when it comes to not taking Lent seriously. We know how to say to Jesus, “Well, Lord Jesus, I know that this and that is what You want me to do, but frankly it’s just too much effort for me. Besides, I'm sure You understand. I'm sure You'll forgive me. So, Lord Jesus, just excuse me while go my own way, take a nap, a break from following after You. I certainly wouldn’t want to suffer any lack or much inconvenience under the cross. No, not suffering but glory is what I want, glory that I can touch and taste and see. I’d much rather You give me time and treasure, friends and family, work and play, all that my heart desires so that I can do with them as I please, enjoy them for myself and those I love. You know, Lord Jesus, how it is.”
Oh, yes, He knows. He saw it in the disciples in the garden. He sees it in us. And what does He say in answer? “Father, dear Father, with cries and groans and sweat like blood, I come before you and ask—ask that Your will be done. While they sleep in indifference and carelessness, I beg of You, let Me redeem them. And if this is the only way, then I obey! Just so long as their debt is paid and their ransom complete and secure.” That is glory. That is the glory of the cross hidden in the Savior’s sighs, the glory that redeems us for all eternity from death and the grave, from hell and eternal sighs of anguish and despair. Because of His great love for His Father and because of His great love for us, Lent and the cross absorb His entire being, every particle of His strength in His mind and body and soul.
Oh, may we too take Lent and the cross seriously as we follow Jesus there in the garden. And how do we do that? How do we take it seriously? Jesus told the disciples, and He tells us: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation,” into the devil’s snare and trap. Again we have to pay close attention to Jesus’ words here. He does not tell the disciples to watch and pray so that they can help Him bear the cross for the sins of the world. No, never that! He must bear the cross for our redemption entirely alone. He tells the disciples to watch and pray because of the great danger and the great struggle that lies before them. They too must bear a cross. They too must endure a great battle. And the devil is waiting for them, eager to catch them in his snare and trap. If they do not listen to the words of Jesus, they will have no armor of defense. If they do not watch, that is, fill the eyes of their hearts and souls with Him and what He is doing for them, then they will fall into the snare and trap of the devil. Without Jesus and His Word in the eyes of mind and soul, they will not cry out for help and none will come. Yes, without His Word and aid in answer to their prayers, they will suffer far more than they need to suffer in the coming hours and days.
For suffer the disciples must. The day will come when they will be despised because of Jesus. Yes, the day will come when they too will bear a cross and their glory as children of God and heirs of eternal life will be hidden in sighs of pain and groans of sorrow. For all of them will be persecuted because of Him. What groans and sighs await them even in the coming hours when they see Jesus arrested. Temptation comes. The devil attacks. And at Jesus’ arrest, they all fall and fail. They run away and hide. How loving of them! How loyal! At the first whiff of trouble, they are gone. Peter, the strongest and boldest, denies Jesus with loud oaths and curses. The rest, except for John, just disappear into the woodwork. If they had only listened. If they had only watched with Jesus and prayed as He told them to do. They still would have suffered. But they would have suffered in hope, strengthened by His Word, supported every step of the way by His answer to their prayers for strength and help through that Word. Because they didn’t listen to Him, didn't fill the eyes of heart and soul with Him, because they didn’t cry out for help, they spent those next days with nothing to drink but tears and nothing to eat but despair.
So in whose footprints will you put your feet? Jesus bids you watch and pray as you listen to His Word and follow to the cross in Lent. The disciples take their feet out of the footpath to the cross and turn aside to sleep. If you join with the disciples, then you can be sure that when your time comes to carry a cross, you will carry it with much greater sorrow than is necessary. Worse yet, you may be so filled with sorrow at the cross of God’s own sending that you cast it aside and never taste the glory hidden in sighs under the cross. You will fall and fail. You will run away and hide. You will deny Him and pursue the sin of the moment rather than suffer with Him while you wait for the glory of the resurrection.
Perhaps you already know that from bitter and painful experience. Think of the times in your life when you were tempted and you stumbled and fell. Why was that? It wasn’t the will of God that you should fall. It was because you did not listen to Him, did not watch with eyes fixed on Him and His love for you. You did not pray, or if you did, you prayed for the secondary things as though those prayers were the most important ones. There is a time to pray for secondary things, and those prayers are indeed important. They are prayers for health and a measure of wealth; they are prayers for the warmth of family and friends. But more important is the prayer that Jesus bids us pray together with the disciples in the garden. It is the prayer that we will not fall into temptation. It is the prayer that we watch with Him so that He and His grace fill our eyes and hearts and minds. It is the prayer that He would always be first and His Word most important to us It is the prayer that in the hour of temptation to abandon Him in times of persecution or to doubt His love in times of trouble—that in all such times we may cling to Him and watch with Him.
For we already know what it is like not to watch and pray. We already know what it is like to follow the example of the disciples and to fall asleep and push Jesus and His Word aside. The soul after all, is like a vacuum. If it is not filled with the sight of Jesus’ and His grace, then very soon it will be filled with something else. Yes, very soon will come the tempter into the vacuum to engulf and fill the void with doubt, with fear, with lust, with pride, and with that whole host of sins that we know so well. Think of the times in your life when you were afraid that perhaps God had finally left you, had finally gotten sick of your excuses and now was going to let you stew in your own juices for awhile. You got sick. You lost a job. A loved one died. The past had shame in it. The future held fear. But Jesus said: Watch and pray! Listen to My Word and promise. Follow Me to the cross; yes, clear your mind of everything else and consider it all as nothing so that you may join Me under the cross.
If we do that, we will indeed still suffer. But we will suffer with Jesus. We will suffer in the confidence of the resurrection and the victory that He has won for us by His cross. We will suffer without despair. We will, in summary, experience the glory hidden with Christ in sighs under the cross.
Take Lent seriously. Take His cross seriously. May the incomparable love of Jesus in Lent inspire you to follow Him up to the cross. For that is where He wants to find you and meet you and be with you: under the cross. We go to receive from Him all the grace and benefit that he so yearned to win for us. We go to drown in the flood of His mercy. We go to live for Him as He lived and died for us. Yes, we go to share in His heaven, since He has already endured hell in our place. He took it all so seriously. May we follow in His footsteps now and all the way through the portal of death and into the heaven He won for us in Lent!
Midweek Sermon 1
Behold the Hidden Glory of the Cross!
It is Hidden in the Savior's Solitude
Our Lenten journey this year begins as did the Lenten journey of Jesus and his disciples so many years ago. We hear Jesus' call to go with him up to Jerusalem and up to the cross of the first Lent in Luke 18:31-34.
31 He took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished. 32 Indeed, he will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, mistreat him, spit on him, 33 flog him, and kill him. On the third day, he will rise again.” 34 They did not understand any of these things. What he said was hidden from them, and they did not understand what was said.
In Jesus’ call to us on Ash Wednesday, He gives us a blood-curdling preview of what we are about to see in this momentous drama of Lent. It is horrible. And it is shocking. We, His creation, will mock and insult the Creator of the universe. How can that be? The one who gave us breath at birth will be beaten within an inch of His life. Is that possible? The One who is the author of every gracious gift will be cruelly tormented and then shamefully killed. That’s because Jesus’ glory is hidden–hidden fully in the cross.
This evening, Jesus will take us aside with the Twelve and say, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” We will watch as Jesus marches to the cross. And it is our greatest sorrow that we cannot help Him. We cannot help Him in all that He is about to do for us and our salvation. The Twelve could not help Him either. But that is the true glory hidden in the coming cross.
Jesus makes that clear when He tells His disciples to join Him on His final journey to the holy city. Jesus says, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” But after that one little word, “we,” the subject of the sentence changes. Jesus does not say, “We are going up, and we will suffer.” Yes, we are going up–but He will do the suffering!
Jesus, the Son of Man, will fulfill the Scriptures. The Son of Man will be mocked, insulted, spit on, flogged, and killed. All who follow Him to the cross can only watch this heroic drama as it unfolds. Jesus’ glory is that He alone is the Savior. His glory, hidden in the horrible solitude of all He suffered, is that our salvation should be through His cross and suffering alone.
Tonight, in our mind’s eye, we go up to Jerusalem. But Jesus will do the suffering. But still, don’t you want to tell Jesus, “No, Lord Jesus! That’s not the way it should be! If we cannot help you, at least let us see you go up there in triumph. Let us see you as you were on the Mount of Transfiguration. Let us see you with your robes as white as snow and your face shining like the sun. We don’t want to see you in shame and disgrace. If you must suffer, then let the suffering be hidden from view. How can we stand to see you that way: scourged with torn skin and covered in blood? Let us see you in glory and triumph.”
But if we said that to Jesus, He would turn and sharply rebuke us. He did that to Peter when he expressed similar sentiments (Matthew 16:21-23). “This is the way it must be,” Jesus would tell us. For He is going to fulfill the Scriptures–all that was foretold about him in the Old Testament. Nothing will soften the blows. Nothing will relieve the pain. No one will help him. And it all has to be done in the full brightness of day, in public, so the world can see the shame and disgrace.
But, oh, what sadness that we can’t help Jesus whom we love and adore! Yes, what a disgrace for the whole human race that no one helped Him bear the severe weight of the world’s sin. Even the angels, who served Him for a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane, are nowhere to be found. After Gethsemane, they do not appear again until Easter Sunday.
But there is more. With Jesus, there is always more. Not only do we not help Jesus in His agony–we caused it! From beginning to end, everything that Jesus said He would do on this journey He was doing in our place for us. Was Jesus despised and rejected? We should have been. Was Jesus left alone with no help in His pain and sorrow? We should be. Did Jesus suffer the torments of hell during the waning hours of His life? That was our lot.
We were born deserving eternal torment. We have turned away from Jesus and sinned every day. We deserve His suffering, even into eternity. And truth be told, we didn’t even care that our sins would bring Him to such suffering, such abuse, and such a death. How many times in a day do we turn away from Him without even thinking and refuse to go up with Him to Jerusalem?
We have better things to do. We have our minds and hearts fixed–not on Him–but our own pleasure and convenience. It is easier to watch TV than to pray. It is more convenient to love gossip or the lusts of the flesh than His cross. For family bickering, there is always time. For His Word and Sacrament, well, perhaps later. It’s now time for something other than the holy things of God.
And still it gets worse. We imagine that our wickedness is not that serious! So we yawn, and maybe are even irritated, when the pastor points this out. We vainly assume that somehow we have at least a scrap of sin-free goodness in us for which we shouldn’t suffer, for which Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer either.
We are such fools! We imagine that some goodness must exist in us that doesn’t need Jesus’ journey to the cross. That’s just another way of saying that we don’t need Jesus for every last smidgen of our salvation. That’s the greatest sin of all–and the one we are least likely to recognize! It is the sin of arrogance and pride. It is the sin of thinking that at least a little bit in us needs no forgiveness.
But in Jerusalem, Jesus suffered for everything that we are, when we didn’t love God without flaw and serve Him with all of our hearts, minds, and strength. And when was that? Every moment of our lives!
So our sorrow deepens. For we go up to Jerusalem, up to the cross with Jesus. But don’t follow too closely, as if you were going somehow to be of help to Him in His sorrow. For, again, we can do nothing to help Him. All that we have done only adds to His sorrow, pain, suffering, and death. We are the cause–even on our best of days, even in our best works–for they are never perfect. We are His curse. And so we go up there with Jesus, following Him from afar, as He carries His cross alone.
It is Jesus who must suffer and die. He must do it all, or we are doomed and damned. Just think of it! If Jesus had needed our help to earn our redemption, we would only have ruined it. For our work is, at its best, stained by sin. We are sinners. That’s why we can’t do anything that doesn’t carry the stench of sin, the smell of death, the sulfur of hell on it. Yes, we go up with Jesus. But He must do it all, or we are lost. That’s the glory hidden in the solitude of the cross, the solitude that Jesus must do it alone–or we must perish!
Nothing will deliver Jesus from the anguish that is His in the loneliness, the solitude, of His Lenten cross. Who will deliver us from ours? For as we follow Jesus up to Jerusalem in response to His call, we are as worms wriggling on the end of a hook. He has invited us to see what we did to Him. He has called us to see what we deserved. Who will deliver us from our sorrow in Lent? Jesus will! Jesus does!
As it is our greatest sorrow that we cannot help Jesus, so also is that our greatest joy! Our inability to help Him is our peace, our life, our salvation. Hear Jesus as He goes up to Jerusalem. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t curse, revile, or spit out bitter words. He does not accuse us as we deserve. He does not shame us as we might expect. No, none of that. He alone will suffer, and He will suffer alone.
And that’s exactly the way Jesus wants it to be. His march to Jerusalem is death for Him but life for us. With determination, He sets his face to do all that needs to be done to fulfill the Scriptures for us. His will is iron. He will not turn away from His purpose of paying the wages of our sin. So full, so perfect, so complete is His love for us. So full, so perfect, so complete is His yearning for our salvation. He wants to do it! Not only does Jesus not need our help, He doesn’t want it! Every pore, every fiber of His being strains and stretches on the way to the cross to earn our salvation. Without our help, He made us. Without our help, He also saves us.
So this evening we follow Jesus to Jerusalem. We follow Him during Lent, but not too closely as if we would help Him. We go up with Him and follow to the cross. Sorrow fills us for our sin that caused it all. But joy beyond all sorrow also fills us, for Jesus did it all and He did it alone! We watch awhile and see how strong His love is for us, how perfect His solitude was for us, how complete His atoning sacrifice was for us.
That is the glory hidden on the cross. It is the glory Jesus won, the glory of redeeming us by His work. We watch and keep watching throughout Lent until we hear the victory cry of Easter.
James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Detail of The Transfiguration (La transfiguration), 1886-1896. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 9 1/2 x 6 1/16 in. (24.1 x 15.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.145 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.145_PS1.jpg) https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4516
Season of Epiphany
February 23, 2020
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Jesus Stand Alone Because He Stands in the Way of Death for You
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who did Moses think was the greatest person on the Mount of Transfiguration? Who did Elijah think was the greatest person on the Mount of Transfiguration? Who did Peter think it was?
Moses knew it was Jesus. Elijah, too. But Peter was thinking, “This is cool. This is awesome. Moses and Elijah are here!”
He didn’t know what to say, but he spoke. And his hot take wasn’t to ask more about this departure about which these heavenly men were speaking. No, he wants to build shelters for all three of them, as though all three—Moses, Jesus, Elijah—were important and equal pieces of God’s salvation. Important, of course. Equal, no way.
Jesus stands out. He stands alone. And He stands out because of His love and devotion to His Father’s will. His Father’s will is clear. Paul explains what God wants:
[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
— 1 Timothy 2:4-6 --
Jesus stand alone because He is the mediator, the middle man, who takes two opposites and brings them together. The two opposites are you and God.
You are bad; He is good.
Your life isn’t going well; He is life.
Jesus is the middle man who stands in the way of death for you. He does this by departing. In Luke 9 we hear this:
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. While he was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothing became dazzling white. Just then, two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with Him! They appeared in glory and were talking about His departure, which He was going to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem.
— Luke 9:28b-31 --
They were talking about His departure, which is a translation of the word exodus. Exodus should take you back to Egypt and the Hebrew slaves and how Jesus sent Moses to deliver them from evil and into the promised land.
Egypt is this world; it is your so-called life. Physically your slavery to sin is much less demanding than making bricks with straw and building obelisks for Pharaohs, but spiritually this world is killing you. It tells you to get excited about all the wrong stuff and to despise simple good things, like boredom. A working definition of boredom is not having anything to do. That’s what you told mom anyway: “There’s nothing to do!”
It’s evidence of this deadly world than when you are bored, you hardly ever stop and think about anything. Certainly not Jesus’ departure, His exodus. In contrast what do heavenly people think about all the time and talk about all the time? Moses and Elijah just wanted to talk about one thing: Jesus’ exodus. That’s it.
So think about this the next time you are bored or you lose your phone or you can’t sleep and you too tired to reach over for your phone.
The exodus of Moses was bloody. A lot of people died. A lot of firstborn people and animals died. Read Exodus 12. And after all that about two million people escaped the slavery of Egypt. A triumph for the Lord and a tremendous benefit for His people.
The exodus of Jesus was bloody, too. But only one man died. And because of Jesus’ death, His exodus, the sins of billions of people were paid. Millions and millions of lives were saved by faith in His exodus, His death, His cross, His blood.
The only reason Moses and Elijah were alive on that mountain was Jesus. The only reason they are still alive and always will be is Jesus. He is the greatest person on that Mountain and He stands always as the greatest everywhere and for all time.
He stands alone, and He stands alone for you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn - Rest on the Flight into Egypt - 1647 - Oil on panel, 34 x 48 cm - National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
January 5, 2020
The Nativity of Our Lord
Second Sunday of Christmas
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We give Thee but Thine own, Whate'er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from Thee.
—Christian Worship, No. 485--
When you hear that hymn verse, what pops into your head? For me it is offering plates. Growing up this was sung every Sunday as the offering was brought to the altar, and instead of making it less special, it made a deep impression. Everything we have isn’t ours; it is a gift from the Lord.
My only problem was my scope or vision for what everything is. Money, yes. The sturdy slogan, “time, talents, treasures,” yes. But sing that song, and wouldn’t it be interesting to have your children and grandchildren flash before your mind’s eye?
When you see children, what do you see?
Children can be viewed in a couple of basic ways.
Some see children as an investment in the future. They are future consumers and producers of goods and services. So they need to know how to build microwaves and medicines and bigger screens or smaller ones to make people in the future happy.
Others see children as autonomous agents. Basically they are pre-adults. You are supposed to feed them and house them, but they should mostly make their own decisions.
These visions of children certainly swerve together and overlap. But they are both wrong. First of all, both views mean that our children and our families are way overbooked. But worst of all, both views ignore what Jesus has to say about our children.
To begin with, they aren’t “our” children. They belong to Jesus. He made them, so they are all His. But they are gifts that He joyfully gives to us. And we are to do things for them. Protect them, feed them, clothe them, even dote on them. You know, dote, just looking at them and talking to them and listening to them.
But most of all, bringing Jesus to them. Next week I’ll distribute weekly devotional ideas for your homes. Use them in homes with littles ones, use them in homes where you are the only child of God there. These formal times with Jesus will lead to the rest of your day. Hearing Jesus talk to you in the morning and the evening will lead to pondering what He says in your hearts.
This is what Joseph did. He protected Jesus and taught Him the Bible. If there ever was a dad who could have thought, “Well, pretty sure He knows this Bible stuff already,” it would have been Joseph!
But Joseph was faithful. He protected the gift of this holy Son and His blessed mother Mary by listening to the Words of God delivered by His angel and fled to Egypt. He continued to protect them his whole life long. During that fatherhood, that patriarchy, he also taught his family the Scriptures, as a faithful son of Abraham. He sang the psalms with Mary and Jesus, reading the Scriptures, as wise men do.
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God. The Lord is one! Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words that I am commanding you today are to be on your heart. Teach them diligently to your children, and speak about them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as a sign on your wrists, and they will serve as symbols on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.
—Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Evangelical Heritage Version --
May we treat our children as Joseph did, as precious souls entrusted to us from God, as souls made righteous in the blood of Jesus.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.