Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Tuesday Vespers Meditation

Jesu Juva
Text: John 12:20-26

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ glory is not like the world’s glory. Jesus will be glorified on the cross - the death considered the most unglorious of all. Glorious is to die in battle. Glorious is to go out fighting to the end, never giving up, never surrendering. Like the Spartans. Like many today who receive medals of honor.

But that is exactly what the cross of Jesus is! It is Jesus fighting to the end. It is Jesus fighting for you. It is Jesus fighting the powers of sin and hell in a battle only one can win. And when Jesus dies, it is not defeat - it is His glory. He dies to be the grain of wheat that falls into the ground, only to sprout forth and grow and bear much fruit. He is the Seed promised to Abraham; the Seed from which has grown the Holy Christian Church, giving to Abraham those descendants more numerous than the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky (Hebrews 11:12)

So the Greeks will see Jesus. Not in the private audience they were looking for. They will see Him on the cross. And that’s better. 

And it is better for us. If you’re like me, you have a great many questions you’d like to sit and ask Jesus, just like those Greeks. But it is not the answer to our questions, but the wisdom and glory of the cross, that makes the difference in our lives. For, as Jesus said, if anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be as well. And where Jesus is is on the cross and in the tomb. If you want to save your life, you must lose it.

And that happens for you in Holy Baptism. For there you are joined to Jesus’ cross and tomb, joined to Him in His death (Romans 6), that you rise with Him to a new life. A branch grafted onto the vine of Christ (John 15). Living in Him and He in you and bearing the fruits of good works, the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of love for one another.

If you do not see those fruits in your life, if you are not laying down your life for others, if you are trying to save your life yourself, repent. You can’t do it, and that’s not where your life is. Your life is in Christ. And life lived in sin forgiven, death defeated, and hell overthrown. A life where you have nothing to fear. For your Saviour has fought for you and won. Your Saviour is glorious in battle. And He lives now to give that glory to you. And glorified in and with Christ, the Father will honor you, too.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Monday Vespers Meditation

Jesu Juva
Text: John 12:1-11

Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead, and so they were hosting a banquet for Him. Before, when Jesus was at their house - the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha - Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him, while Martha served. Here, we see Mary at Jesus’ feet once again - listening, surely; but even more this time: anointing His feet with a very expensive ointment, and wiping them with her hair. This was very unusual.

And not welcomed, by some. Judas speaks up and objects, but I wonder how many there were thinking the same thing. What a waste, he says. This money should have been given to the poor. But the pious words that flow from his lips do not match the evil that is crouching at the door of his heart, desiring to rule over him (Genesis 4:7). And it will. Like Cain, he will kill his brother.

Jesus knows this, and so speaks of His burial. That’s what this ointment is for. There will be no time for a proper preparation of His body. So it is being done, in this small way, now. Does Mary realize this? Certainly not. She knows only her love for Jesus and is expressing it in this way. But like Caiaphas, who unknowingly prophesied that “it is better that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50), her deed is prophetic. In six days, Jesus will be dead and laid in a tomb.

But also in six days, another will be dead as well: Judas himself. He will not only betray and kill his brother, he will kill himself. And the money he cared so much about, both here and the 30 pieces of silver he got for handing Jesus over, will give him no consolation or help. He loved and hoped in that which could not save him.

How often do we do that too? How often do we act the Judas instead of being like Mary? Loving the things of this world yet wanting others to think us so pious and holy. Objecting to the loving deeds of others because of the sin that lurks in our hearts. Repent. Do not let the sin crouching at the door of your heart rule over you. And see in Jesus’ anointing your hope. For it is for you. He dies your death and lies in your grave, so that when death comes upon you and you are laid in the grave, you will not be alone. Instead, you will be like Lazarus - merely sleeping. Until the day your risen Jesus calls you out of your tomb, to live with Him forever, at His banquet, prepared for you - the Feast of heaven that has no end.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Congregation at Prayer

For Holy Week (April 14-19, 2014)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: Isaiah 53:5 – “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #439  “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken”
Hymns for Thursday: 445, 617, 450
Hymns for Friday Evening: 439 (1-5), 451, 447, 708 (v. 3)
Hymns for Easter Vigil: 478, 487
Hymns for Sunday: 465, 466, 633, 461, 475, 457

Readings for the Week:

Monday:  Matthew 26:1 to 27:66
The Passion according to St. Matthew.

Tuesday:  Mark 14:1 to 15:47
The Passion according to St. Mark.

Wednesday:  Luke 22:1 to 23:56
The Passion according to St. Luke.

Thursday:  John 18:1 to 19:42
The Passion according to St. John.

Friday:  Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12
How does Isaiah tell the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

Saturday:  Daniel 3:1-30
How does this story point us to the work of Jesus for us?

The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Second Petition – Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that is may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe his holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ God’s blessing upon you and all in our congregation in our meditations this Holy Week.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance, for our congregational vice president Gene Veith.
+ the Fre Evangelical - Lutheran Synod in South Africa, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our synod’s Veterans of the Cross program.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Palm / Passion Sunday Sermon

Jesu Juva

The Story”
Text: John 12:12-19 and Matthew 26-27

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

You just heard the story that all the Bible is about. This is not just part of the story, this is what it’s all about. Take this story out and the Bible is just another holy book - teaching us what to do and how to be good. But with this story, the Bible becomes a wholly different book, and everything in it gains new meaning. Everything in the Bible must be understood through the lens of this story, or not be understood at all.

Now some would object to that, saying that is to impose on the Old Testament a meaning that is not there - or at least, not yet understood. But not understood is quite different than not there. For even if the people didn’t always understand, God did. God knew what He was doing. And so even if they didn’t realize, for example, that the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness that saved them from the deadly venom of the snakes that were biting them was a picture of what Jesus would do for us on the cross - it is still true. Even if they didn’t realize that passing through the Red Sea was a picture of baptism, or the manna in the desert a picture of the Lord’s Supper, or the sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac a picture of the sacrifice of God’s Son Jesus - it is still true. God working everything toward this day, this story that we just heard. This story of the salvation of the world. 

So perhaps we should not be surprised when we hear in John that His disciples did not understand these things at first. We should not be surprised when Pontius Pilate is confused, or the people are confused. For they wondered: Can a king who doesn’t act like a king be a king? Or to phrase that in a way people today would say it: can a God who doesn’t act like God be God?

But to think that way is to judge God by the way we think; what we expect of Him, and if He doesn’t act the way we think He should, then deny Him. But to do that is to wind up with a God of your own making, which is to say, an idol. It is to have, therefore, no God at all.

For if you want to know God, you must know Him here, like this - a giving God, a dying God. This is how God wants to be known - quite different than all earthbound thoughts of power and glory and the way we think things ought to be. Here, with this story, we learn things not as we want them to be or how we think they should be, but as they are. Here we learn the seriousness of our sins - all of them, even those we think aren’t so bad; even those we think aren’t hurting anybody; even those we don’t think should be sins. Here they are. Every last one of them, on Jesus, on the cross, crushing Him, separating Him from the Father. But even more than that, we learn here just how great and deep and high and long and wide the love of God for you (Eph 3:18-19) - that He would do this for you. All this, for you. The Father, for you. The Son, for you. The Holy Spirit, for you. Giving everything, for you.

So it was as we heard at the beginning of the service, with the Palm Sunday reading. The people heard that Jesus was the Messiah, for He called Himself the Messiah, the Son of Man, and they kept waiting for Him to act like it. So they welcome Him like a king by waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna! Save us!

Jesus does not deny it - this was all true. He would be their King, their Messiah - just not the way they expected. So He begins the week on a donkey - not very regal or majestic, and He ends it on a cross and in a tomb -not very glorious or triumphant . . . by earthbound standards. But here, Jesus was doing what Jesus always did: give. Just as He gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf; just as He gave cleansing to the lepers and legs to the lame; just as He gave freedom to the possessed and forgiveness to the sinner; so now He gives His life for the life of the world. He gives His life to fulfill all these other gifts. For only through His death and resurrection will all these gifts really matter. Without that, these are all only temporary gifts, earthbound, until death and the grave claims its prey. But with Jesus’ death and resurrection, all these are pictures of the new life Jesus has come to give, by giving His own life for yours. This story giving new meaning to all stories.

And to your story as well! Though you too may not always understand, God is working in you to make this story your story; to give new meaning to your story. That you see what happens in your life not as an accidental string of meaningless and disconnected coincidences, all sound and fury in the end signifying nothing - but as the work of God for you. God working in you. Not just God giving you the stuff of this world - that’s not enough, and on the day you die won’t matter. He is working, rather, that you believe. Believe that you have a God who loves you, who died for you, and who is giving you life not just earthbound, but eternal. 

And so to know God is to know Him here: God on the cross, God for you. And to know Him here is to know yourself: a precious child of God: of the Father, who gave His Son for you; of the Son, your brother Jesus who died for you; and of the Holy Spirit, who proclaims this truth, joins you to it, and gives you the faith to believe it.

And so in the liturgy in just a moment, you will hear the call: lift up your hearts. That used to be shorter; just: hearts up! It is the call to lift up your hearts from the earthbound - from earthbound troubles, from earthbound thoughts of glory and power and the way you think things should be, and fix them on Jesus. On Jesus, who gave Himself for you on the cross, and now on Jesus who gives Himself to you in this Supper, in His Body and Blood. And though you do not understand how, you do know why: to make His death and resurrection yours, to make His life yours, in the forgiveness of your sins. For that’s what this story, that’s what the Bible, is all about: our life with God, broken by sin, restored by Jesus.

So whatever is happening in your life now - be it joy or sorrow, be it ease or challenge, be it trial or glory - view it all through the lens of this story. Then you will see it aright. Then you will see to not lust after the earthbound glory or ease or joy, nor despair in the sorrow or challenge or trial, but know that through it all, God is working, in you. To make you His own, to keep you as His own, and to bring you to His kingdom. And through the lens of this story then to trust that God knows what He’s doing. Even if it doesn’t seem that way to you, even if you don’t understand. The cross and resurrection of Jesus teaches us it is so. That so be fulfilled that for which we prayed earlier: That by His mercy we may follow the example of His great humility and patience - His great faith - and be made partakers of His resurrection (Collect of the Day). And not just in the end, but even now. Today. A new you. A new life. In Christ, our Saviour and King.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lent 5 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Great Reversal”
Text: Isaiah 61:1-11 (with Fifth Passion Reading)

The last two or three generations have seen a great persecution of the Church. In the former Soviet Union and now in Islamist countries, there was and is an effort to stamp out the Church through oppression, affliction, and harassment. Churches are seized and desecrated, or destroyed. Christians are arrested and persecuted, or killed. The Christians that remain are driven underground and into hiding with the hope that as the years go by, they will become fewer and fewer, die out, and become extinct. There is great suffering and great fear. It is not an easy time for those who remain faithful. And perhaps it is beginning to happen in our country too, where not communism or Islamism but now radical secularism is trying to silence the voice of the Church and destroy her. The signs of religious freedoms being taken away are ominous. 

But we have also seen that tyranny broken, most recently when the Soviet Union fell and Christians were allowed to be again. What joy was theirs and what praise arose as Christians came out from underground - a resurrection, if you will - and Churches were reclaimed and many heard the Gospel for the first time. What a few years before had been only a dream had become a reality.

Well that is the message of this fifth and final Servant Song of Isaiah. That the Servant of the Lord is coming to free us from a much worse captivity than all that - the captivity to sin, death, and hell. This captivity, led by satan, that is seeking to stamp out the Church and her faith, but which will not succeed. Because God promised to keep and sustain His Church, no matter how bleak things look or get. And because, as Isaiah writes, the promised Servant will come. The One who is anointed with the Spirit of the Lord for this very purpose. 

And what will happen when He does? Isaiah describes His work in a number of ways. He says the Servant will bind up the brokenhearted. Those whose hearts have been broken by the knowledge of sin, both in the world and in us, and the captivity it imposes over us, will be cared for. He will proclaim liberty to the captives. Those living under the oppression and affliction of sin will hear the good news of freedom. He will open the prison of death and the grave and set free those who are bound in them. He will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor - the year of the Lord’s Jubilee. That was the time ordained by God when all debts are canceled, all slaves are freed, and all people and lands given rest. And He will proclaim the day of vengeance of our God - the day when all that oppresses, afflicts, and harasses His own, His children, will be toppled, and all who now mourn will be comforted

So what joy the people of Isaiah’s day must have had upon hearing these words of hope! What joy then is ours, for whom these words have come true. For us who now are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, first because Jesus began to do these things in His life, but especially because the day of vengeance of our God has come, and is what we will remember next week -on that day called Good Friday. That day when the vengeance of God against the sin of the world was poured out upon the sinless Servant on the cross, who then broke and overthrew the power and tyranny of death and hell in His resurrection. That we be no longer captive, no longer oppressed, no longer harassed, but now forgiven and set free.

And to those thus set free, Isaiah continues, there will be given a beautiful headdress instead of ashes. And so the ashes of repentance and death we put on ourselves at the beginning of Lent will be replaced, in the Easter victory of our Saviour, by the crown of forgiveness and life. There will be the oil of gladness instead of mourning. The stench of our sin replaced with the sweet smelling aroma of Christ and His Spirit. And we will be given the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. That is the robe of Christ’s righteousness given in baptism, that the seed of faith, planted in baptism, grow up into an oak of righteousness, to the glory of God, the glory of His Servant, who has done such great things for us.

So just like when the smothering blanket of communism was removed, what a great reversal takes place in Christ and in His resurrection! When, Isaiah says, ancient ruins and former devastations are built up, when what was taken is restored, and instead of shame and dishonor, a double portion - the firstborn’s inheritance, the Servant’s inheritance - is given to you. That in the end, you have even more than before. That in the end, you live in the new and everlasting covenant, signed, sealed, and delivered by the blood of the Servant, the blood of Jesus Christ. 

This has all been done for you! It is finished, Jesus said from the cross, and it was. Your redemption finished, your death finished, your captivity finished. Or as we will sing at the end of the service: how Christ, the world’s redeemer, as a victim won the day (LSB #454 v. 1).

Good news for sure . . . but a danger lurks here as well. The danger that often results when captivity is overcome and freedom is given - the danger of laxity and presumption. The danger of letting our guard down and relaxing so much that we slip back into old habits, back into sin, back into captivity. And this is perhaps even more dangerous because it is so subtle. 

And so the season of Lent is to battle against this very danger. To call us to spiritual attention and spiritual awareness. To call us to struggle on - to struggle against sin, to struggle against satan, to struggle for the truth. And it is a struggle, isn’t it? For though Christ has won the victory for us, our flesh would rather be lazy, would rather ask forgiveness than resist sin, would rather take the easy way through life. And down that easy road satan is still seeking to lure you . . . to lure you away from Christ, away from your freedom, and back into his clutches, back into his captivity to sin.

So Lent calls us to battle on - but here’s the difference: to battle not in fear and uncertainty, but in hope and confidence. Knowing that, as Isaiah writes in conclusion, the Royal Wedding is coming - of Christ and His Bride, the Church. The Last Day, when the Bridegroom returns for His Bride and what is ours now by faith finally becomes a full and complete reality in resurrection and new life. That day when just as the One who is our righteousness and praise sprouted forth from the ground in resurrection, so He will cause us to come forth in resurrection as well, to live and nevermore to die. To live before Him in righteousness and purity forever. 

That is the day we are looking forward to - the Day of the Servant, when all His work is complete, all are gathered safely home, and God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lent 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Resurrection and Life, Now and Forever”
Text: John 11:17-27, 38-53 (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

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

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Both Martha and Mary spoke those words to Jesus. He hadn’t come fast enough. They had sent for Him when their brother Lazarus was still sick. For they knew Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansed lepers, and healed all kinds of other diseases and sicknesses. And they were His close friends. Surely He would come and help. Surely He would come and heal their brother. Surely He would be there for them when they really needed Him. 

But Jesus shows up over four days later. He didn’t even make it in time for the funeral. Many others had come from Jerusalem and were there to mourn with them, but so far, no Jesus. So when Martha hears that He’s close by, that He’s almost there, she goes out to meet Him and cries, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Was it faith or accusation? Sadness or anger? Or maybe it was a mixed-up jumble of all those things.

But that question isn’t just the question of Martha or Mary, but of many people today. Maybe you. It is spoken in hospital rooms, at accident sites, and in times of tragedy. Lord, if you had been here . . . Lord, why weren’t you here for us? Why weren’t you here for us when we needed you the most?

Lord, if you had been here that airliner wouldn’t have plunged into the ocean.
Lord, if you had been here that mudslide wouldn’t have buried my family.
Lord, if you had been here that shooter at Ft. Hood wouldn’t have killed my husband.
Lord, if you had been here that accident wouldn’t have happened, that fire wouldn’t have happened, that tornado wouldn’t have happened.
Lord, if you had been here . . . Lord, why weren’t you here for us? Why weren’t you here for us when we needed you the most?

Well the truth is, He was. True, Jesus was not there that day in Bethany when Lazarus was sick or when He died, and Jesus was not there when Martha and Mary wanted Him to be there, but to be here for us and to be here for us in our greatest need is why there is a Jesus at all. It is why the Son of God came down from heaven and was made man. To be here for us. To help us. To rescue us from sin and death.

Because sin is the reason why our loved ones get taken from us, and often taken from us before we’re ready. It’s not God’s fault - it’s sin’s fault. And it’s been that way from the beginning, from the very first sin, when Adam lost his son Abel way before he wanted and way before he was ready. And he knew why. It was his fault. And I wonder what regret he felt, just like we often feel regret and after the fact wonder what more we could have done, or what we could have done differently. And so for Adam: if only he hadn’t eaten that stupid fruit! Now, one son’s dead and one son’s a murderer.

And still today: sinful people do sinful things. Sinful urges surge out of us and hurt ourselves and others. Mental illnesses cause people to act in erratic and often unpredictable ways. Diseases infect and assault our bodies. Creation is groaning and writhing in the throes of sin. And these things, the results of sin, bring death. And Jesus doesn’t like it any more than you do. At the tomb of Lazarus, He wept. Those tears you cry, He cries them too.  

But while we are powerless to do anything about the sin in the world and the death that results from it, there is One who can. And He is there. And so He speaks words of comfort and hope to Martha: Your brother will rise again, He says. Death is not the end of him.

Which Martha knows. Yes Lord, she says. I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But what Martha doesn’t know (yet) is that she isn’t going to have to wait until the last day - the last day has, in a sense, in a small way, come to her! And so Jesus says to her: I AM the resurrection and the life. Or in other words, don’t look to the Last Day for your hope, look to ME for your hope. The resurrection isn’t a thing or a day, but a person. And where that person is, where Jesus is, there is resurrection and there is life. Even in a world buried under sin and death.

And so with Jesus’ coming, the end is already breaking into the here and now. The eternal is breaking into time now. Jesus is bringing the blessings of the end already to us here in time

And so it is when Jesus meets a widow in a funeral procession to bury her only son - there is resurrection and life
So it is when a man named Jairus comes to Jesus for his sick - and then dead - daughter - there is resurrection and life
So it is at the tomb of Lazarus - there is resurrection and life
So it is when lepers come, when the sick come and the dying are brought to Him, when He encounters the lame and blind and deaf and great sinners who are so outcast that they feel dead both inside and out - there is resurrection and life. Our heavenly Father sent His only Son to come in mercy and grace and love and undo what sin has done. To give hope, to give faith, to forgive, and to raise the dead.

But not just then! 
So it is today when Jesus meets a person at the font - there is resurrection and life.
So it is today when Jesus meets a sinner confessing your sin - there is resurrection and life
So it is today when Jesus preaches in Church and proclaims in the world His Word of life - there is resurrection and life.
So it is today when Jesus encounters those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and for the gifts here in His Supper, in His Body and Blood - there is resurrection and life

And what that means is that you’ve been Lazarus-ed! For just as Jesus called forth Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from death by His Word, so He has called and raised you from your sin and death by His Word. Just as dry bones are given skin and breath and life through the Word of the Lord spoken by Ezekiel, so you have breath and life through the Word of the Lord spoken by a man. That you may live and not die. For Jesus is where His Word and Sacraments are, and where Jesus is, there is resurrection and life. The life of the last day brought back in time to you here and now, that you may begin to live a new life already here and now.

And so Jesus continues His catechesis on this, saying: Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.

Now that last phrase needs a bit of explanation because lots of Christians die. In fact, all Christians die, or will die, unless Jesus comes again first, for all Christians are sinners. But what Jesus actually said there is not “shall never die” (as the translators rendered his words), but actually and quite literally He said: you will in no way, absolutely not, never die forever. Not die forever. That’s a bit different than how our translation put it. And what Jesus is telling you there is that while all Christians will die, death is not the end for them. Though you die, yet shall you live. In Christ and connected to Christ by faith, your death here will be for but a moment. It is now, because of Jesus, simply the gate to everlasting life (cf. Psalm 118). Your death, according to what Jesus says, will be just like sleep . . . and when you awaken, it will be with Him, in Paradise. 

And that’s so because the resurrection and life isn’t just who Jesus is, but what He did. Today we entered into Passiontide, with the crosses veiled and even more of the liturgy taken away from us - all signifying that our Lord was taken away from us. And that’s what this whole Lenten season is about - the death and resurrection of our Lord. But not just His death and resurrection, but His death and resurrection for you. He dies and rises and lives so that you who sin and die will also rise with Him and live. That like Lazarus, the grave not be able to hold you when Jesus calls you forth to life.

But just like Martha and Mary and Lazarus, you don’t have to wait for the Last Day for that freedom, for that life. Remember: the One who is the resurrection and the life has brought that life here to you already, to live now. For He has raised you to life in Baptism, given you His Word of life in Absolution, and fed you with the bread of life in His Supper. The Last Day breaking into your life here and now, in Jesus, that you live a new life. A life no longer locked in regret and shame, no longer filled with sin and captive to death, no longer filled with doubt and captive to fear - but a life of confidence and joy in the victory and forgiveness of Jesus. For His death is the death of your death, and His resurrection the start of your life. A Christ life, a loving life, a forgiveness life.

So what happened to Lazarus that day is a picture of what Jesus had come to do - a foreshadowing of His own resurrection. And it is a picture of what Jesus has done for you. That though you die, though the sin in this world come crashing down on you, though death rear its ugly head in all manner of ways, yet shall you live. For it is not “Lord, if you had been here . . .” The Lord, your Lord, is here for you. The Lamb who goes uncomplaining forth (LSB #438). The One who loves you with a love unknown (LSB #430). The One to whom we raise our penitential cry (LSB #419). And who is for us still today, the resurrection and the life. Here with you now, that you be with Him forever.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lent 4 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Servant Suffers For You”
Text: Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 (with Fourth Passion Reading)

Last week, we heard that God’s Servant would suffer opposition and abuse. This week, Isaiah spells it out in all its gory detail. This Servant Song, heard every year on Good Friday evening, is the best known of the Servant Songs, telling us in terms that could not be more clear, that the Lord’s Servant is a Suffering Servant.

His appearance was marred beyond human semblance, Isaiah said. Or in other words, He didn’t even look human after all that was done to Him. If His body had been dumped in a field and stumbled upon by someone, he wouldn’t know if these remains were human or animal. He was pierced. He was crushed. He was stricken, flogged ruthlessly. He was despised, rejected. Traded for a criminal named Barabbas. And then hung up on a cross between heaven and earth, belonging to neither. Rejected by men, forsaken by God. 

Unbelievable. That’s what Isaiah says. Who has believed what he has heard from us? Who could believe this

Pontius Pilate certainly couldn’t. He couldn’t figure out what was going on. He couldn’t figure out why the Jews would want Jesus dead so badly. And He couldn’t figure out why Jesus didn’t defend Himself. Or as Isaiah put it: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth

This frightens Pilate. That he couldn’t figure it out. And the silence. For when faced with crucifixion, prisoners, criminals, plead for their life; plead for anything but crucifixion, the most ruthless, painful, humiliating, excruciating death invented. But Jesus does not. And the silence is deafening.

So Pilate probes, he questions, he investigates, but he gets nothing. And so four times we heard from the lips of Pilate tonight that Jesus is not guilty. The official record of the Roman court of Pontius Pilate is - four times! - that Jesus is not guilty

And Pilate got it right. Jesus has indeed done nothing to deserve death. Not only has He broken no Roman laws, He hasn’t broken any laws. He is completely and utterly sinless. In no way does death have any claim on Him. If the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), those are wages Jesus does not owe and does not have to pay.

But pay them He does. For you.

And that’s what Isaiah speaks of in this Servant Song, even more than the suffering. He tell us the reason for it: that He does all this for you

Those griefs He bore and those sorrows He carried? Yours.
Those transgression He was pierced for and those inquities that crushed Him? Yours again.

And this, Isaiah says, is no accident. It is the Lord’s will to crush Him. It is the Lord’s will to put Him to grief. It is the Lord’s will to make His soul an offering for guilt. Your guilt.

And the result? Isaiah is clear about that too. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us . . . peace. With His wounds we are . . . healed. And He will make we - who like sheep have gone astray, and have turned - every one - to his own way - He will make many to be accounted . . . righteous. Not just let off the hook. Not just get out of jail free. But counted righteous. The official record of the court for you: not guilty. And that not a miscarriage of justice, but the justice of God. The not guilty one become guilty, and the guilty one become not guilty. The one who owes nothing pays everything, so that you who owe a debt greater than you could ever pay, now owe nothing.

That was the will of the Lord, and so the Servant’s will as well. 

But then Isaiah says something unexpected in this context: that after the Lord has crushed Him, after He has put Him to grief, after His soul is made an offering for the sin and guilt of the world . . . He shall see his offspring; He shall prolong his days. Or in other words, that is not the end of the Servant; the Servant will not stay dead. His days shall continue and be prolonged. And He will see His offspring. He will see those who become children of God because of His death and resurrection. This suffering - as horrible as it is - will end in triumph.

Isaiah will spell out that triumph a bit more next week, in the last Servant Song. But imagine how surprising these words must have sounded to the people then. We have heard these words many times and know the end of the story. But when Isaiah first spoke these words and penned these words, what hope they must have inspired; what joy they must have caused in days that were pretty bleak and dark.

But so too for you, in your bleak and dark days. Whatever you are going through, Jesus knows it. However deep the darkness, Jesus has been there. And as He entered it for you and came through it for you, so He will bring you through it with Him. And so we will sing at the close of the service tonight:

Here we have a firm foundation, Here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation, Is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded Who on Him their hope have built (LSB #451 v. 4).

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.