Monday, April 17, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of the Resurrection of Our Lord (April 17-22, 2017)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: John 20:29b - “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #470 “O Sons and Daughters of the King”
Hymns for Sunday: 458, 470, 628, 472 (tune: 426), 490, TLH 202

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Exodus 15:1-8
What enemies has God saved you from? With what water?!

Tuesday:  Daniel 3:8-28
What fiery furnace has Jesus, the Son of God, saved you from? Did He go there for you, too? When?

Wednesday:  Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Were those who put Jesus to death condemned? Why not? What comfort does this give you?

Thursday:  Acts 5:29-42
What filled the apostles with such confidence? How is this same confidence yours as well?

Friday:  1 Peter 1:3-9
How is your inheritance described? But what do you have now? Why? What are we promised in the end?

Saturday:  John 20:19-31
The disciples (and Thomas!) received the peace of Jesus. What does that mean? How do you receive it?

The Catechism - The Commandments: The Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents or other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ our college students as they finish up their classes for the semester.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational treasurer, Carris Vondal.
+ the India Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for Lutheran for Life.
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!

The Resurrection of Our Lord Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Still Fighting? Why? He is Risen!”
Text: Matthew 28:1-10

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

Angels are not in the habit of sitting around. Whenever you hear of angels in the Scriptures, they are most often moving. Either bringing messages from God, standing at the ready to guard and protect us, or fighting the old, evil foe. Sitting around is just not in their job description.

So today, when we heard of an angel sitting, it’s significant. Sure, he is bringing a message from God. And sure, first, he acted, rolling away the stone from Jesus’ now-empty grave. But then, Matthew tells us, he sat on [that stone]. He sat on it. He stops standing, moving, fighting. He sat on it. Which is, I think, a seemingly insignificant detail filled with great significance. 

For he sits for this reason: the fighting, the battle is over. Look at the soldier guards, how strong they look now, trembling in fear and struck down like dead men. The fighting, the battle is over! The fight of the cross, the crushing wages of sin, the terror of death, and the battle against satan, is done. It’s over. There is a victor. The One who is no longer in the grave. And so the angel can rest. He sits down. Signaling with this deed the good news he is also proclaiming this day.

And his good news is this: Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay

So first off, two things. First, do not be afraid. Do not fear the Romans. Do not fear the Jews. Do not fear death and the grave. Do not fear the guilt of your sin. They have done their worst to Jesus but He has defeated them. They could not hold Him down. Yes, you saw Him die . . . but now look! He is up. He is risen. As He said. As He taught His disciples. As He said through the whole Old Testament. The prophet greater than Moses has provided an even greater exodus from the sin that has enslaved you. The Son of David has slain the even greater Goliath that has been threatening you, the one named death and hell. So do not be afraid! Instead, rejoice! 

That was the first good news of the angel. And the women did . . . sort of. They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy

Now, Matthew doesn’t tell us but the other evangelists do (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1), that the women had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus; to properly take care of the body for its burial. What had been done in haste on Friday, to get Jesus down from the cross and into the tomb before the Passover started at sundown, would now, after the Sabbath is over, be done carefully and properly. Grim work.

But that’s the second good news of the angel: there is no dead body of Jesus to anoint! The only body of Jesus there is is a living body, a body that was dead and is alive again. You see the stone, you see the guard, but a dead Jesus you do not see. You will see Him, the angel says. Alive. But no more grim work to be done here. And so the women quickly dropped their weapons and ran to tell the disciples.

Wait . . . what . . . weapons? Matthew doesn’t say anything about weapons. True enough. They had no spear or sword. But they were still fighting. The battle against death. As feeble as their efforts would be, they would do what they could with their spices and anoint the body of Jesus. So what the angel was telling them here was really: stop fighting! Or to put that in a question form: Why have you come to still fight a battle that has already been won?

And that’s why the angel tells the women to go tell the disciples - for they were still fighting too. Fighting not with sword or spear, but with locks and hiding places. Fighting their guilt, fighting their fear, fighting their despair and unbelief. They, too, needed to know that they were still fighting a battle that had already been won. That Jesus is risen! Death is defeated and sin is forgiven. Satan has been stripped of his two most powerful and, really, his only two weapons: sin and death. If we need not worry about these, then what does he have left? What can he now do to us?

But there are still more that need to hear this, this good news. The women fighting death needed to hear it and the disciples fighting guilt and despair needed to hear it - but so do we. And we, too, need to be asked: Why are we still fighting the battle that has already been won?

Yes, why are we still fighting? 

Why are we still fighting for honor, power, and position?
Why are we still fighting for the things of this world?
Why are we still fighting sin and guilt by locking it up in our hearts, hiding it, denying it, or trying to justify ourselves and what we’ve done instead of repenting?
Why are we still fighting not to serve others but to be served by them?

And why are we still afraid?
Why are we still afraid of laying down our lives for others?
Why are we still afraid of what others think of us, and so afraid of what they will say of us?
Why are we still afraid of confession? 
Why are we still afraid of death?
And afraid, we pick up our weapons and fight. 
We fight against each other. We fight against God. Why?

The good news for you today is that you need not fight anymore. Jesus has won the victory for you, a greater victory than all your fighting could achieve anyway! So rest and rejoice! In Him.

Rest and rejoice. For did you not hear what St. Paul said today? Why are you still fighting for you life here, when your life is hidden with Christ in God!?

Your life is not something you can see or measure by worldly standards. You have a new life. 

For you have been raised with Christ - that’s baptismal talk. Just as Christ is risen and His tomb empty, so you too have been raised with Him to a new life. Your tomb as temporary as His.

And so, Paul says, set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Stop fighting the same old fight for the same old life and the same old stuff. That’s not who you are anymore; that’s not where your life is. Your life is in Christ. 

And though you maybe cannot see that now . . . maybe you look just the same as others, or maybe even worse or worse off . . . and though maybe your life doesn’t look very glorious now, when Christ who is your life appears, Pauls says, then you also will appear with him in glory. Then we will see the reality. Then we will see the victory that has been ours all along.

Why are we still fighting the battle that has already been won? Jesus’ resurrection has changed everything. Sit, rest, and rejoice in your Saviour.

Rejoice. Did you know that word was in our reading today too? You probably missed it because the English used the word Greetings! But when Jesus met the women after they had left the tomb and were on their way to the disciples, that is what He said to them - not just: Hi! How ya’ doing? But rejoice! Here I am, risen from the dead! Rejoice, I am alive! It is, in fact, the same word the angel Gabriel spoke to Jesus’ mother Mary when Jesus was conceived. Rejoice! Why, then? Because God was fulfilling His promise of sending a Saviour. And rejoice why, now? Because God had fulfilled His promise of saving us. So from the newly filled womb of Mary to the newly empty tomb, we have joy in Jesus and His work for us. The One who has come to fight for us, so that we can drop our weapons, lay down our arms, and rest in Him.

And that’s what we’ll do now, in just a few moments as Jesus comes here to meet us in His Supper. We’ll not take hold of his feet as the women did, but eat His Body and drink His Blood, which is better. For in so doing, we receive His victory - His forgiveness, His life, and His salvation. For this is no dead body we receive - there is no dead body of Jesus! Only His living body, and He comes here to us to give it to us. To give all of Himself to us. That we live, and rest and rejoice in Him.

And then, we’ll do as the women did: we’ll depart with fear and great joy. Great joy that we need not fight anymore, yet still fearing not fighting in a world that knows only fighting. Still fighting the fear and guilt and despair that wells up from the sinful flesh that still clings to us. Still fearing our sabre-rattling enemy who wants us to fear how powerful he wants us to think he still is.

But the empty tomb tells a different story. The truth of what we heard today: that the Lord has triumphed gloriously! Christ has risen from the dead and all things are under his feet. And then as Peter said: that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation (Small Catechism). There is joy and peace.

So why are you still fighting? Why are you still afraid?

Let us sing praise to Him with endless joy;
Death’s fearful sting He has come to destory.
Our sin forgiving, alleluia!
Jesus is living, alleluia!  (LSB #466, refrain)

Yes, alleluia! For Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed! Alleluia!] Alleluia!

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

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Vigil Homily

Jesu Juva

“Rest in the Word”

The United States dropped the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan a couple of days ago. The noise from that blast deafening. The destruction overwhelming. But after the echoes cease and the crumbling settles, there is quiet. A complete, almost heavy, silence. 

In a little less dramatic way, the same is true after a storm. After a significant snow storm, when the earth is blanketed in white, if you go outside, there is quiet. A complete, almost heavy, silence.

It is the same silence we felt here the past two nights. On Thursday, the service was over, the altar was stripped. We stood in silence. A complete, almost heavy, silence. What just happened? What do we do next? 

Last night as well. We heard of Jesus’ passion, the lights were out - except for one. Silence. What just happened? What do we do next?

It is the silence of rest. What is usual and ordinary stops. And there is quiet. A complete, almost heavy, silence. A sabbath rest.

That is what we do tonight. Rest. But not just rest by doing nothing. Rest as God intended it. Rest in His Word. Tonight answers the questions: What just happened? What do we do next? We hear from the Old Testament what just happened, because it was foretold what would happen. The great stories of the Old Testament in reality just glimpses of the even greater story of what Jesus would do. We think about this, and then know what to do next. That will come tomorrow, as we break out in full-throated joy on Easter. But not yet. Tonight we rest.

The Church used to do that as well with those who were baptized at Easter. After such a big event in their lives, they needed time to rest and think: What just happened? What do we do next? And so the whole week after Easter, they rested in the Word of God. Everyday, hearing the stories and hearing of what had just happened to them. Their new life. Their new reality.

So we do that too. We remember our baptism and the new life given to us; the new reality in which we now live. The life of Christ crucified, the life of Christ risen, now our life. That’s a big deal, though we may not always think about it or realize it.

Because really, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the mother of all bombs has been exploded. Satan thought he was dropping it on us. The reality is that Christ was dropping it on Him. And now his kingdom is in ruins. His answer to the questions: What just happened? And: What do we do next? quite different than ours!

And that’s why we can rest. Satan’s kingdom is in ruins. Christ has won. And so our quiet is not like the devastating aftermath of a bomb blast, but more of the after-the-snowfall quiet. Or as Isaiah put it: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Tonight, Christ has covered the ugliness and filth of our sin with His perfect, white, pure forgiveness. So that we can rest, now and forever, in His love.

And so tonight we enjoy a sabbath rest as God always intended our sabbath rest to be - not just a ceasing from work, but a resting in His Word. A resting that gives us far more. 

So listen as Jesus explains to us from the Old Testament what just happened? and what do we do next? Marvel at how He has stitched all things together in Himself, as we wait - as I tell you every year - not as mourners remembering the dead, but as wise virgins awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom.

Oh, and in case you were wondering . . . about the rebuilding that takes after a bomb blast, and the shoveling that takes place after the snowfall . . . well, Jesus has taken care of that, too. His body is risen and restored to life; what was destroyed has been rebuilt. And so, too, will our bodies be, when on the Last Day He shovels all the dirt off our graves and we rise to life with Him. And that day will be a day of rest as well. Not a day of doing nothing, but true rest. An eternal sabbath rest. Resting in the Word and in His praise. Forever.


This is the night. Come and rest.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday Evening Sermon

Jesu Juva

“And the Light Increases . . .”
Text: John 18-19; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

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

An early Medieval theologian and monk named Hesychius of Alexandria wrote that when Jesus preached of not hiding a lamp under a basket but putting it on a stand for all to see (Matthew 5:15), Jesus was talking about Himself. For He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), now put up on the stand of the cross to give light to all the world. To enlighten us to the greatness of God’s love, and the greatness of His forgiveness. That He would do this, what we remember especially this night, for us. For sinners like us. 

And so a strange thing will be happening tonight. As the lights dim and the candles go out, at the same time as it will be getting darker, it will also be getting lighter. For the light of Jesus and His love will be getting brighter and brighter. As His life decreases our life increases. The son dies as a criminal, that we sinners live as sons of God. That’s what this night, and indeed Jesus’ whole life, is all about. You and your life.

So tonight we remember that our great high priest passes from life to death and the grave, not in defeat, but to conquer it. That then passing from death to life, rising from the grave and passing through the heavens, we will do so also with Him. That is our confession, our testimony, as we gather here tonight. That there is light in the midst of darkness, and life in the midst of death. Because sometimes in our world - and even in us - the darkness and death seem to deep, too much; the evil too great. The way people treat each other. The wars and inhumanity. The evil that is approved of as good, and the good that is rejected as evil. And we wonder about the future. We doubt whether the good will really win or be stamped out. And we fear, for ourselves and for our children.

But tonight we see that we are not the first to live through such times. As Jesus hung on the cross, shedding his blood and breathing His last breaths, His followers wondered all those things, too. And probably more. Everything was coming apart and unraveling. All their hopes, dashed. Their faith greatly shaken. A world of all evil and no good is a frightening place indeed.

But the one who gave them their faith would not let it be extinguished. He would sustain them through this time of great darkness, even as He will sustain us. And not just for a few days, until the joy and light of Jesus’ resurrection, but until the Last Day, when Jesus returns and we pass through the heavens with Him, to light without darkness and life that has no end. We know that day is coming. We know that the darkness and evil we now see will not win. We belong to the one who is greater than it all.

So that’s why - as we hear the story again and the lights are dimmed and the candles are extinguished - at the same time as it will be getting darker, the light increases . . .  The world sees a dying man. We see a victorious Saviour.

So we’ll hear in a moment that when Jesus is arrested, Peter draws the sword. No Peter - this is not that kind of fight. You can’t win it that way. The victory will be in Jesus’ death. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

Then we’ll hear of Peter’s denials. Without his sword, robbed of his earthly weapon, he cowers in fear. This fight will be fought by only one. Alone. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

Then Jesus is on trial before the earthly authority. And here, the Good One is called evil, and the evil they are doing they think good. Pilate asks, What is truth? He doesn’t really want to know. He is mocking. Can truth be known? Does truth even really matter? Or does what we think is best matter more than the truth? Many today ask those same questions and think those same thoughts. But in response, Jesus doesn’t fight back, He simply confesses the truth. For the truth will win. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

After that the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled. Jesus is stricken, smitten, and afflicted. He bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. He is mocked, He is struck, He is belittled. And then the chief priests utterly and fully rejected their God: We have no king but Caesar. It is as John wrote at the very beginning of His Gospel: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. Jesus is handed over to be crucified, where He will be death’s death. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

Next, He is stripped of all His garments and hung up on the cross. The Romans did it to shame Him, but He is not ashamed. For Adam, without sin, was naked but not ashamed. And so Jesus, the sinless one, is not ashamed. He is restoring what Adam lost. He is making all things good again. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

Then we see and hear the love of our heavenly Bridegroom. The One who left His Father to come down to earth, now also leaves His mother to cling to His Bride, the Church. To us. To you. He will not save Himself. He will save you. He will cling to you, your sin, your death, your grave, that you have Him, His forgiveness, His life, and His kingdom. He says it is finished, and “it” is. Not His life - your salvation. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

And then finally, He is laid in the grave. How many have been laid beside Him in such graves since that day? Friends and loved ones, young and old, well-known and unknown. He joins them, so that they may join Him. All washed with the blood and water that flowed from His side, washed clean of their sins. He joins them, so that they may join Him. And when you, one day, join Him there, in the grave, it is with that confidence: that you will join Him not only there, but where He now is, in Paradise. And a candle goes out, and the light increases . . .

And how bright that final light shines in the darkness. John’s words again. What He wrote at the beginning of His Gospel, now true: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). And so we’ll sing: 
And then from death awaken me, 
That these mine eyes with joy may see, 
O Son of God, Thy glorious face, 
My Savior and my fount of grace.

And He will. 

Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end (LSB #708 v.3).

And we will.

Because tonight, the light is on the stand for all the world to see.


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

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Noon Meditations - The Way of the Cross

LISTEN

The Way of the Cross


I. Prayer

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  (Luke 22:39-46)


Meditation:

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.

What cup? The cup of God’s wrath against the sin of the world. This dreaded cup Jesus would drink down completely, not one drop remaining. He would take upon Himself the guilt of the sin of all the world, and pay the price for it all. We see a lot of sin in our world, from poison gas attacks in Syria, to terrorism, to murder, to hatred and violence, abuse of young and old, robbery, adultery - imagine all of that sin and then more, from every age and time, all in one place. All on one man. And that one man declared guilty for it all and paying the price for it. That’s what Jesus was about to do. And not just for the sin of the world, but for your sin. And the spectre of that was agonizing. He knew how serious this was, and what awaited Him on the cross.

Do we? Or do we take our sin lightly and not really think much of it. Perhaps today we should reconsider, and realize just how deadly sin is.

Jesus will go through with it. This was the plan from eternity. That the sinless Son of God would offer His life for the life of the world. And so while praying in the Garden, His sweat begins to drop from Him like great drops of blood - the drops of blood that in mere hours would come dropping, oozing, and streaming from His battered and crucified body. An angel comes to strengthen Him now. There would be no angel later. He would do this alone. One man would drink the cup, that all men and women be spared. That you be spared. For the cup that is for you is not this cup, the cup of God’s wrath, but the cup Jesus fills with His blood - the cup of blessing. The cup of His Supper. The cup that gives you the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life.

So let us pray, a prayer of thanksgiving. Let us pray that we not enter into temptation of sin. Let us pray for our Lord’s will to be done. Yes, His good and perfect will.


II. Betrayal and Denial

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.  (Luke 22:47-62)


Meditation:

Peter is all about saving life. He wants to save Jesus’ life with the sword, he wants to save his own life with his denials. It is what we do. When attacked we attack back. When accused we deny. We try to save ourselves. We try to save our reputation. We try to save our honor, our position, all that we think we need in this world and life.

Jesus does not. He gives His life for others. No more of this, He tells those who draw the sword. And no more of this He tells us who seek to save our own lives. 

For why do we try to save ourselves? It is because we do not realize our life is a gift. Our life and all that we are and all that we have is a gift from our Father in heaven. And if He gave it, He will care for it. If He gave it, He will preserve it. If He gave it, He will provide for it. But we doubt that; we fear; we try to hold onto what we have rather than hold onto the One who gave it. And that’s idolatry . . . and why Peter denied even knowing Jesus three times.

And then the alarm clock went off. The rooster crowed. And Peter realized what he had done. What will be the alarm clock for us? Martin Luther wrote in his famous hymn: And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, they yet have nothing won, the kingdom ours remaineth. When you know that, when you believe that, then you are free. Truly free. Free like Jesus. To give your life for others. Because you know you cannot outgive God. If you give, He gives more. And if you lose your life, He gives it back. Better, in fact. Giving you a life that will never end.

So no more of this! No more betrayal or denial. Jesus gives His life for you. His hour is the hour of darkness and evil, that your hour be the hour of goodness and light. With not a rooster crowing, but angels singing.


III. Condemnation

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate.  . . .  Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.”

But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.  (Luke 23:1, 13-25)


Meditation:

Pilate was right: Jesus was not guilty. Three times, in fact, Pilate rendered that judgment. Jesus was not misleading the people - He spoke the truth. He lived the truth. He was the truth.

But the truth does not always win in our world, does it? The loudest voices, the more insistent, the most persistent often get their way. The side of the truth, in fact, can be an awfully lonely place sometimes. The truth can be inconvenient. The truth can go against what I feel. The truth can make my life harder. So, maybe, we tell a little white lie. We deceive, mislead, purposely say things in a way that is  vague and hard to pin down. Many in our world today have practically made this an art form. From presidents to beggars in the street. We don’t want the truth to get in our way.

And so true is this for the chief priests and rulers of the people that rather than having to face the truth that Jesus speaks, they’d rather face the danger Barabbas brought - of insurrection and murder. And so Barabbas, the dangerous and guilty one, is released, and Jesus, the loving and innocent one, is crucified. 

So what will it be for us? The truth? What is the truth? I am a poor, miserable sinner. But this too: in Jesus, your sins are forgiven. If that’s not your truth, if you deny your sin, then you also deny your Saviour. Better, then, the truth. For the truth gives us Jesus. The truth is Jesus. The truth that Jesus took our place as the sinner, so that we could have His place as the Son. The truth that with our sin Jesus really is the guilty one, and with our sin forgiven, we really are not guilty. And that really is the truth. In Jesus.


IV. Bearing the Cross

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”  (Luke 23:26-31)


Meditation:

Was it an honor? Was it an inconvenience? Was it an embarrassment? Was it a horror? What did Simon of Cyrene think when they singled him out from the crowd and dropped Jesus’ cross on his shoulder? We’re not told. Perhaps we will find out one day.

But if he is anything like us, he didn’t want it and didn’t like it. For we do not like the crosses we are given to bear in our lives. The trials and troubles given to us in our callings; given to us for our good. Given to us to slay the old sinful, selfish, rebellious man in us, that a new man can live. 

But it wasn’t only Simon that followed Jesus - there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But Jesus doesn’t want their pity. Do not weep for me, Jesus says. He wants to go to the cross. But there is coming a time when they, too, will have to bear the cross. A time when things would be so bad that they would begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ And at just such a time in their lives, and in our lives, we are the ones who need pity - and we have it. Jesus pity. His compassion and mercy. The compassion and mercy He showed us in going to the cross for us will continue when we bear our crosses. And though things might be so bad as to wish the mountains would fall on us and the hills cover us, we have what is much better: Jesus covering us. Jesus putting Himself between us and all the forces of evil, so that we are safe from all harm and danger. Safe under His shelter and care.

So for now, we bear the cross, like Simon. But we will not bear it long. The cross had its day. But Jesus has eternity.


V. Forgiveness

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”  (Luke 23:32-38)

Meditation:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Pontius Pilate knew Jesus did nothing deserving death, but handed Him over to be crucified anyway. The Roman soldiers were just carrying out orders. The Jewish rulers brought all this about, but what did they understand? Did they know what they were doing? Do we? 

The truth is that often, we don’t. We don’t always realize that the small things we do can have big consequences. And when it comes to our sin, do we know what we are doing? Do we know the hurt we cause to others? The hurt we cause to ourselves? The hurt we cause God? We don’t. We don’t know. We don’t realize.

But Jesus knows. He knows the serious consequences of sin - He is hanging for our sin. He knows how deadly sin is - He is dying for our sin. He knows the punishment due sin - He is being crushed under it, for you. And He knows exactly what He is doing. Pilate may not. The Soldiers may not. The Jewish rulers may not. We may not. But Jesus knows exactly. That’s why He came, and why He is there, on the cross, and dying.

And why He’s there is this: Father, forgive them. Pour out Your wrath on me, here, now, instead of them. Crush me, here, now, instead of them. And set them free. Father, forgive them. And He does. And you are. Forgiven. Free.

And so now we pray a prayer like Jesus’: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Father, grant me the forgiveness Jesus won for me on the cross, and help me forgive others - just as Jesus did on the cross. Because of what He did for me - and for all people - help me rejoice in His words by praying them myself, here, now, for others. Father, forgive them

VI.  Paradise

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:39-43)

Meditation:

Crucified next to Jesus. We might chalk it up to coincidence that that particular criminal was crucified that particular day and in that particular place, next to the Son of God - but for God, there are no coincidences. He was there for a reason. He was there to see his Saviour and be saved by Him. 

Did he know before who this man was? Had he heard Jesus, or heard of Him? Had he witnessed any miracles? We are not told. But this we know: he heard words from Jesus that no one had ever heard from a cross before. Jesus called God His Father. He heard Jesus pray for the forgiveness of those who put Him there. And the Spirit of God worked through that Word of God and created faith in a dying man. And a condemned criminal received a great gift: the gift of eternal life. A day of great horror turned into a day of great blessing. This day of agony into a day of joy. This day of suffering into a day of peace.

Remember Simeon, in the Temple, after Jesus was born? When he saw the 40 day old Jesus, he took the child in his arms and said: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace (Luke 2:29). I have seen my Saviour. I am ready to die. Now, some 30 years later, it is happening again. Jesus tells this criminal: Today, you will be with me in Paradise. And the criminal can pray the same prayer: Lord, now let your servant die in peace. I have seen my Saviour. I am ready to die.

And truly he was. As are you. For blessed are you who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29). Your faith created in you by the same Word of God. So that whenever you die, however you die, you will not receive the due reward for your deeds, your sins. Because of Jesus, you too can depart in peace. For this is Jesus’ word to you as well. That on that day, you will be with Jesus - and with a nameless criminal - in Paradise. 


VII. Death and Burial

L: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
C: Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.  (Luke 23:44-56)

Meditation:

In six days God created the world. And on the sixth day, when all the work of creation was finished, God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31). And on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, God rested.
On the sixth day, God would once again finish all His work - this time not of creation, but of re-creation. It is finished, He would say (John 19:30), and then rest. In a tomb. Joseph’s tomb. A tomb unpolluted by death. A tomb, like the first creation, where no one had ever been before. Jesus would spend the Sabbath day at rest in the tomb. No more work to be done, for all was done. The work of our redemption finished. The work for our forgiveness finished. The battle against satan and all the forces of evil, finished. The wrath of God against the sin of the world, finished. And the world, created good but then plunged into sin by the first Adam, was good again, by the second Adam. Very good.

And so we call this day Holy and Good Friday. For it is the day when Jesus made all things good again in the forgiveness of sin. The day when the promise made to Adam and Eve was fulfilled - that God would undo what they had done. When One would come to crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). And Jesus had. You could not see that victory yet. That Friday night and Saturday were sad and difficult days indeed. But the third day was coming, when Jesus would rise victorious and soon they would know. 

And so it for us as well. We live in sad and difficult days. But the day of resurrection is coming for us, too. The victory is already ours; we now but wait for the day of its revealing. When the curtain dividing heaven and earth is finally and fully pulled away, and what we now believe we will see. Our Life returning in triumph, calling us from our graves, and taking us with Him through death to life again. That is His promise. First made to Adam, repeated through the ages, and fulfilled in Jesus. 


So to our Saviour Jesus Christ, we give all thanks and praise. To our great and victorious Redeemer, be all glory, honor, and worship, now and forever, and unto the ages of ages. AMEN.