Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:13-35)

At the outset of the day, Jesus’ disciples were in sorrow and grief.  Their present circumstances were weighing them down, because in their estimation, “the chief priests and rulers delivered him up to death and crucified him.”  End of story.  The world had won, in spite of all that Jesus had said.  Their hopes were shattered, and they were burdened with uncertainty.

This stranger they had met was odd, because he had somehow missed all the goings on of the past four days.  But what of it?  It was just another moment to rehash the painful details.  Where were you when the Redeemer of Israel came to nothing?

To their uncertainty and affliction, this stranger brought clarity.  “‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Somehow, out of the terrible events, He brought direction and brought to light God’s sovereign plan.

That’s what worship and daily devotions are like for Christians right now.  Who can see through all the fear, the uncertainty about the future, what will see us through the months to come?  Definitely not the politicians, the news outlets, or even the CDC.  Like all of us, they’re human and they are grasping for answers and trying to judge what’s best to do.  But when we hear the Lord’s Word, then our heart burn within us.  Here, Lord, you enlighten us to know that this is not some strange thing, an out-of-control circumstance, a global disaster beyond Your mighty hand.

Here in the Scriptures we are reminded of all of God’s mighty deeds, from the moment He created heaven and earth, how all of it was once destroyed on account of wickedness, and how God was still able to safeguard His faithful in the ark.  In the Scriptures, we hear how the world’s Savior from sin and death was foretold, how through centuries of twists and turns even the cut-off stump of Jesse sprung forth in the womb of Mary and God’s saving work was carried out.  Still, even in these days that are darker and more grotesque than any period of history prior, it our Lord’s Word which gives us an unmovable truth upon which to stand: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

After this traveler had opened the Scriptures to them, it seemed that they were about to lose him, they impressed upon Him to stay longer: “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”  Then at the proper time, it was revealed to them that this was no stranger, but the Lord Jesus Himself who abided with them.  “He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Especially at a time like this, we want the Lord to abide with us, to give us something sure which cannot be taken away by the changes of this world.  Yet right now it seems that even the sanctuary of public worship has been trampled upon.  “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Ps. 122:1) but the governor told me not to, and the real threat of illness deters me.  If even corporate worship can be taken from us (for a short time, God willing), then what cannot?  These Scriptures are opened to us when Christ is preached, Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, Christ who destroyed the power of death and left an empty shadow, Christ who did overcome the world.

One thing many of us are longing for is the Lord’s Supper.  When everything has been forced into the virtual realm, we long for the Lord’s presence which we can see and touch, taste and smell.  And as your pastor, there’s nothing I’d rather do than be able to minister to you in the proper way, face to face.  What this longing for the Lord’s Supper has led to in some places is the practice of Communion in a person’s home via a live broadcast.  This has caused no small debate in the Missouri Synod over what constitutes the Sacrament of the Altar.  What are the requirements, the essential elements (bread, wine, word of Jesus, pastor) in order to know that a practice of the Lord’s Supper is efficacious or valid. 

You could derive a proof that the Christian Church is always scattered throughout the world—why not in individual homes, and why not even if the service is watched later.  You could argue that the Word of God is what makes this bread and this cup the Body and Blood of Christ for us to eat and drink (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16).  You could argue that the pastor is only a mouthpiece but the so-called real power is in the believer holding to the Words of Christ.

This could go on and on, and the most unsettling thing is the uncertainty.  You have to go through so many mental hoops that this verges on no longer being faith like a child.  The Emmaus disciples were not “with Jesus” virtually, or on the other side of a curtain (as in the temple).  In the simplest, most obvious sense of the word, they were together and He was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread—the Eucharist.

What this whole question recalls is something that sets Christians of the Lutheran Reformation apart from others.  How do you explain the presence of Christ in His Supper?  Using philosophy, the Roman church had developed the theory of transubstantiation, that upon the Words of Institution being spoken, the substance of the bread and wine ceased to be, and they became the Body and Blood of Christ, and happened to still look and taste like the bread and wine (accidens).  Those of the Reformed movement were convinced that the finite could not contain the infinite (a philosophical tenant), therefore the bread and wine only symbolized an absent Christ, or transported the true believer by the Holy Spirit to feast on Christ in heaven.

Out of the Reformation, only the Lutherans clung to the simple Word of Christ without any philosophical gymnastics: “Take; eat. This is My Body, given for you…Take; drink. This is my Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  “Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: ‘forgiveness of sins.’  But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, for the words ‘for you’ require all hearts to believe.” (Small Catechism, VI, questions 4 & 5)

Of course, these are unusual times, and very few Lutherans can remember a time in their lives when the practice of the Lord’s Supper was affected by events in the world (even during Prohibition, Lutheran churches were granted exceptions to use sacramental wine).  But it is not safe for the present circumstance in the world to make us modify our theology.

It’s good for Christians to highly prize the comfort of forgiveness and strength in the Lord’s Supper.  In many sister congregations, they have continued to gather in the simplest explanation of the word using workarounds (small, spaced groups; through the car window), respectful of the health directives.  We do this because we honor the commands of our Lord—to do this in remembrance of Him as often as we can, and also to honor and obey our rulers, and not hurt our neighbor by spreading disease.  I’m not opposed to gathering in small groups, but I would also like as much of the Body of Christ—young and old, healthy and infirm—here at Bethlehem to be able to be present together, which is why we elected for the parking lot method.

The Sacraments are something that require certainty.  In Baptism, we return daily to the promise that we and all our sins have been crucified with Christ and He raises us to newness of life (Gal. 2:20, Rom. 6:4).  In Absolution, we need to know when our sins trouble us that the forgiveness Christ’s servant speaks is not just a man talking, but the voice of the Lord Himself.  So also, in His Supper, the Lord earnestly desires to eat this Passover of the New Testament, this meal in which He is made known to us in the “breaking of the bread.” Because of this, we can have confidence that we receive His blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Continue to cling to God’s Word.  It is the lamp He gives to our feet to lead us through every perplexing time.  When this season ends, we earnestly look forward to gathering again.  May the Lord cause your heart to burn with a confidence and comfort that He will care for and support you as His child through this present, passing distress.  Amen.

Second Sunday of Easter (John 20:19-31)

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Right now we’re all too familiar with barriers.  If you make it to Costco, they have Plexiglass shields between you and the checker.  We’re can all play bank robber and put a mask on and ask the teller to give us money (as long as it’s ours, of course).

There are all kinds of barriers too—gloves so germs can’t get on us, 6 foot circles so we don’t share air, the glass of storm doors to keep us safe from the potential for spreading disease.

After Jesus’ resurrection, there were barriers too.  Last week on Easter, there was the barrier of the stone—“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3), but God overcame that with the might of His angel.  In today’s Gospel, the disciples are behind locked doors so that the they would be safe from fear of the Jews who murdered Jesus.  But this barrier also served to keep out further news of Jesus, whose tomb was empty (John 20:1-10).

Yet, this barrier was overcome by the Risen Lord Himself—“Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”  Most theologians agree that the Lord Jesus didn’t need the door opened to get in, any more than He needed the stone rolled away to leave the tomb.  But more important than the mechanics is that Jesus came to them in spite of the barrier.

Having overcome this barrier, Jesus ran into another one, not of doors, but also manmade:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

The Lord had appeared to the ten Apostles, and they reported this amazing news to Thomas, but Thomas chose to believe in the barriers of sight and time, which removed him personally from the night of Easter.  He pragmatically put his own reason over the testimony of the other witnesses—a very human (and very common) barrier to faith.

Before we move on, we have to talk about another barrier, not physical, but spiritual.  It’s the barrier between us and God that is the result of our sin.  This barrier came from both our natural birth into sin (Ps. 51:5, Rom. 7:14-15) and from the sins of our own making.  Yet it is the Lord’s will to overcome that barrier, too.  So, He gives to the Apostles this power to overcome the divide: “’Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” 

We see eight days later that Jesus appears again, overcoming the physical barrier.  Right away, He shows His love for Thomas and the others, greeting them with “Peace be with you.”  Then, in divine forbearance, He condescends to Thomas’ weakness: “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” It’s these human barriers which threaten to destroy our fellowship with God.  Yet, they can’t be overcome by any power on earth.  Just as Israel’s armies didn’t lay a hand on the walls of Jericho, but rather it was at God’s command that they fell flat (Josh. 6:1-20), no amount of cajoling, arguing, or browbeating can take down these walls within us.  It is God’s purpose to overcoming them, and—as with all things—He does this by His almighty, creating Word.

Notice the parallels between this scene in the Upper Room and the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:5-9).  God is coming into man’s midst.  In the beginning, lifeless clay must become a living being, so God breathes into his nostrils.  Here, redemption from sin and death has come, and now God breathes anew with His Spirit.  Now man becomes not just a being who lives just span of time, but lives eternally.  This is God’s work to restore what was rent asunder, to break through those barriers.

That Jesus is able to overcome physical barriers is a comfort to us right now, because we are all locked behind closed doors, whether we want to be or not.  The Church is broken up into family units, yet the Lord is still able to come and be in our midst.  This is by no means the norm for the Church to be physically scattered, but neither is it too hard for our Lord to keep His promise that He is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

With that word of peace, our Lord also overcomes the spiritual barriers—the sins which separate us from God, and which alienate us from one another.  We’ve erected barriers by knowing what we ought not to do, and doing it anyway.  We’ve divided from one another by the things which we’ve said and done that make it so we can’t look each other in the eye.  The Lord Jesus has overcome it all by speaking the Spirit-filled Word of forgiveness. “Peace be with you” and He shows us His hands and His side.

We know that this word of peace was given to the Apostles that night to speak—”as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you”—but that word is given to every Christian to speak to one another.  The peace of Easter doesn’t just stop when we receive it, but as Jesus was sent to us, as the called servants of Christ pass that peace to you, you also pass that peace to those who have sinned against God and perhaps you personally.

These are the barriers which the Lord overcomes, and He does it by His Word.  The Bible truly has everything which God needs us to know.  Not only is it a vast trove of wisdom about the Lord and humanity, but what God has inspired to be written, He has done so to overcome all barriers in you—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing, you may have life in His Name.”

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

Resurrection of Our Lord (Matthew 28:1-10)

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  Good news beyond comprehension. That’s what Jesus’ resurrection was.  Mary of Magdala and Mary, the mother of James, go to the tomb after resting on the Sabbath.  They come with burial spices to complete what was taken care of with haste as the sun set on Friday.  It wasn’t fitting that their beloved Teacher not be given the honor of a reverent burial and His followers given the dignity of mourning.  But there were the authorities, the seal on the tomb, and the guard posted. What else could they do?

But then something happened which neither of them saw coming: a great earthquake shook the ground and an angel appeared to roll back the stone.  In fear, the Roman soldiers became like dead men, and it was such a fearful sight that the women also needed to be told twice, “Do not be afraid!”

Everything stood against this being possible—the rejection by the highest authorities, the corruption of justice under Gentile dogs, the scourging, the jeering at the cross, how he was marred beyond human semblance as he could barely cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1), and how He breathed His last and was laid into a tomb.  Earthly rulers, natural law, and experience all told the story that death and evil had won the day as Jesus was laid into the tomb. 

It’s such surpassingly good news that it needs to be told very simply and repeatedly.  In short sentences, the Angel delivers the message: “I know you seek Jesus the Crucified One. He is not here. He has risen as He said.  Come, see the place where He lay. And go quickly, say to his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ And behold, He goes ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.”  Short but true messages, “See, I have told you.”  And they do go, filled with fear and great joy.

It takes a while for this incomprehensible news to sink in, until they meet Jesus face-to-face on the way.  Then they can see with their own eyes, and hold Him with their own hands.  This is most certainly true.  This is not a myth to be handed down and closely guarded lest the world find out it was actually just a fable (Mt. 28:11-15).

God does not lie.  Everyone else may be questionable, but not God or His messengers.  With Him, you don’t need to worry if He is only telling you the part of the story He wants you to know.  He deals with us honestly and in love.  Unlike the news media, with God you don’t have to wonder about bias of the author or if outside interests are directing what He says.  When He grants “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18) to His Son, you don’t need to wonder if this is overreach or a plot to grab power while people are vulnerable.  God does not lie, nor does He commit evil.

So, revel in this good news: Death has been beaten!  Sin has been put away!  There is peace with God through the risen Jesus Christ.  “Set your minds on” (Col. 3:2) this fact, when you hear news of rising death tolls.  Life and death are fully in God’s hands, and for all who belong to the Risen Christ death is no more than departing the toils of this world.   Remember God’s angel who said: “He has been raised from the dead” when you hear of the frantic search for a vaccine, that God has the antidote for death itself in His Son!  When you worry what earthly leaders will do that impacts our ability to gather for worship, remember the seal and the watch which could not keep the disciples out, and remember our Lord’s own words: “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11)   And finally, when you encounter those who, out of fear, are acting obnoxiously, set before your eyes the blood of Jesus, the blood of the covenant which was shed for the sins of all, which cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34)

This good news beyond comprehension is true, even on Easter 2020, when the Church on earth was scattered.  Yet she is forever one in her Lord, who has triumphed forever over sin, death, and all the powers of evil. Amen.

Good Friday (Isaiah 53:4-5)

One of the strongest illustrations of the Gospel coming out the Reformation is that of the courtroom scene—forensic justification—where God looks upon the guilty sinner and His verdict is “not guilty” because Christ is the One who stood in our place and bore the punishment. This makes sense, because people were often under judgment and penalty. Going to confession was like writing your own ticket, and then finding out how much you had to pay. As plagues ravaged countries, mothers died in childbirth, and war with neighboring states left paths of destruction, people were in real fear of what kind of God they would find. They had been told that Jesus was an angry judge, and to appeal to the mercy of Mother Mary and the merits of the other saints to escape the “temporal” punishments of purgatory.

But another illustration of the Gospel is healing, as in the words of Psalm 107:20: “He sent out His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.” This is something the Prophet Isaiah wonderfully portrays in chapter 53, verses 4 and 5:

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

The Hebrew word (חֳלָיֵ֙) rendered ‘grief’ elsewhere describes weakness, illness, or disease. And the word for ‘sorrows’ (מַכְאֹבֵ֖י) specifically means suffering and pain. So if we read these in this way, it becomes “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” This is how Matthew connects this passage to a series of healings which Jesus did (Matt. 8:14-17).

During a time of pestilence, of rising death tolls and fears over public health, to hear that God is not aloof to our plight, is truly good news. What does He do for us? He lifts up our illness, our weakness. He bears our pain, our suffering. He makes them His own burden to bear.

Earlier in chapter 52, the Prophet says, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (v. 14) Imagine a time when you’ve seen someone gravely ill, how disfigured they look from their normal appearance. That’s what disease has done to them. But this is also what Jesus became—the most disfigured, the embodiment of all that sin and death has done to us.

Yet, we thought little of it while things were going well. I’ve heard so many people say how sad and tragic the suffering and death of Jesus is. “We esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” For many, the sufferings of Christ are one of those background events that we pull out during Holy Week and then put back for the rest of the time so we can focus on happier things like joy in the Lord. God doesn’t just want us to be happy; He wants us to be whole.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:32) It is good news for us who have or fear having illness in our bodies, whose pains are crushing us. Where are we going to turn for help? Many turn to the medical establishment, and some would move heaven and earth (so to speak) just so that hospital beds and equipment can be kept in abundant supply and well-funded, as if that could spare us from the tide of this plague. No, our help is in the Name of the Lord, who will keep us in body and soul.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.

One of the most poignant signs of the End Times are the judgments executed on daily life and health—tyranny, wars, famine, and plagues. When God takes away His temporal gifts of peace, food, and health, one of two things happens: the godly are repentant and plead with God to remember His mercy, while the ungodly curse at him and cry for the mountains to cover them from inescapable judgment (Luke 23:28-31). What kind of confidence do God’s people have? That Christ is the one who saves us from our just judgment. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment He bore on the cross brought us peace with God. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) The judgments that come, which deny us the temporal good, are not foreboding threats of eternal wrath for us; they are discipline from our loving Father, sent as He works out His good purposes.

“And with His wounds we are healed…” During His ministry, Jesus healed all manner of diseases and dysfunctions. He said to several people, “Your faith has made you well” (Matt. 9:22; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19). The Greek word means “to save,” as in your faith has saved you. Salvation and healing are so intertwined because God’s will for humanity is life, not death; wholeness, not disease. When we bear bodily suffering, we often grow weary and wish for a sudden physical healing. Yet it is our faith which has already healed us in the most important way: we are made whole before God for eternity. These bodily ailments—no matter if it is COVID in our lungs, rheumatoid arthritis in our joints, inexplicable spots on our brain, or cancer in our veins—are passing shadows. The physical healing which is truly going to count is when we hear the Son of Man’s voice as He calls us each all out from our graves.

Glory be to Him who has saved us and gives us healing here in time and in eternity. Amen!

Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26:17-30)

Normally, Maundy Thursday is a night I look forward to as a pastor—imagine that, a holiday in the Church year dedicated to the Lord’s Supper! I love the hymn, “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness.” It brings me to tears as we sing, “Jesus, bread of life, I pray You, Let me gladly here obey You. By Your love I am invited, Be Your love with love requited; By this Supper let me measure, Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure. Through the gift of grace You give me As Your guest in heav’n receive me.” (LSB 636:8)

But this year, that joy is covered over by the health restrictions, and threats to all those who disregard the directives—both legal and to our health. This year, we will not be observing the Supper Jesus founded “On the night in which He was betrayed.” And that hurts—both as a Christian, and as your pastor.

Everything about the Gospel text reminds us that Jesus was with His disciples, and that they were taking part in an ancient tradition—the Passover—which had been celebrated year in and year out since when Moses led the sons of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.

It’s that way for us too, because this Eucharist (the ancient name for this meal from Jesus giving thanks) has been revered as the Passover fulfilled by Jesus’ disciples for centuries! In house churches, catacombs, through times of war and peace, this meal has been a constant source of grace, strength, and hope. But always together. This is a strange year indeed.

But do our present circumstances overturn what we commemorate on this night?

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Our Lord explained what He was doing that night, with this meal: He breaks bread and says it is His Body. He takes a cup of wine, and says “This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” So we will look at these two things: the Body of Christ, and the New Covenant in His Blood.

What is the Body of Christ? “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor. 12:12-13) The one Body of Christ is what we confess when we say, “I believe in…the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” (Apostles’ Creed) It is the assembly of believers which spans space and time—from every century and from all tribes, nations, and languages. This is the mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

There is also the Body of Christ in, with, and under the bread of the Lord’s Supper. Through what we call for short the sacramental union, Jesus feeds the members of His Body, the Church. For some, it’s easier to conceive of the Body of Christ, the Church, more than the Body of Christ in the bread of the Eucharist.

But is either one affected by this new virus and restrictions? We learned from Jesus raising Lazarus that even death cannot separate a member from the mystical Body of Christ—“Whoever believes in me, though He die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26). Neither will circumstance change the bread which we break, which is the Body of Christ. Though we are made to fast from it for a time, Christ remains our life as He promises, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:51)

Our Lord also says, “This is My Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” He says this in connection with the sacrifices offered under the previous covenant with Moses, and in connection with the covenants He made before with Abraham. Covenants which God makes are sure.

With Abraham in Genesis 15, He made a covenant promise that Abraham would be the father of a multitude. In the custom of “cutting” covenants, Abraham cut the animals in two, and normally the two parties passed through together, solemnly promising that if either broke the covenant they would be rendered as the slain animal. In this case, God is the only one who passed through, in a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch (Gen. 15:17). God made a unilateral covenant, that not even death, famine, oppression, war, unfaithfulness, or any other upheaval could overturn. Over 2,500 years, God kept His covenant so that Abraham’s Offspring was born, was sacrificed instead of Isaac, and made a blessing for all the families of the earth.

So, when Jesus says that in this Supper is the blood of the covenant, poured out for many, this is God’s unilateral covenant—full of God’s faithfulness and rich with the forgiveness of sins. Whether the outbreak continues for a few weeks more or extends much further, this covenant in Jesus Blood will not be moved. We still have its benefits by virtue of the blood which Jesus shed upon the cross, the Word of the Cross which has been preached and received by us in faith, and our being crucified and risen with Him in Baptism.

This doesn’t change our longing for what Jesus has given for our good. We feel the weight of our sins as we are pressed hard with isolation, altered schedules, scarcity of certain needs, and close quarters. The threat of death is very present, and we do nobody any favors by disregarding the restriction guidelines.

But in our hungering for the Sacrament in these strange times is not an emergency of our faith. Jesus has eaten this anew with us, because He has brought us into the Kingdom of His Father, through His Body offered on the cross and the blood of the covenant he poured out. Confident in His promise and power to keep us, we will patiently wait to celebrate the feast, and we will humbly submit to the current conditions. Casting our cares on the Lord, He will sustain us through this point in time. COVID-19 will pass away. All of these measures and their impact will pass away and be recorded in history books. But the Body of Christ will go on as it does eternally—both the Church and the Bread we break. His Covenant will endure through every season until the earth remains no more (Gen. 8:22).

We pray:

Abide with us, Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. Abide with us and with Your whole Church. Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world. Abide with us with Your grace and goodness, with Your holy Word and Sacrament, with Your strength and blessing. Abide with us when the night of affliction and temptation comes upon us, the night of fear and despair, the night when death draws near. Abide with us and with all the faithful, now and forever.

(LSB p. 257)

Palm Sunday (Passion According to St. Matthew)

Matthew 26:1-35

Jesus is surrounded by failures. The woman who anoints him does a beautiful work, Judas who betrays him, the eleven other disciples who claim to be faithful but later abandon him.

And this is nothing unique to this moment in time. Among people, we are a mixed bag. We have good intentions at times, evil at others. We do some good things, but other times we’d rather just look out for ourselves. We show good judgment and self-control, but we also can be incredibly stupid. If we’re judging the success of Jesus’ passion, it best not be by looking at those around Him.

The one constant in all of this is where this mixed bag of men and women have hope, where the Church in every age is built on the rock. It’s on Jesus and the covenant He makes: “Take eat; this is My Body” “Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The covenant is the unbreakable promise of God to men with all of our failures. Jesus’ Body broken on your behalf; Jesus blood poured out for the remission of sins.

With the rabble around Jesus in His Passion, He is one constant. When we thrive in the Holy Spirit or foolishly yield to our flesh, Jesus is our one constant. It is to Him that we return, and in Him we are saved. Amen.

Matthew 26:36-56

In a script for a play, everything is determined. The actors follow the stage directions, they say the lines assigned to them, they react the way they are supposed to. This is a bit like how it was with the Scriptures.

Jesus, the Son of Man, knew the part that He had to play. It was laid out before Him, and everything had been going according to the prescribed events. He had taught the people what He needed to teach, performed the great signs which signaled the Messiah’s arrival. Now was the most difficult part—that of the “Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief…one from whom men hid their faces, despised, and rejected.” (Isa 53:3). He pleaded with the Author that, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” But He was willing to play His part: “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus submitted Himself to the definite plan of God, the Script-ures.

The others played their part, too. The disciples grew sleepy keeping watch because of the weakness of their flesh. Judas and his crew came out to arrest Jesus with a kiss. Peter, thinking he would creatively turn the tide, attacked the servant of the high priest. But no matter what the desire of sinful actors, whether it be to seemingly save Jesus or have Him destroyed, the Scriptures of the prophets must be fulfilled.

And even though the Scripture prescribed that He would be betrayed and rejected, they also announce that, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:4-6) Amen.

Matthew 26:57-75

There are some times when telling the truth will get you into more trouble. Other times, you might tell a white lie and think it will save you from worse consequences. From experience, we know that it’s right to tell the truth, if nothing else than the quote attributed to Mark Twain: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” But we inevitably make things complicated by lying or telling a selective truth. Many broken marriages and conscience-stricken addicts can show the foreboding consequences of lying.

Here we see both. Telling the unedited truth winds up getting Jesus the sentence of death, while Peter weasels his way out of trouble with a thrice-told bald-faced lie. And what does Peter’s false testimony gain him, but a selfish benefit of being spared ridicule. Trying to save his own hide, he does nothing. But it was right that Jesus told the truth, because that telling of the truth, though it cost Him His life, was the very testimony that must be said. In His confession, He received the just consequences for us, for the Psalmist says with alarm, “all mankind are liars” (Ps. 116:11).

His testimony also gained for us what no mere man’s truth could. In confessing that He was the Christ, the Son of Man, His Word was that of the “mediator of a new covenant…the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24) It is now His testimony that He gives before the Father, where He speaks on our behalf and we are declared innocent and righteous. Amen.

Matthew 27:1-31

The last words that Jesus spoke before being nailed to the cross were, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (26:64) There was no more for Him to say, because He had preached the Kingdom of God, He had confirmed it with signs. Now it was left to others how they would respond and what they would do.

Judas said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” but without faith, he carried out sentence on himself. Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and marveled at how Jesus made no answer to defend himself. The crowds cried for Barabbas instead of Jesus, cried out for His death, so confident of their rejection of this King that they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” The soldiers dressed Jesus up in mock royal robes and said, “Hail, King of the Jews” as they abused Him. This is how they all responded—Jew and Gentile—to the Word of the Lord and His Christ.

This was all as it had to be, for God to save sinful man. In order to save those who rejected the Lord, the Lord’s Servant had to be rejected. Even though Jesus was silent then, He had been spoken of before, “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…Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief…the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” (Isa. 53:7, 10) This is how God saved them because that was is His gracious will—to save His enemies and account them righteous. This is God’s will: to save you. Amen.