Commemoration of St. Thomas

Readings: Ephesians 4:7, 11-16 | John 20:24-29

Text: John 20:24-29

Who was St. Thomas and why is he remembered?

Thomas was one of the apostles. In the lists of the Apostles in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Thomas is paired with Matthew, so perhaps when they were sent out in twos (Matthew 10:5-6), they travelled together.

John gives us more of a personal story of Thomas. The first time, he is introduced as, “Thomas, called the Twin” or Didymus (john 11:16). There are a total of three accounts that involve Thomas in John’s Gospel, and it’s the last one which gets the most attention. Thomas has gained such a reputation that his name as become associated with doubt. This label goes back even to the time of the Reformation, as Albrecht Durer, who carved this woodcut for his Small Passion series (c. 1510), named it “Doubting Thomas.”

Application

Let’s look at all of them together, so that we can better appreciate Thomas, one Jesus’ Twelve.

11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:11-16)

Lazarus’ death is a teaching moment for the disciples of Jesus, including the Apostles. Our Lord calls the end of Lazarus’ grave illness “sleep” because this is an enemy which He is about to conquer. Most Israelites saw death as a prison, calling it Sheol, but Jesus had come to release such prisoners. Once He explains clearly that Lazarus has died, notice Thomas’ bold confession! If Jesus can undo even death, then let us go and treat it playfully as a temporary condition—to fear the grave as little as we fear going to sleep!

Later, in the Upper Room, as Jesus is giving His farewell sermon, our Lord says,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:1-6)

Thomas is not afraid to ask the question which nags at all of us as we hear these words. He’s just said such an incredible thing, that He goes to prepare a place in His Father’s house. Then, Jesus says we know the way. But do we really? How can we be sure? Let me have detailed instruction, lest I get lost and lose such a precious reward!  Thomas’ question prompts the Lord Jesus to clarify saying that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Just as much as He is the Resurrection, displayed in Lazarus (John 11:25-26).

Thomas, through honest questioning, has learned that Jesus is the Master over the grave, the sure and certain way to eternal life with God. Yet, he has also seen his Lord betrayed, cruelly tried, and brutally crucified, dead, and buried. Come the evening of that first day of the week, Thomas as a lot to put together. Has the grave in fact swallowed the Lord up? Did we set our hopes too high?

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.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

If we only focus on one apparent failure of Thomas, we end up doing what the world does with its forefathers right now. All of their contributions are reduced to the one fact that they owned slaves, for instance. Same with Thomas, that he is caricatured as “Doubting Thomas.”  Better not be a “doubting Thomas” and with that label, envelop the whole person, and dismiss his desire for certainty.

Each account of Thomas is about faith and the certainty of what one believes. He can boldly go to death with Lazarus, knowing that Jesus is its victor. He can be sure that he Jesus will bring him and all who believe to the Father to dwell in the House of the Lord forever [Ps. 23:6].

Maybe St. Thomas was the first Lutheran, because he was concerned about certainty in his faith and the message he was being sent out to preach. That’s a distinguishing mark of the Evangelical Reformation: Rather than speculating about what God may or may not think, the ways the Lord may be moving members of His Church, the process for the soul after death, or whether departed saints can pray with us or for us—Lutherans are bound to the clear Word of God, to receive it by faith.  Does it say, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” and “this promise is for you and for your children” and that Baptism is “a circumcision made without hands…having been buried…[and] also raised with him through the powerful working of God”?[1] Then we will baptize even our infants because we trust the Lord’s saving work in Christ for them.  Does the Lord say to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise”?[2] Then we will not entertain any talk of purgatory for extra purification over and above the blood of Christ which was shed for us. Does the Scripture says, “Truly no man can ransom another” and “There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”?[3] Then we will only pray to the Triune God and not put our hope in Mary or any other servant of God.

What does St. Thomas teach us at Advent?

Advent is a time for Christians to meditate on the first coming of our Lord, and to ask the question, “O Lord, how shall I meet you?” (LSB 334) when He comes again in glory. The End Times are again a place for certainty and confidence. As St. John would later write, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:16-17) Let us not get swept away in the fantastical speculations of so many teachers who trouble believers with talk of invisible comings of Christ, rapture, rebuilding an earthly temple, and Armageddon. Let us follow the example of Thomas, who firmly believed the Lord’s Word and wanted to have confidence in it for himself and his hearers. As your pastor, that is my aim and what I delight in too. Stick with the clear words of Jesus, for “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed…[for] these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:29, 31)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


[1] Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38-39; Colossians 2:9-12

[2] Luke 23:43

[3] Psalm 49:7; 1 Timothy 2:5

Fourth Sunday in Advent

~ Rorate Coeli ~

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-19 | Philippians 4:4-7 | Luke 1:39-56

Text: Philippians 4:4-7

“The Lord is at Hand For You”

Intro: It formed the theme for last Sunday, and now here it is again: Rejoice in the Lord always. Today focuses heavily on the reason for rejoicing in all circumstances: The Lord is at hand.

1. The Lord is at hand…to judge.

a. His nearness is not good news in and of itself: 32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Matt. 24:32-33) The Lord’s imminent return is not good news for the unbelieving.

b. Jesus was near to Peter when he denied his Lord and Jesus’ gaze caused Peter to weep. (Luke 22:58-62) The Word that Jesus had spoken caused bitter tears.

c. He is near even when you are purposely overriding your conscience and doing what you know isn’t right. In these moments, we put on a mockery of the life of faith, using the Lord’s patience as an excuse to gratify our flesh. Remember the bitter tears of Peter, and repent.

> The nearness of His condemnation of our unbelief isn’t His ultimate goal. His desire is to put our Old Adam, with all his rebellion and wickedness to death. Instead of judgment, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) The Lord is at hand.

II. The Lord is at hand…for His people.

a. The Lord’s nearness had caused the people to tremble at the foot of Sinai. “Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.” (Deut. 18:16) So the Lord sent Moses and Aaron as His representatives. He promised to once again draw near in the Prophet who would bear His Word (Old Testament reading, Deut. 18:15-19).

b. Elizabeth and Mary recognized the nearness of the Lord. Even the infant John recognized it and rejoiced inside Elizabeth! It was not just a thoughtful reminder, but it was embodied in the infant in Mary’s womb.

c. This is the comfort of the Lord being at hand for you, bringing His mercy and salvation. The Israelites hoped for this Prophet, Elizabeth and her baby leapt, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior.

The Lord is at hand with His Word and in His flesh.

III. The Lord is at hand…for you.

a. Though we rightly deserve His displeasure for our denials, our weakness, and our unfaithfulness, the Lord Jesus Christ was born to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:23). The Lord is at hand to save you.

b. The nearness of the Lord is not just a cognitive device to calm our minds. It’s a truth which our faith clings to, and a peace which is delivered by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. The Lord is at hand to give you peace.

c. And it’s a reality that as often as we forget or push away the nearness of the Lord, we look for peace in the wrong place. We try to find it in our understanding and how well we manage our life and relationships. This can only give us a passing, human peace.

d. In that false belief, we think the Lord is far away. I’m suffering, and He’s somewhere else. His congregation is hurting and He is idly looking on. Our world is wandering into darkness, and He must just be fed up with us.

e. But our Lord does not simply stand by waiting for us to “figure out the right thing to do.” He is active in our lives, to break our confidence in our understanding, our own proud accomplishments. And that illusion of self-made peace we give up in repentance, God fills us with peace that no man could ever dream of.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Because it is true the Lord is at hand, cast your cares on Him; seek His help in prayer; praise Him for the abundant good He does for you, and enjoy a peace which surpasses that of our thoughts. Rejoice in the Lord at all times, for “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1, 11) In the Name + of Jesus.

Amen.

Commemoration of Nicasius and Eutropia, Martyrs

Text: Romans 12:14-21, Luke 6:27-36

as seen in Wikipedia

Who was Nicasius?

Nicasius was a bishop in Rheims, on the frontier of the Roman empire. This area had a Christian presence dating back to 260 AD.

In the new year’s eve of 407, a horde of Barbarians crossed the frozen Rhine River. To the Roman inhabitants of Gaul, it was called the Barbarian invasion. They sacked cities along the way.

Bishop Nicasius was said to have had a vision concerning this invasion, and he warned the people about it. They asked him if they should take up arms, but Nicasius responded, “Let us abide the mercy of God and pray for our enemies. I am ready to give myself for my people.”

When the Vandals arrived at the gate of the city, Nicasius attempted to slow them so that more citizens could escape. He met the advancing army with his companions: Jucundus, his lector, Florentius, his deacon, and Eutropia, his virgin sister. The Vandal army put him and his companions to death at his altar or the door of his church, while he was praying from Psalm 119: Adhæsit pavimento anima mea: Vivifica me secundum verbum tuum. “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Ps. 119:25)

The legends have it that after the death of Nicasius, the Vandals were so scared, they left the area and left their plunder behind.

Application

Our Lord says, 27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

St. Paul writes to the children of God:

“17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

How can Jesus say such a thing? How can it be that God’s instruction would be to roll over against the force of those who hate us?

These are hard words for us, because it doesn’t seem right or fair. Our world tells us to demonize those who hate or abuse us (or sometimes even just trouble us). Take away their power by whatever means necessary, destroy their reputation, seize their assets, remove them from memory.

But who was Nicasius, a bishop to take up arms? What chance did they have against this advancing army when the Romans soldiers had retreated to deal with other invaders? His priority was to save civilian lives…and the souls of the enemies.

Yes, the lives of his enemies. The lives of your enemies are precious in God’s sight. The life of the one who abandoned you, who hurt you, who cheated you in court. Their life is just as precious as yours to God. No matter how much the image of God has been smeared over by the filth of evil, God still priced their life with the precious blood of Christ.

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:6–10)

When we see those who are our enemies as human beings loved by God, rather than seeking to be rid of them, we see ourselves as witnesses to God who has had mercy on us.

When the Vandals crossed the Rhein, it was not just their armies. It was also their women and children—their families with them. They were fleeing for their lives against a ruthless invading force that had forced them out of their homes—the Huns. For the past 30 years, the Huns had been wreaking havoc on the Germanic peoples and forcing them as refugees into the Eastern Roman empire. This doesn’t excuse their actions of killing an unarmed bishop and his attendants, or robbing from the people of Gaul. But rather, as Nicasius said, “Let us abide the mercy of God and pray for our enemies.” For that is what God, who rules over the nations, who desires the salvation of the nations, has commanded us.

So, who are our enemies today? Woke idealogues? Democrats or republicans? Abortionists? Illegal immigrants? Do we take a cue from the world and demonize the people who belong to these movements, dehumanizing them?

Instead, let us entrust our lives to our Lord, who 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Pet. 2:23) And see those who set themselves against us not according to their sins (3If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? 4But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Psalm 130:3–4), but according to God’s mercy shown to His enemies, His power to convert them, and to save them from the coming judgment.

Let Nicasius and his companions remind us this Advent that Christ came into the world to save all people, and that His desire now is that disciples be made of people from every nation. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan

Readings: Ephesians 3:8-12 | John 10:11-16

Text: Ephesians 3:8-12

Who was Ambrose? What led the Church to remember him?

Aurelius Ambrosius was born in 339 to a Roman Christian family in Gaul in modern-day Germany.

His father was a praetorian prefect, or high-ranking administrator for the province. Ambrose was set to follow in his father’s footsteps, going to school in Rome. He practiced law for a while, but in 370 was eventually appointed civil governor of Liguria and lived in the capital, Milan. He was a noteworthy statesman, good orator, and well-liked.

Four years later in 374, bishop Auxentius, an Arian, died in office. This controversy had been brewing since the council of Nicea. Arius’ teaching that Jesus was not true God had many adherents, especially in the court. There was a lot of controversy about who would follow him. The Nicene and Arian laity were fighting over this question, so much that Governor Ambrose had to step in. As he was addressing the crowd, the Nicene laity began to shout for his election as bishop, “Ambrose, bishop!” The Arians were okay with that, because Ambrose had treated them fairly.

Just one big problem. He was still a new Christian, an unbaptized catechumen with no theological training.  He fled from the meeting and hid at a colleague’s house. This colleague gave him up and within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated on December 7, 374.

He was faithful in his office, adopting an ascetic lifestyle, selling his property and providing for his sister. He had good favor with the people as governor, and now as bishop he was even more loved. This favor helped him in his future relations with government interaction.

Ambrose not only cared for his flock, but from his experience in the state, saw the need for the public welfare of the Church. He served as spiritual counselor to the next several western emperors. His goal was to forge an alliance with the Roman state to bolster the orthodox faith against Arianism, paganism, and Judaism.

He influenced Emperor Gratian to remove an altar to the goddess Victory from the Roman senate. He refused a later emperor’s wife’s demand to have Milan’s churches facilities used to garrison Gothic (Arian) troops. He resisted imperial influences on teaching and disciple within the Church, clearly articulating a proper division between church and state: “For the emperor is within the church, not above the church.”[1] He called Emperor Theodosius I to publicly repent in the streets of Milan after he massacred civilians in Thessalonica in retaliation for an imperial official’s murder.[2]

He also became a prominent theologian. Through his acumen and eloquence, Ambrose was instrumental in Augustine of Hippo’s conversion. He also authored the hymn which we just sang, Savior of the Nations Come, along with two others in our hymnal (874 and 890).

Application

It’s noticeable how unworthy and unprepared Ambrose was for the task that the Lord laid at his feet. Like St. Paul, he was a most unlikely candidate (save for being hostile to the Church).

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord

God’s work is not seen in the individuals and personalities of the saints He calls to service. This is a vain dream of our sinful heart which wants to be remembered and make a legacy for one’s self.  His work is to “bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” which is made manifest in the Word of God.

You don’t have to be a bishop or preacher in order to share in this work of God. Parents do it very simply by reading the Bible with their children, teaching them to pray, modeling lives of devotion to the Lord. Friends do this by displaying the love of Christ and living in the joy of the Gospel, so that those who don’t believe or are conflicted can be guided by the light in you. Everyday Christians do this when they live their lives conscientiously—holding to life in a society that embraces death as a savior, honoring marriage in the midst of hedonism, knowing what is right in an age of moral relativism.

The Lord raised up Ambrose at a time of crisis in order to faithfully guide His Church. That’s what needed to happen for the good of God’s people in that place and time. He wasn’t thinking about how he would be remembered by history, how his eloquence would ripple to Augustine, and later to Martin Luther. Too often we are sold the idea that what we do must be exceptional, but that is to aggrandize ourselves. It is enough to love the Lord who has brought His Word to us, to love our neighbor who is right before us, and to pray for the Lord’s guidance and that He equip us for our various tasks.

What does Ambrose teach us about during the Advent season?

It’s an overwhelming thing to ponder the big picture—our country, our world, where things will go. Nevertheless, God has revealed to us the mystery that surpasses every other variable about this life: Christ is coming again in glory, and in the meantime, He rules at the Father’s right hand to accomplish His loving and saving purpose.

How do we take part in something so monumental? By bowing our hearts in prayer to Him, “Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”

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


[1] Ambrose, Sermon Against Auxentius, 36

[2] Walker, Williston, “A History of the Christian Church” (4th ed.), pp. 159-160.

Growing in Faith

The Feast of St. Andrew

Text: John 1:35-42a

Who was Andrew? How is he remembered?

Andrew was the brother of Peter, first a disciple of John and moved by the words, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

Although he was the first to believe, he wasn’t as impetuous as his brother. The two of them were called together at some point after this initial meeting (Matt. 4:18-22)

His mark on in the Gospel narratives is only pointing out the boy with five loaves and two fish at the Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:8-9) and being among the four who asked Jesus about the destruction of the Temple (Mark 13:3-4).

Later tradition says he was a missionary around the Black Sea. Died in Patras, Achaia in the 60’s. Legend says that he was crucified on an X-shaped cross, which is why he is pictured with the two beams of wood. Owing to the tradition of his wide travels, Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, which is why the flag bears a white cross on a blue field.

Application

Almighty God, by Your grace the apostle Andrew obeyed the call of Your Son to be a disciple. Grant us also to follow the same Lord Jesus Christ in heart and life, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

John the Evangelist provides the background of how Andrew first came to learn of Jesus.

18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Matt. 4:18-20)

His call to be an apostle is not the impulsive, hasty “get out of the boat” moment that people make it out to be. He learned from Jesus, first calling Him “Rabbi,” but eventually telling his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”

Likewise, all disciples grow through the Word of God. We all start as babes on the “pure spiritual milk of God’s Word…[having] tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Pet. 2:2) And over time with growth, we become ready for “solid food,” for “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb. 5:14).

How has your walk been in following Jesus? Perhaps earlier you had misconceptions, underestimating Him. This misunderstanding may have led you to doubt.

What brings you from weak faith to better know Him, and more fervently follow Him, is hearing His Word in the crucible of life. Faith comes by hearing, but maturity comes through trials (Rom. 10:17; James 1:2). We need both.

The Lord knew this for Andrew, just as He did for Peter and all the apostles. The Lord directed Andrew’s growth though His questions and teaching, healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31), through his doubts in the crowd of 5,000, through the Messiah’s passion and resurrection and ascension. All of this prepared Andrew for what the Lord would do through him: preach the Gospel to the Gentiles of Scythia, Thrace, and Asia Minor.

What does Andrew teach us about during Advent?

The point for us is that every disciple starts somewhere which the Lord knows. According to His saving purpose, He calls us with His Gospel and enlightens us. As we answer His call and follow Him, Jesus causes us to better know Him, so that we can also tell others accurately about who He is—our Christ and theirs.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Holy Saturday

Paschal Vigil

Holy Baptism of Matthew, Alonna, and Wyatt Reeves

Readings: The Creation – Genesis 1:1-2:3 | The Flood – Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 | Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea – Exodus 14:10-15:1 | A New Heart and a New Spirit – Ezekiel 36:24-28 | Jonah Preaches to Nineveh – Jonah 3 | The Gathering of God’s People – Zephaniah 3:12-20 |

Text: Ephesians 5:8-14

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

St. Paul writes in Ephesians, chapter 5:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”

Darkness in Scripture is always more than the physical absence of light.  Yes, light belongs to God’s creative work, but it also says early on that God separated the light from the darkness.

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And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. (Gen. 1:3-5a)

Before this, it says that “darkness was over the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2)  God’s creative work was ordering light and separating it from the darkness.  This is a spiritual truth as well, because there is spiritual darkness.   It brings with it chaos, an attempt to undo what God created orderly.  All mankind lies shrouded in this spiritual darkness, and only when one is given the light of God in Christ, do we recognize what the darkness does.  In the darkness, God’s order is under attack: “male and female He created them,” is twisted into our own self-chosen identity.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh,” is trivialized into chasing carnal pleasure and treating others as disposable.  “You shall have dominion over all the creatures on earth,” is abused either in waste or worship of the environment.

This darkness is what covers the creation God at first called, “very good.”  He says through Isaiah that there is a: “covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.” But, “He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:7-8).

The darkness of sin and the shadow of death we know all too well. A fallen world full of fallen men, who, Jesus even declares, “love the darkness rather than the Light” (John 3:19).   Humanity follows the broken compass of our fallen flesh, a needle constantly pointed inward, drawn by the gravity of our sinful, selfish desires. Such is the darkness of fallen mankind, a mind, will, and heart of darkness whose thoughts are continually evil.

But into this creation came the God who is the Author of Light, of good, of order: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13)

So, notice Paul’s choice of verbs in Ephesians 5. Once you were darkness: past tense. Now you are light in the Lord: present tense. In Christ, who is the Light of the world, our past sin and darkness have been changed into an eternally present reality: You are light in the Lord Jesus.

God’s brilliant light and love for us in Christ do not flicker. His grace and mercy to you cannot be snuffed out. Christ’s peace and light does not come and go like the rising and setting of the sun. No, Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. In His birth for us, His life for us, His death and resurrection for us, we have received God’s true, enduring, endless, and eternal Light.

In Jesus, “now you are light in the Lord.” You also called a city set on a hill. Do not hide who the Lord God makes you to be.  This is His creative work—a new creation bringing light out of darkness.  Similar to how it was in the original creation, He brought His creation out of water.  With His new creation in you, He brings it out of the waters of Holy Baptism.  As you have now been made light in the Lord, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Glory in God your Creator, your Redeemer, and He who makes you holy and light in the Lord.

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

Good Friday

Readings: Isaiah 52:13—53:12 | 2 Corinthians 5:14–21 | John 18-19

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; John 19:30

“The Death of Jesus Changed How God Relates to the World”

The Old Testament sure is bloody.  People are dropping dead every other minute, it seems.  Reading through the Old Testament, you will find that there are many manifest judgments on the wicked—a worldwide flood, cities destroyed, plagues, ground opening up, people struck dead.  Yet, those things fade out in the New Testament.  Have you noticed that while Israel was commanded to conquer and slaughter the Canaanite nations, no such crusade has ever existed for the Church?

Judgments came upon the wicked overtly and immediately.

There are several examples of judgments coming on the wicked which were overt and immediate.  The whole earth was corrupt and rejected God, besides Noah and his family of eight, and God sent the flood over all the earth.  The wickedness of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great that the outcry precipitated an in-person visit by angels, and at their refusal to repent, God destroyed the city and its surrounding region.  Pharaoh refused to let Israel depart under Moses, so God executed ten deadly plagues against the Egyptians while sparing His people. When the Levite, Korah, and his followers were jealous of Moses’ leadership and the priesthood God established, those rebels were swallowed by the earth.  The list goes on.

These judgments show the seriousness of sin.  It wasn’t a light matter for people whom God created to choose their own way to go, to innovate in what the highest purpose of life is or what constitutes right and wrong.  These judgments reveal the peril of rebellion against God.  Forgetting that we are all nothing but dust enlivened by the Spirit of God, the idea that we can stage a revolt against our Creator and the King of the Universe, if we can only gather enough like-minded people around us, is insane.  Remember and fear Him who destroyed the whole world at His command (2 Pet. 3:4-7).  The Lord’s judgments teach us the danger of putting the Lord to the test.  The fear of authority and serious consequences is something that is dulled in our day of overabundance and love of pleasure.  But to go on living as if God were not Almighty and Righteous, is only to put His patience to the test.  You can see how well that worked out for the Israelites who died in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-11).

And yet these varied and serious judgments—even the worldwide Flood—are only a preview of the final judgment.  There is a Last Day on which all the enemies of God—both the Devil, and all evildoers—will be punished eternally: “There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.” (Ps. 36:12)

But something fundamental changed with the arrival of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Something tremendous happened when the Creator entered His creation: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:4-5, 9-11, 14) It’s not that God changed.  He did not become any less holy and righteous when He took on human flesh.  He did not change His attitude toward sin, and soften up because before He just didn’t see things from our perspective.  His demands for righteousness did not diminish when He sent His Son in the flesh, as He teaches, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:20, 48)

It’s also not that you, or humanity as a whole, has gotten any better.   If anything, wickedness is on the rise.  People have moved into shamelessness toward their sin, and depravity which would have caused previous generations—even pagans—to wretch, is celebrated in our age.  Even murder has been made user-friendly by putting it under the guise of medical care. The idea of virginity is laughed at because it’s so foreign in our lack of self-control.  So, no, we have not gotten any better than our forefathers.

It is God’s Christ who makes all the difference here.  What you just heard in the Passion is God visiting all the sin every person in the world, not upon the people who deserve it, but upon His own beloved Son.  Four times in St. John’s Passion, the fulfillment of the Scriptures are mentioned, as they weave through this ultimate act of judgment and salvation.  All the Scriptures, from the very first day sin entered the world, every ounce of hot wrath, along with every evil intention of the sinful human heart, was fulfilled.  Every sin was answered for.

And that changes everything for you.  Everything which you have deserved from God was hurled upon Jesus.  In His suffering, see what your sin has cost Him.  Do you see Him abandoned and alone, standing in judgment while already being condemned, suffering immensely in bodily anguish, and forsaken by God?  Yes, that is what you have deserved because of your sin.  This is what you have earned from your sinful birth and all that you have done since. A one-way ticket to everlasting condemnation.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

This changes everything about how God relates to the world until the end.

When He cried, “It is finished,” He meant it.  The Scripture was fulfilled: God’s wrath against the sin of the world is finished.  All is atoned for, for the payment has been made for all.  The only price which was high enough to redeem a race enslaved to sin, death, and the Devil has been rendered by the only-begotten Son of God.  This has changed everything about how God relates to His creation full of sinful men and women.

Notice how now, the immediate judgments are few and far between.  How many cities have been swallowed up, how many have actually been struck by lightning?  More often than not, if there is a judgment upon a person or people, it’s indistinguishable from the “natural” course of events.  The Black Death took the lives of Mongol invaders and pious Christian mothers alike.  HIV and AIDS doesn’t just impact homosexuals, fornicators, and drug users, but it has also made honest families bereft of a parent and spouse.

What God did on the cross through His Son changed how He interacts with this fallen world, as St. Paul writes, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19)  Until the Last Day, we no longer see what men deserve (what we deserve) because of our sin.  The idea that the world runs on something like the Hindus call karma is obsolete: “one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all.” 

Since the cross and the ascension of Christ to intercede for us as High Priest, we now live in the era of God’s longsuffering, “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4)  People will not be scared by threats of punishments into believing, but they will be convicted by the preaching of the Word of Christ.  And by that powerful Word—the Word that “kills and makes alive,” “that breaks the rocks in pieces,” that “is the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Deut. 32:39; Jer. 23:29; Rom. 1:16)—God will release all who believe from their sins.  His people will rejoice that He has nailed their sin to the cross, and joyfully share that life-giving Word.

That dark day on Calvary changed everything for this world.  In the same way, the Judgment at the end of the world has changed.  In this favorable time [2 Cor. 6:2], God refrains from visiting one’s sins upon them.  At the Last, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be on the basis of Calvary.  All who are found in Christ “do not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)  Only on that Day, will the consequences for those who spurned the Gospel be realized.  Then will the righteous “shine like the sun” while for the wicked, it will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Let all who have Christ as their Savior rejoice, now and into eternal life.

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

Maundy Thursday

Readings: Exodus 12:1–14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23–32 | John 13:1–15

Text: John 13:1-17, 34-35

This Maundy Thursday, I want to address two things: The connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Passover, and why this night we read about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and commanding them to love one another.

In delivering His people from slavery in Egypt, the Lord could have done it any number of ways.  He had chosen nine plagues to display His judgment on Egypt and the false gods.  But on this tenth, He did something unique.  He didn’t just kill off the firstborn sons of Egypt and preserve the Israelite sons.  He gave them something to do: Take a lamb, slaughter it and paint your doorposts with its blood.  Then roast it whole with fire and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  This is the Lord’s Passover for Israel as they came out of Egypt.

But if we were to ask what the main thing in the Passover was—not that the parts of it are meant to be set against each other—it would be the blood of the lamb.  “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.”  The blood of the lamb in God’s Passover, marked His people.

And this is the foundation upon which the upper room with the disciples is built.  Even though we don’t read the account from the holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, or St. Paul, the Lord’s first Passover sets the stage for what the Lord-in-the-Flesh institutes that night.  God has provided a lamb, as He promised Abraham (Gen. 22:1-14), one lamb for all the people.  A lamb without blemish, conceived and born by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary—free from sin so that He might free His people from their sin.  He shall be killed before the oncoming darkness—“Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” (Matt. 27:45)  And it shall be His blood that shall be a mark over the heads of His people to save them from plague and destruction.

As for you, you shall eat the flesh of God’s Lamb who has been roasted as a sin offering.  At some later point, not recorded in Scripture, it became the custom to drink wine commemorating God’s four promises in Exodus 6: “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” (Exodus 6:6-7)  The cup of wine was often a sign of judgment (Ps. 11:6, Isa. 51:17, Ezek. 23:31-33), but it was also one of salvation, as the faithful sing, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13)

But the Lord on earth embraced this practice and endowed it with significance when He took the 3rd cup, the “I will redeem you” cup, and said, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My blood.”  Lamb’s flesh, roasted and eaten, Lamb’s blood, painted on doorposts, now given to you—“Take, eat; Take, drink.”  This is the meal which our God-in-the-flesh instituted for us to remember His mighty act of deliverance at Calvary.

“Do this in remembrance of me.” These words adorn many an altar-table dedicated to this holy Meal.   The Lord commanded Israel to do the Passover feast in memory of that first Passover and Exodus.  However, this is not the memory of our fleeting and fickle minds.  It’s akin to when it says in the hymnal at the Invocation, “The sign of the cross T may be made by all in remembrance of their Baptism.” (LSB 151).  I have no cognitive memory of my baptism when I was three weeks old, nor would anyone else who was baptized as an infant.  The biblical way of remembrance is for faith to lay hold of what God as done, and for that mighty act to be applied to the present.

The Israelites were told, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place.” (Ex. 13:3)   Well, by the third generation, none of them would be able to recount that day.  Yet, the Lord said, “This day shall be for you a remembrance day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations” (Ex. 12:14). 

Remembrance began with God.  God remembered Noah in the ark; He remembered the sons of Israel in Egypt.  And when He remembered, it meant that He saw His people through the unilateral covenant He made with them—I will bring you out, I will deliver you, I will redeem you, I will take you to be my people.  And when He calls on His people to remember, He is bidding them to see Him through His covenant promise.  This remembrance is even It even applies to “Remember the Day of Sabbath, in order that it may be holy.”[1]  That’s also how, even Israel or individuals had sinned, when they repented, they would beseech God to remember His steadfast love—His faithfulness to His covenant [Ps. 25:6-7].

In the same way, all who are in Christ, beneficiaries of the New Covenant, eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ often, in remembrance of what that covenant is: His Body sacrificed on the cross, His blood poured out for the sins of the world (including all of ours, too!).  This is the meal of our perfect and true Passover Lamb, which take His eternal covenant—“I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:33-34)

On that night in which He was betrayed, He taught His disciples many things to bring them from the covenant under Moses to the New covenant in His blood.  One of those lessons came as an expression of His divine remembrance: “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper…Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.”  He got down on His holy hands and knees and did the menial labor of a servant.  Then, He said about it, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

This is how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ultimately remembered His covenant to bless all the families of the earth: He put Himself in the lowest place, the Lord who serves His rebellious enemies, the righteous saving the unrighteous.

At this point, the objection is raised that Jesus commanded foot-washing, so if we take the Lord’s Supper seriously and give it literal interpretation, why do we not literally wash one another’s feet?  Good question, but foot-washing and the Eucharist are two different topics.  Foot-washing has no Old Testament anti-type, or precedent, and no covenant promise attached to it.  If Christians choose to reenact this, well and good because He said, “I have given you an example.”  But, the bigger message isn’t the literal scrubbing of toes, but what is said in verses 34-35:

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Rather than get hung up on whether we are doing our most exact obedience, the Lord is here commanding something that none of us can do apart from Him.  None of us can love as He has loved, unless we are those who know how the Lord has remembered His gracious promises toward sinners.  None but the Lord’s people, redeemed and marked by the sign of the blood of the Lamb of God, and having a living faith in those things, can remember God and see Him through His covenant.  And remembering our God through His gracious covenant—that God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, who tasted death to save man from it [2 Cor. 5:19; Heb. 2:14]—we also look at the rest of the human family without disdain or distaste.  If God, according to His own promise, came to serve even the lowest (even us!), how fitting it is that we should love even the lowest and meanest.  That’s not just a dirty, mentally unstable homeless person—that is a human being created and redeemed by God.  That’s not just a bristly, proud atheist professor—that is a person whom the Lord had in mind as He gave up His final breath.

This do in remembrance of Me—the eating and drinking for your grace and strength, the loving of all mankind.  In the Name + of Jesus.  Amen.


[1][1] My own translation from the Hebrew, reflecting the construction of what is normally translated “Sabbath day,” as if Sabbath inextricably happened only on the 7th day.  Also, the preposition-verb for “to make holy” is in the passive voice, indicating that the Remembering is to be done for the purpose of letting the Day of Sabbath be holy for them.

Good Friday

Text: John 18-19

Additional Readings: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 | Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9

Pontius Pilate marveled when he had Jesus in his court, because He wasn’t like any other person facing condemnation.  And he’s right.  Jesus is very different from other men, including you and me.

Take Gethsemane for instance:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. (John 18:1-3)

We go to great lengths to avoid calamity: Wearing masks, keeping our distances; fixing recall notices on our cars; having mammograms and prostate exams; covering electrical outlets and putting scissors out of reach.  And if one of those dreaded things happens, especially if it’s something we’ve been trying like crazy to prevent, there’s a double pang because it happened despite what we could do.

But not Jesus.  Gethsemane was a trap.  Judas had betrayed privileged information to the chief priests.  Jesus knew this, and instead of going anywhere else in the area, He knowingly went there and accepted the cup of woe His Father was giving Him to drink.

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. (Isa 53:7)

Yet, let there be no doubt that Jesus is the same God-Man who changed water into wine, who healed the sick, and raised the dead, who could at once ask His Father for twelve legions of angels.  When He answers, “I am He” they fall down at His majesty.  “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10)  Nevertheless, He, “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7, 8)  Jesus goes to His appointed end, and the Scriptures of God fulfilled.

Another example is when Jesus was before the High Priest:

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” (Jn. 18:19-22)

Who doesn’t say things in private that they would dread being exposed publicly?  Who doesn’t have a different private life than the face they put on before others?  Who wouldn’t be violated by having a part of their lives exposed to scrutiny?  That’s what the High Priest is counting on.  Surely there is some dirt on Jesus, some failing or false word we can find upon which to hang Him.  But Jesus has none. 

  Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?

And who shall stand in his holy place?

               He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to what is false

and does not swear deceitfully.

               He will receive blessing from the Lord

and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:3-5)

But as for us, we do have those thoughts we hope God doesn’t see, those harsh words we pray are overlooked, and those things in our nightstand or on our phone or computer we hope won’t be found by others.

Then there’s the trial before Pontius Pilate:

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

19:9[Later, Pilate] said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 18:33-36, 19:9-11)

It’s hard to stand alone in one’s conviction.  Most of the time such a person will be labelled delusional.  Likewise, it’s hard for a man to be a martyr without others at least to commiserate.  Much more often, we prefer to be on the winning team, even if it’s the underdog.  We seek the approval of those around us, and are feel justified in our choices when we see others doing the same.

But not the Lord Jesus.  He has remained the same throughout His ministry, in declaring Himself to be the promised Son of Man, the Messiah who is Savior of the World.  And now He stands alone. “He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)  He was rejected by the people Israel, and without even His disciples.  Without a single other supporter, He holds to the work His Father gave to Him.  His Kingdom is not of this world. “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10)

  O Lord, all my longing is before you;

my sighing is not hidden from you.

    10          My heart throbs; my strength fails me,

and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

    11          My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,

and my nearest kin stand far off. (Ps. 38:9-11)

Yes, Jesus is not like us, and indeed there is none like Him.  Where we flee the consequences and a justly-deserved eternal punishment, the Lord faced them head on in your place and for you:

  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)

For us, who harbor secrets and beg that our mistakes and evils aren’t found out, Jesus of Nazareth was blameless to the heart.  He had no iniquity or deceit, and all who are born anew into Him by water and the Spirit are reckoned righteous by God: “Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (Ps. 24:6)

He stood alone, bearing witness to the truth.  He made the true good confession and never wavered, and where we are ignorant and vacillate, He remained faithful.  And even now He stands before His Father and makes intercession for you:

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;

       by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,

make many to be accounted righteous,

and he shall bear their iniquities.

12    Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,

and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,

       because he poured out his soul to death

and was numbered with the transgressors;

       yet he bore the sin of many,

and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa. 53:11-12)

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Text: Mark 14:12-26

Additional Reading: Exodus 24:3–11 | 1 Corinthians 10:16–17

Adapted from “The Mystery of the Lord’s Supper” by Johann Gerhard

In the Holy Supper of our Lord, we have a mystery placed before us.  Even though it cannot be explained with specific directions, counted in points for your diet, or given nutrition facts as other meals, the Holy Supper fills us with awe and adoration!

We know that the tree of life was planted by God in Eden, so that its fruit might preserve Adam and Eve and their children in the blessedness of their original immortality that He had gifted to them.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also in that place.  God had given them their eternal life, but this other tree was there to test their obedience and devotion to Him.  But eating became the occasion for their death and eternal condemnation, when they yielded to Satan’s enticement and followed their own wicked desires.

So, in the Holy Supper of our Lord, we have the true tree of life set before us again, whose “leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month…Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezek. 47:12)  The fruit of the tree of the cross is here given, and its sweetness destroys the bitterness of all afflictions, even death itself!

In the wilderness, the Israelites were fed with manna, called bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4); in the Lord’s Supper, we have the true Bread which came down from heaven to give life to the world (John 6:33, 51).  Here, this heavenly Food is such that, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)  The sons of Israel also had the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, where they could hear the Lord speaking with them (Ex. 25:21-22); but here in the Supper, we have the true ark of the covenant, the most holy Body of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3)  Here we have the true mercy seat in the precious blood of Christ, through which God has made us accepted in the Beloved (Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:6).

Christ does not simply speak a word from a distance to comfort us; He takes up residence with us (John 1:14).  He doesn’t only feed with manna which appears and is collected; but He feeds us with Himself.  Because He is present, we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place… This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:16-17) and He is the true Ladder upon whom the angels of God ascend and descend (John 1:51).  

In giving us His Body and Blood to eat and drink, He gives us an infallible pledge of our salvation.  What can be more intimately united to the Lord than His own human nature?  Through His incarnation, He has assumed humanity into the Godhead.  His own Body and Blood are inseparable from Him, and yet He deigns to give these to us, unworthy creatures who are nothing but dry bones unless He revives us! (Ezek. 37:1-14)  Since He has so united Himself to us, how could He ever forget those to whom He gives His own Body?  How can Satan gain the victory over us when we are strengthened and made ready for our spiritual conflicts with this bread of heaven?

Christ holds us dear, as we can see because He bought us at so dear a price; He holds us dear since He feeds our souls with so dear and precious a food.  He holds us dear because we are members of His body, of His flesh. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:29-30)  This is the sovereign remedy for all the diseases of our souls; here is the only effective cure for mortality.  Men will pay physicians fortunes to extend their mortal lives, but here the true balm for every disease and antidote to death is freely given.

Consider this: What sin is so heinous? The sacred flesh of God makes atonement for it.  What sin is so great, that it cannot be healed by the life-giving flesh of Christ?  The fiery darts of the Devil are quenched in this fountain of divine grace.  What conscience is so stained with sin, but it may be cleansed by the blood of Jesus?

Our first parents were placed in Paradise, a peaceful and delightful garden, a type of the eternal blessedness of heaven, that being mindful of God’s goodness to them, they would render due obedience to their Creator.  But, in this Holy Supper, there is more than a paradise, because here the souls of God’s creatures are spiritually fed with the flesh of the Almighty Creator.

The conscience is cleansed from all its guilty stains in the blood of the Son of God.  The members of Christ, their spiritual head, are nourished with His own Body; the believing soul feasts itself at a divine and heavenly banquet. The holy flesh of the Son of God, so united with the divine nature, which the angelic hosts adore, before which archangels bow in lowly reverence, and before which the principalities and powers of heaven tremble and stand in awe, has become the spiritual nourishment of our souls.  “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,” (Ps. 96:11) but still more let the believing soul exult and sing for joy, to whom God gives such an unspeakable gift!  Amen.