Good Friday

Readings: John 19:1-16a | John 19:16b-42

Text: John 19:1-42

Who is your King?

Israel had often confessed this:

“The Lord became king…when the heads of the people were gathered, all the tribes of Israel together” (Deut. 33:5)

“Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Ps. 24:8)

“The Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; He will save us.” (Isa. 33:22)

But they had even more often denied it:

“Is the Lord among us or not?” (Ex. 17:7)

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6)

“We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)

That day, they were being asked who their king was. They threw their lot in with Pontius Pilate and Tiberius Caesar. Hardening their heart, they forgot this: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever” (Ps. 146:3-6)

There will be times when we will be asked whom we are loyal to: Either to Him who has delivered us from sin, death, and hell, or people who promise an earthly kingdom of contentment and peace.

But like the people who threw their lot in with Egypt or Rome, they will be disappointed because the power of those rulers is only for a time. Their glory is a façade which one day will be ripped away. And who will they meet when this world passes away, but the true King?

They can try to strip Jesus of His kingship, but they don’t have the power to do this. We too, can harden our hearts and try to get out of His reign, but it’s only delaying the inevitable. To this King has been given the authority to judge the earth—to judge rulers, and to judge every person.

Repent before it is too late. Bow before the true King of the universe. “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Ps. 2:10-12)

The rulers of this world are no lasting help! Put not your trust in President Biden or Donald Trump, in the power of AI, or the social contagions of each year. These have no power to save at the last, and whatever power they exercise now is not theirs, but has been entrusted to them from above for a time.

We have heard once again tonight what this King has done for the sake of His rebellious subjects who would not honor him. What happened to the Israelites and the hard-hearted Jews has been written for our learning. May it wake us up from our slumber to consider the right fear of God the King. He desires all to be saved, but only through faith in His Son: His holy, innocent suffering and death, His rest in the tomb, and His glorious resurrection and ascension.

The King will return, His holy angels with Him, and His judgment will be carried out:

3          The books are opened then to all,
    A record truly telling
What each has done, both great and small,
    When he on earth was dwelling,
And ev’ry heart be clearly seen,
And all be known as they have been
    In thoughts and words and actions.

4          Then woe to those who scorned the Lord
    And sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word
    And loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the judge’s stern command
    To Satan be delivered.

5          My Savior paid the debt I owe
    And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
    My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
    There is no condemnation! (“The Day is Surely Drawing Near” LSB 508:3-5)

At the hour of our death and in the day of judgment, good Lord, deliver us!

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.

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.

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!

Good Friday (John 18-19)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Good Friday + April 19, 2019

Text: John 18-19

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is dead.  This was everything His enemies wanted.  This is everything that God wanted.  “It is finished.”  This is what Lent has been leading up to—the Son of God, hanging lifeless on the tree of the cross.

Another tree brought this all about—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Our ancestors brought sin and death into the world by disobeying God’s one simple command.  Along with their disobedience, they passed this evil down to their descendants so that every single last human being is well-acquainted with evil and only knows a fleeting shadow of good.

We have every right to be angry with Adam and Eve for what they did.  It’s your fault things are this way.  It’s your fault that wars break out.  It’s your fault that children die.  It’s your fault that injustice and corruption are rampant.  But even as we judge and condemn them, our own sin gets in the way.  Even the wildest rage of anger is just despair dressed up in different clothes.  Both of them are a confession of hopelessness, a resignation that even the highest powers of heaven can’t repair what was broken.  This will not do.

As we hear the Passion of Our Lord—the heartlessness of Judas, the sleepiness and the cowardice of the disciples, the mockery and condemnation of an innocent man—it’s maddening to hear that they got away with it.  But we are no better.  If we had been there, we would have done evil too.  We would have rejected the Christ, because “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.” (Isa. 53:10)

            None of us is able to master and conquer our sinful, dying condition.  Adam died, along with all his descendants—Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalel, Jared—all died.  Your ancestors have all died, or will die soon.  One day soon, you will die, too.

But, Jesus died, and that was the thing that turned everything around.  It is He who “accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.”  “It is finished” He said as He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit: All that needed to be done to overturn the reign of sin and the power of death.

The evangelist points out that these things were done to fulfill the Scriptures.  Jesus died that the Scriptures might be fulfilled which say: “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9) and “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27) and “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15).

Jesus died and now death is finished.  Sin is atoned for.  You who believe in Him have overcome sin and death.  Jesus died, but you will live eternally.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good Friday (Isaiah 53:4–6)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Good Friday + March 30, 2018
Text: Isaiah 53:4-6
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.
Death.  It’s a cold, hard reality that we don’t like to look at.  It’s painful to face and uncomfortable to talk about.  In modern America, we spend most of our lives ignoring that it can and will happen to us.
Perhaps the most difficult form death takes is when it’s untimely.  That’s when we are faced with the reality that we cannot keep ourselves alive, and neither can any other human being.  It may be in one’s own power to end a life by force, but all human ingenuity, preventive measures, and medical breakthroughs fall flat against an untimely death.
The truth is that all of us are dying.  Yes, it’s really just a matter of time.  This may be the last sermon you hear.  You may live for many more years.  But death comes to us all according to God’s timing.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matt. 10:29)
This cold reality, which is easier for us to ignore, God approaches directly and personally.  Death, for as many roses as we like to put on it, is a curse.  It is evil.  It’s not supposed to be this way!  Yet, no matter how we fight against it, none of us is able to break its hold.  God, on the contrary, sees death for what it really is—the due wages for our sin.[1]
Sin is real, even if there are times we would rather put God back into the dusty book we think He came out of.  We are naked before His all-knowing Law.  God doesn’t see a spectrum of some good people and some bad people.  His Law shows all of us that we have rejected Him who created us and sustains our life.  He created us to worship and be in conversation with Him, but we prefer to worship, trust, and devote ourselves the passing stuff of this life (just think about the lengths we go to hold onto it!).  God created us love and serve those around us.  But despite all the government crackdowns, public service announcements, and extended prison sentences, we only seem to be getting worse.  The real problem is not that we’ve failed to “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”  John Lennon sang that, but he also died.  The real problem is our sin.
What’s more comfortable to do is wallow in our problems.  We complain about our taxes, lament our illnesses, plot how we can get back at those who have offended us.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let God be true though everyone were a liar.”[2]  God works in the realm of reality—what is true despite us.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” God says.  This is true, regardless if you agree or not.  “and all are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”[3]  This also is true, regardless if you believe it or not.   That’s why Jesus says right after John 3:16, 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  God works in reality, not in imagination.
But it’s a very good thing that God works in this way, because it means that the good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and risen, is more than a feeling in our hearts.  It’s more than a desire in the pious thoughts of generations of Christians.  It’s more than the desperate hopes of people who face plague and infant mortality.
God’s salvation in Christ is a reality which exists in history.  The Christian Church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”  That means God came into time, came into our history, in order to free us from sin and save us from death.   The Christian faith is more than myth or memory; it is as real as the blood that pumps in your veins.
Because the Gospel of Jesus is real, all who believe this Gospel have a real hope.  When you look at yourself, you will see the effects of your sin and how your body decays.  That’s something real.  When you hear God’s Law, you will learn why it is that you die.  That’s also real.
But the death of Jesus is just as much a reality.  By His death on the cross, He unravels the power of sin and breaks the curse of death.  That’s real, too.  Even better, that reality lasts beyond the grave.  Years pass, memories fade, and thoughts are lost, but the Word of God endures forever.[4]  It is by that Word that you have peace in heaven and Jesus has prepared eternal life for you.  Go in the real peace which God freely gives you from Jesus’ cross and His empty tomb.  Amen.
The Evangelist Matthew writes in chapter 8:
14And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”” (Matthew 8:14–17)
When we feel our own pain, we cry out to God that we don’t deserve this.  It’s unfair, too much to bear.  When relief doesn’t come, we feel alone, singled out.
[1] Rom. 6:23
[2] Romans 3:4
[3] Romans 3:23-25
[4] cf. Isaiah 40:8

Good Friday (John 19:17-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Good Friday + April 14, 2017
Text: John 19:17-30
The Seventh Petition
“Deliver us from evil.”
We cry out under the weight of evil.  The children of Israel cried out to God from cruel slavery.[1]  Our hearts ache as we hear or live stories of abuse, murder, and fraud all around us in the world.  We plead with God for a miracle when we see our loved ones stretched out on gurneys at the verge of death, or when parents have to bury their children.  Who will save us?!
It’s little comfort to explain the psychology or mental illness leading people to commit their crimes.  It’s not very helpful when the doctor tells us what’s wrong when there’s no treatment.  We need another help beyond our human ability.
God has heard the cries of His people—from those of His ancient people to the pleads of your heart.  But, there is no stranger way that God answers our cries to be delivered from evil: The Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
He delivers us from sin by becoming sin for us and for all men.  Apart from Him, guilt only increases, and we are left in the mire of our own making.  We try to improve society and ourselves, but things only get worse and more depraved.  Only the blood of Christ can give a meaningful answer for the sins of the world.  Only the blood of Christ counts before God and gives us peace while we live in this body of death.[2]
He delivers us from the devil by bearing the full brunt of Satan’s attacks against humanity.  Satan, whose name means “adversary,” holds our sins over us to drive us to lose hope in God’s mercy.  He led our first parents into sin and now continues to preach to us that there’s no way we could be children of God because of the things we’ve done or failed to do.  But the Son of God delivers us from those assaults by bearing the accusations and lies Himself.  “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”  Never, because it is by this cross that Satan is disarmed and has nothing more to accuse for those who trust in Jesus.
He delivers us from death by His death.  Who can save us from the curse that entered the world with sin?  Who has the power to undo what cancer does, to heal our broken bodies, and to save those who have been taken by the grave?   No mere creature could overcome death.  But by His suffering and death, Christ tasted death for all of us.[3]   And by tasting death, He destroyed its lasting power over us.  Everyone who believes and is baptized into Him has the promise of His resurrection!  Because of Christ, His people whose bodies are now lifeless will rise to eternal life.  Death no longer has dominion over them.[4]
Yes, cry out, “Deliver us from evil!”  Cry this out in confidence because by the evil of His betrayal, trial, suffering, and death, your Lord Jesus Christ has delivered and will deliver you from every evil which is done under the sun.  Amen.
[1] Exodus 1:8-22
[2] Romans 7:25
[3] Hebrews 2:9
[4] Romans 6:3-9