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