Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blessed Are You

Sermon on John 20:19-31
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 27, 2014 (The Second Sunday of Easter)

Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.  At first glance, this last line from Thomas’ conversation with Jesus sounds merely like some sort of final “zinger” Jesus tosses into Thomas’ path at the end of the conversation.  If Jesus weren’t the perfect Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without sin and without petty selfish motivations, that’s all a statement like this probably would be.  But what Jesus is saying is not a “zinger” directed at Thomas, it’s a statement of fact.  Because what Jesus had instituted a week ago, which now also included Thomas, was the mechanism by which thousands would believe without having seen.

You see, what Jesus instituted on that first evening after His Resurrection was the Office of the Holy Ministry.  He had ordained the ten who were there into the office of forgiving and, when necessary, retaining sins.  He had breathed the Holy Spirit into them and told them that whosoever sins they forgave were forgiven, and whosoever sins they retained, were retained.  Now, at first glance that sort of an arrangement sounds like it’s ripe to being abused.  And, in fact the history of the Christian Church includes many instances of so-called pastors trying to use the Office of the Keys for purposes other than the reason it was instituted.  The Roman Papacy is one extremely notable example of this, but many others have tried to exercise a rule over their followers that is other than what our Lord gave the apostles here.  The thing of it is, what Jesus says is only true if the men in the Office of the Ministry really are acting within their office, and that is, forgiving the sins of those who are repentant, and retaining the sins of those who do not repent.  Those who do something else aren’t really acting within Jesus’ institution of the Office, and so what Jesus says here, namely that the sins forgiven and retained really are forgiven and retained in heaven itself, isn’t true of what men may do when they step outside the Office.  A false pastor may retain sins that aren’t really sins, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, and he may forgive things that should not be forgiven, using the Gospel as an excuse to condone sin rather than a message of forgiveness and restoration for those who really do know the horror of their own sinfulness.  False pastors like this do not truly forgive and retain sins, and so that’s why what Jesus says here isn’t a recipe for spiritual tyranny, despite what many have tried to do.  That’s also why Christians have the right and duty to hold their pastors accountable to the Word of God.  Just because the sins forgiven and retained rightly really are forgiven or retained in heaven, doesn’t mean pastors aren’t human and can’t make mistakes.

But what all of this does mean is that Jesus is giving His Church a gift.  He will continue to speak the Word of forgiveness to His Christians, and they will still be able to hear His words, spoken in the grammatical first person to the grammatical second person, as in “I forgive you.”  He is giving His church representatives, ambassadors if you will, whose words really are a declaration of what He is really doing for His people.  Down through the centuries God’s people have heard that their own sins, their own failures to even begin to live up to what God originally created them to be and to do, have been forgiven and that their imperfection is swallowed up in perfection.  Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.  That’s most Christians down through the centuries.  That’s also you.  Blessed are you.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Birthday!

Sermon on Matthew 28:1-10
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 20, 2014 (The Resurrection of our Lord)

Happy birthday!  Today is the commemoration of your rebirth into the new life of Christ.  When you were baptized, however many years ago that was, you were born again into a new life, a life lived by faith before God, and you died to your old life, the life of sin leading to destruction.  When you died to sin and were reborn to God in your baptism, what happened was that you joined Christ on the cross and were reborn from His tomb.  And so, in a sense, your Baptism took place not on whatever date is on your baptismal certificate, but in 33A.D., on a hill called Golgotha, as well as a couple of days later in a new tomb belonging to one Joseph of Arimathea.  God is outside of time, and so the key events having to do with our salvation don’t obey the normal laws of time.  Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection, your baptism, your physical death, and your resurrection on the last day, are really all the same event as far as God is concerned, even though they show up at various points on the time line from our perspective.  As St. Paul points out in Romans 6, you died with Christ on the cross, and you were born again in Christ’s resurrection.  So, happy birthday!

In the Gospel lesson, we see two groups of people at the tomb, besides the angel who comes down and rolls away the stone.  One is the soldiers, the other is the small group of women who had come to mourn and to finish preparing His body for burial.  When the angel came down and opened the tomb up, and the earth shook, our text says that the guards “became like dead men.”  And this isn’t surprising, considering that these men were indeed dead in trespasses and sins.  The guards were at the tomb to prevent anyone from stealing Christ’s body.  They were there to make sure that no one would be able to say that Christ rose from the grave.  Their mission was to make sure that, since Christ had been eliminated as a possible threat to the power and the pride of the high priests, He would stay out of the way.  Of course, they didn’t seriously believe that Christ would rise again, but they were there to make sure that nobody would be able to claim that He had.

In this respect, the guards, and the priests who had hired them to do this, are a picture of what we are according to our fallen sinful nature.  The Old Adam in each of us wants Christ out of the way.  We don’t like it when somebody tells us that we haven’t fulfilled God’s law, and worse yet that we cannot do so.  We like to think that we are pretty good people, that we can get along pretty well without God’s help.  When Christ comes along and tells us that we are sinners who need what only He can give us, we wish that we could ignore Him, get away from Him, get Him out of our way.  This was why the Jewish leaders had Jesus killed in the first place, and why they had posted guards to make sure that He stayed dead.

But when Christ is risen, the old sinful nature dies.  The guards, who represented the unbelieving world that wanted Jesus killed and out of its way, become like dead men.  In baptism, the Old Adam was drowned, was killed with Christ on the cross, so that a new man might come forth and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  That which is sinful and unclean cannot live in the presence of a holy and righteous God.  If we wind up in the presence of God, as all of us will at one time or another, without Christ’s righteousness covering us, we will suffer eternal death in Hell.

Fortunately when God came to us in Holy Baptism, and when He comes to us now in Holy Absolution, Preaching, and in His Holy Supper, He comes to us in such a way that we don’t suffer eternal death, but rather He gives us a new life.  Yes, you died in Holy Baptism, but you died to sin and you are now alive to God, and all the blessings that God has to give you are yours.  In our text, the characters that depict this are the women who came to the tomb.  Instead of depressed, sorrowful, hurting people who wanted to die because their Lord had been killed, they became joyful people, people who have a new life.  When Christ Himself met them, he greeted them with one word.  The ESV renders it as “Greetings,” but it can also be translated “Rejoice!”  Because He lives, we too now live in His presence.  We have been transformed from His enemies into His brothers by His death and resurrection.  And that’s how He refers to the disciples in His instruction to the women: “My brothers.”  We have been adopted into Christ’s family, we have become sons of God.  We are now among those who are welcomed into His house and who receive His bountiful gifts to us.  We can eat with Him and drink with Him and not die, because He has transformed us from sinners who would be killed by His presence into His saints.

Today, when Christ rose from the grave, you were born again.  You who were dead in trespasses and sins are now alive to God in Christ Jesus.  So again I say, “Happy birthday!” to all of you.  But instead of a birthday dinner, with a cake and candles for desert, we have something better to celebrate today.  We have the feast of victory itself.  We have our Lord’s own body and blood which He gave for us to win us this victory.  Let us feast, for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign.  Alleluia!  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Friday, April 18, 2014

It is Finished

Sermon on John 18 – 19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 18, 2014 (Good Friday)

According to the way many Christians think, Good Friday is a depressing day, a day to mourn the terrible things which happened to our Lord, a day which we only observe so that Easter will seem that much more joyful in comparison.  It looks to human eyes like Christ is defeated, like His ministry ended in tragedy.  Death is the end of it, is what human reason tells us, and it isn’t a victorious thing.  Certainly it’s true that Good Friday is very somber and serious, since what Christ endured for our salvation is neither pleasant nor easy.  He suffered through just about the worst sort of torture and execution that mankind has ever devised, and even that physical suffering was nothing compared to the fact that He did it with the guilt of our sins weighing upon His heart.  Since it was we who put Him there through our sinfulness and rebellion against God, Good Friday is a day to reflect penitently and seriously on our sin.  And so it’s appropriate that the mood be serious and somber.  After all, even though it was done out of love for us, to win us the victory, it was still painful and bloody for our Lord.

But Good Friday is not a defeat for Christ.  Easter is not the undoing of Good Friday, it is instead the successful result of Good Friday.  Easter is necessary so that we can believe that His death really did accomplish our own resurrection, but it is from the cross that Christ says, “It is finished.”  This is not a word of despair, a word which pronounces the end upon His message or His ministry.  Rather it is a word of fulfillment, a word by which Christ proclaims to the world that everything is accomplished, that our redemption is complete.  It is finished.  Since it was our sins that led Him to the cross, it is our sins, our death, and our eternal damnation that are now completely destroyed.

This word, “It is finished,” reminds us that there is nothing more that needs to be done, or even can be done, for our salvation.  Christ has done it all, and our part is simply to receive His completed work through Word and Sacrament.  By nature we tend to think that we should have something to contribute to our own salvation.  Many Christians tend to think that they’ve got to be the ones who “get right with God” before they are worthy to return to the church whose doors they haven’t darkened for a while. But Jesus is the one who makes you right with Him.  Everything that is necessary was done by Him on the cross.  Your salvation is completed.  Heaven is open to you.  Your sins are paid for.  It is finished.  And the Word and Sacraments you receive here are not something you do to please Him or get right with Him, rather they are the means by which He comes to you to give you the blessings He won for you, blessings which were perfected and completed on the cross.

And so we see that Good Friday is not the opposite of Easter at all.  The salvation and the eternal life which we will celebrate on Sunday were won on Good Friday.  Christ couldn’t have been resurrected as the first-fruits of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth, if He had not first died to this old world and all of its sin and death.  Yes, it was our sin that put Him there.  It was the punishment we deserved that He suffered.  But it was a victorious suffering.  It was a suffering that freed us from suffering.  It was a death that freed us from death.  Christ bore our sin so that we can share in His righteousness.  He who was not a sinner and therefore not subject to death died to free us from the eternal death that we deserved.  If Christ had not died on Good Friday, He would not have risen on Easter Sunday.  The joy and the wonder of Easter, the celebration of new life which has been granted to us who have been made partakers in Christ our risen Lord, is not possible without the death of Christ on the cross.  You can’t resurrect something that hasn’t died.  Christ’s death on the cross was necessary for our salvation just as our own deaths to sin in Holy Baptism are necessary for us to receive the newness of life which God grants us through water and the Word.

It is only because Christ dies that the Church is born.  It is only because He sheds His blood that the Church can be cleansed in it and renewed.  It is only when water and blood come forth from Christ’s side that we are able to be partakers of that water and that blood through Holy Baptism and through the Lord’s Supper.  The sacraments which gave us birth in the faith and which nourish and sustain our faith have their root in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Just as Eve was born out of the side of Adam, whom the Lord caused to fall into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs and formed the woman from it, so also the Church, the bride of Christ, is formed when Christ sleeps the sleep of death and from His side comes out the elements from which the Church is reborn into eternal life.  Here is the tree of life, which, if a man eat of its fruit, he will live forever.  This tree, the tree of the cross, bears a fruit that gives us eternal life itself, the fruit of Christ’s body and blood, given us in the Lord’s Super.  Here, on the cross, is the source of our eternal life.  Here is the center of our salvation.  We eat that which was broken for us, and drink what was shed for us, and in so doing we receive the perfect, complete, and, yes, finished salvation which He won for us today.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Is the Benefit of This Eating and Drinking?

Sermon on John 13:1-17, 31b-35
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 17, 2014 (Holy Thursday)

Why do we have the Lord’s Supper?   What is the purpose for it?  Or, as the Catechism puts it, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?  These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.  For where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”  But for many people, and perhaps even some of you, that doesn’t completely answer the question.  After all, we receive the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism and Holy Absolution and through the word of the Holy Gospel which is preached to us.  Why do we need the Lord’s Supper at all, let alone as frequently as it is offered, every week and more often than that during special times of the year such as Holy Week?  If the whole point of the Lord’s Supper is the forgiveness of sins, and we already have forgiveness of sins, then why do we have to have it?

Let’s think about that question for a minute.  “Why do we have to have the Lord’s Supper?”  It sounds like a small child asking why does he have to clean his room.  When did the Lord’s Supper become like chores or housework?  Why should the Lord’s Supper be something we only do if we “have to”?  The whole question implies that partaking of Jesus’ body and blood is something that is a burden on us, or a chore or a drudgery.  It can also imply that the Lord’s Supper is something negative and frightening and dangerous and that we should try to get out of it if at all possible.  But if this were a true picture of the Supper, then if God were truly loving and gracious He wouldn’t put us through it at all in the first place.

To be sure, sometimes the Church has gotten the idea that this is what the Holy Supper is: an opportunity for God to test us, a frightening encounter with a God who is just waiting to “zap” us if our minds wander for a moment.  In times past, it was thought by an offshoot of Lutheranism called “Pietism,” that if taking the Lord’s Supper wasn’t some huge emotional experience for a person, then it didn’t mean enough to a person, and were taking the Lord’s Supper to their judgment.  Even as recently as the early part of the twentieth there were a number of Lutherans who would only come to the Holy Supper four times a year, and burst into tears every time they came.  Of course, you can’t go through that much emotional upheaval every Sunday, or even twice a month for that matter, and not destroy your health in the process.  And so that’s why these people would only come four times a year.  After all, if you come more often, then the Supper isn’t “special” enough to you, and therefore you’re taking it to your judgment.  Granted there’s nothing wrong with emotions when they result from what God does for us in Word and Sacrament, but our worthiness to receive the Sacrament should not depend upon our emotions.  Our reassurance of heaven itself depends not on how much it “means” to us, but solely on the fact that God tells us that we have it.  So also with the Supper.

For that matter, the Lord’s Supper doesn’t depend on anything that we do.  It doesn’t depend on how earnestly or carefully we have prepared for it.  It doesn’t even depend on whether or not we are able to keep our minds from wandering while we are receiving it.  Many people think that if your mind wanders while you are taking the Lord’s Supper, you have taken it unworthily and to your judgment.  They get worried that if they take it too often their mind is going to wander more often and that they’ll take it to their judgment more often.  Well, it just isn’t true.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  If the Lord’s Supper depended upon how worthy we were and how carefully we are paying attention for its benefits, then quite frankly every single one of us partakes to his judgment every single time we take it.  None of us is focused enough or prepared enough to earn our worthiness to receive Christ’s body and blood.

It is true, of course, we should examine ourselves as St. Paul tells us to do.  We should make sure of three things when we come to the Holy Supper.  The first is, “Are you a Christian?  Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and that you are saved because of His sacrifice?”  The second is, “Are you living in some deliberate sin and being unrepentant of that sin, which casts the Holy Ghost out of your heart?”  And the third is, “Do you believe what Christ says, that His body and blood are truly given you to eat and drink in the bread and wine of this Sacrament?”  The reason for this is because if you’re not a Christian then your heart is only hardened in its unbelief, and that’s what partaking to one’s judgment means.  But the same thing is true of a person who hears the Gospel in a sermon and uses it to excuse his sin instead of repenting of it.  The Gospel causes such a person to become worse than he was before.  It’s simply the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel that is at work.  That’s why we in the Missouri Synod practice close communion and why there is such a thing as excommunication.  For a person who doesn’t repent of his sins or doesn’t believe, the Lord’s Supper makes him secure in his sins and leads him further down the road to hell.

And so we should take care about the Lord’s Supper.  But we should also heed Luther’s words: “He is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’”  Your worthiness doesn’t depend on what other preparations you forgot to make or how distracted and harried you might be that particular Sunday morning.  Granted, fasting and so on are indeed fine outward training.  But if your mind does wander while you are up at the altar, or if you realize after receiving the Supper that you weren’t concentrating on what you were doing, don’t despair.  Don’t think that you just received it to your judgment.  Instead, think, “Christ is so good to me that He is willing to give me these blessings despite how weak and frail, I am.”  Instead of meditating on how bad you are, meditate on how good God is that His blood which you just received, covers even the weaknesses you just showed while you were receiving it.

The Lord’s Supper is the center of the Church’s life.  It is here that we partake with all of our senses in Christ Jesus.  Here God touches us, not just through our eyes and ears to our brain, but He Himself enters our bodies and sprinkles our hearts with His blood.  Here God serves us just as Jesus served the disciples by washing their feet.  He is our Lord precisely by becoming our servant.  Here we partake already here and now in the eternal feast of victory which has no end, the great marriage feast of the lamb who was slain and is risen again.  Here we receive the body and blood of Him who died, the body and blood of Him who in His resurrection has become the beginning of the new creation in which we will live eternally.  We who have been resurrected with Christ already in Holy Baptism, eat and drink the food which sustains our new, resurrected selves, both body and soul.  Here we are returned to the garden of Eden to receive the fruit of the Tree of Life, which causes us to live forever.  Here we see God at His best.  God identifies Himself as the giver of life, as the God who is love.  In the Lord’s Supper He feeds us with the food of eternity.  God is shown most clearly as a good and loving God by feeding us with His Son’s body and blood.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Blessed is He Who Comes to Die

Sermon on Matthew 26 – 27
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 13, 2014 (Palm Sunday)

Did your part in the Passion reading make you uncomfortable?  Specifically the part where the congregation are the ones who read the words, “Let Him be crucified!”?  Was it difficult for you to play the part of the “bad guys” in the story?  Good.  That was the intention.  To put yourself into the place of those who were calling for our Lord’s death isn’t something we like to do.  We like to think that if we’d been there we wouldn’t have been doing that.  We’d like to think that we would have been with that other crowd, instead, the one that was calling out “Hosanna in the highest” back on Sunday.  We all fool ourselves into thinking we’re good people and that we know better than those who were calling for Jesus to be crucified.

The problem is, it isn’t true.  It was our sins that put him there.  It was our selfishness and meanness and lust and anger and envy and pride that nailed him to the cross.  Every time we put ourselves before others or God, we are, in effect, shouting out, “Let Him be crucified.”  Every time we covet what is not ours, we drive the nails in deeper.  Every time we put the worst construction on the words and actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we join the mob mocked and jeered Him as He hung up there dying.  The fact is, by our actions we do shout “Let Him be crucified” every day.  We just don’t like to admit it.  We don’t like to admit that we’re sinners, or that we make mistakes and judge our brothers and sisters poorly and say words which hurt others.  But we do.

Of course, that’s the whole point.  It’s because we’re sinful and corrupt, turned away from God and our neighbor towards ourselves, that Jesus came to earth in the first place.  That’s why he took on human flesh, and lived our life, suffered our pains and sorrows, and died our death.  Looked at from one direction, it was we who put Him into that position by our sin and selfishness.  But looked at from the other direction, it was a willing sacrifice He made for us and for our salvation.  He died to save us, and He did so willingly, out of love.  He didn’t think that being God was something to be bragged about, like the spoils taken after a battle, but made Himself nothing, and humbled Himself even to the point of death on the cross.

The crucifixion wasn’t a mistake or a defeat for Christ as some thought.  No, it was all according to His Father’s plan and will, and it was done out of His love for us sinners.  The guilt and the pain of the sins of everyone who had ever lived and ever would live was borne by Him so that He could pay the price for all of that sin.  He died so that we can live forever.  He suffered the pain and torment of separation from His Father so that we can be united with Him in eternity.  It was for us that He did all of this, and for our salvation.

And because He did this for you and me, it was precisely through all of this that He shows Himself to be our true King, our true Lord.  As the Catechism puts it, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me.”  He is my Lord because He has redeemed me.  He is my king because He is the one who gained entrance for me into His kingdom through His suffering and death.  God’s true glory is found in showing mercy and pity, not in proud displays.  What we praise Him and thank Him for first and foremost is not the fact that He sits in the heavens surrounded by multitudes of angels who sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but in the fact that He showed Himself to be God by His humility.  God is the provider and giver.  Which means that it is His love for sinners that shows Him most clearly to be God.  It is His love for sinners, shown in the forgiveness of sins, that motivates us to go and discuss His salvation with our fellow sinners, not His high and mighty sovereignty over heaven and earth.  The mountaintop experience that drives us to go and tell the Good News, in other words, takes place on the mountain of Golgotha and nowhere else.

And so Good Friday is not the ignominious end of the movement that seemed so full of promise and hope the previous Sunday.  Instead, Good Friday is precisely where the King hailed the previous Sunday comes into His own.  He was doing precisely what He came to Jerusalem to do.  The King of the Jews had in fact claimed His throne, but His throne was made of wood, from which He hung rather than being seated on it.  He had claimed His crown, but that crown was made of thorns.  The crowd on Good Friday were reacting to Christ out of the hate and anger that was in their sinful hearts—the same hate and anger toward God and toward authority that is in all of our sinful hearts—but they were asking for what Christ had come to do in the first place.  They were asking for Jesus to be crucified, which is precisely what He had come to do.  We might be horrified and sickened by the sight of Christ on the cross.  Good Friday reminds us that sin has consequences.  It reminds us that the forgiveness of sin is not just a matter of saying, “Oh, God will forgive me because He’s just a nice God.”  It reminds us that the forgiveness of sins is a matter of Jesus suffering and dying a horrid, bloody, painful execution in our place, which means that sin, including our sin, is serious, bloody, painful business.  It is a reminder to us that we all were among those who shouted, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” that first Good Friday, because it was our sin that put Him there.  But He does it willingly.  He does it out of love for His creatures.  He does it because He is a God who is love, and that means that he will give Himself up to death so that we might have eternal life.

It is from this perspective that we can truly understand what the crowd was saying when they welcomed Jesus as their King that first Palm Sunday.  That crowd probably didn’t understand fully what they were doing themselves.  After all, they were probably expecting an earthly king.  But they were correct in welcoming Jesus as their King, because that’s what He was.  That’s what He is.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is God Himself, who reigns over us.  But His reign over us is precisely from the cross.  He reigns over us, by giving Himself up for our sakes so that we might have life.  Just as the crowd did, we welcome His coming among us to reign in triumph from the Tree, with the very same words in the Communion Liturgy as the crowd used that first Palm Sunday almost 2000 years ago: “Hosanna!  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  From the cross He comes to us and gives us His body and blood, so that, united with Him we may never be parted from Him either here or in eternity.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Resurrection and the Life

Sermon on John 11:1-53
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 6, 2014 (Fifth Sunday in Lent)

This was it.  This was the last straw.  This was the event that finally convinced the religious leaders in Jerusalem once and for all that Jesus needed to die.  They couldn’t simply try to discredit Him or make Him look foolish any more.  Bethany was not far from Jerusalem, and many from Jerusalem knew Lazarus had died, and now saw him walking around alive.  There was no longer any way to convince the people that Jesus wasn’t who He claimed to be: the Son of God, the promised Messiah, come to rescue the world from sin and death.  Now the only course of action left to the Sanhedrin, if they wanted to hold on to their power over the people, was to eliminate Jesus entirely, by finding a way to have Him executed.

It’s kind of ironic that it was precisely by demonstrating that He is the Resurrection and the Life, the One over whom Death itself had no power, that He put Himself in a situation where His own death became inevitable.  It shows just how perverse was the thinking of the Jewish leaders of the time.  They had to have figured out by now that Jesus really was who He claimed to be.  That’s what made Him so dangerous.  You can’t argue with or discredit the true Messiah.  You can’t simply ignore or publicly embarrass God Himself.  It’s precisely because He really was who He said He was that the chief priests wanted Him dead.  It’s precisely because He represented God’s own condemnation of their leadership that they needed to get Him out of the picture.

And we are no different than they were.  It’s precisely because Jesus is God Himself in human flesh that we would rather He stay safely away from us.  We may call on Him now and again when things aren’t going so well for us, we might like to think of Him as an example for how to live an upright and moral life, or as a great teacher, or any of a thousand other things.  But to have Him come to us and take away from us any illusions we may have about our ability to please God on our own, to have Him come to us, not only to insult us by telling us even our best good works are filthy rags as far as He is concerned, but to give us salvation as a free gift and thereby destroy any hope we thought we had of pleasing God on our own, is simply intolerable.  And yet that’s what He does.  He comes to shatter any illusions we may have had that we are in any sort of control over our own relationship with God.  He comes to show us that only He who made us can restore us to the perfection we were meant to be.  He comes to take away any power we thought we had over our own lives.  And so we, with the chief priests, want Him dead, gone, and away from us.

But you can’t keep the one who is the Resurrection and the Life dead.  That’s the thing about God.  He’s God.  Even death itself is not an obstacle to Him, because He’s the one who made life in the first place.  Jesus is the Word the Father spoke at the beginning of creation, the Word that is so powerful that it speaks into existence what it says.  He is the life-giver, the one who sustains us and gives us everything we need to support this body and life.  He became man precisely so that He could die, but He’s still God, and so death itself is fatally poisoned by the attempt to swallow Him.  He spoke creation itself into existence, His word speaks Lazarus out of his tomb, free of whatever disease killed him, and free of the decay that ravaged his body afterward.  His word speaks life into us again, despite our wish that He leave us alone here in this tomb of an old, sin-filled world.  You can’t keep God dead, since He is life.

And so we who have become part of Him can’t be kept dead either.  The old, dead Adam in us thinks he can hold onto life by killing the Son of God, but he only ends up getting himself crucified with Him in the process.  He only ends up getting himself drowned in the water and blood that flowed from Jesus’ side, in which we were washed in Holy Baptism.  And since we joined Him in His death, we also join Him in His resurrection.  We also sit with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, not at their home in Bethany with the Sadducees looking on and gnashing their teeth, but in His home, where He is the host and the meal, where Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and all who have died in the faith gather, with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, praising God eternally, eating His body crucified and drinking His blood shed for us.  We eat and drink the Resurrection and the Life, and receive eternal life itself in the process.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +