Jesus, Broken and Poured Out For You
“Jesus on the Way to the Cross”
Maundy Thursday, Holy Week 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We meditate on the readings read, as well as Matthew 11, Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Dear friends in Christ,
Just today, we laid a dear, dear saint to rest. Martha Kintzel. In the year that Martha was born, Hitler’s party was coming into power, when she was 5 Hitler was named chancellor, as a school-aged girl she remembers shaking the hand of Adolph Hitler, when she was 17 the war was just ending, in her late teens and early 20’s the Russians were swooping through the countryside raping and ravaging, when she was 27 she and her husband Ludwig were getting married, in the 1950’s he was a coal miner and the coal mines were in their hey day, they were blessed with three children, living in new housing in a new town, at age 33 the Berlin wall was getting built, at age 41 she and her family were moving to Minnesota.
Martha for the most part didn’t seem to want to talk about years of war and death and despair, but one author wrote about how Berlin was divided, people were living amidst the destruction, and everyone was hungry all the time, nine million German men killed, and women and children suffering atrocities worse than death.
So much that Martha wouldn't talk about or didn’t want to talk about. But perhaps it is her silence on the troubling chapters that makes what she did say so much more powerful. She didn't volunteer much about her past, but she did want people to know the love of Jesus gets us through all the tough days. She didn't spread around the story of her hard life, but she was very bold to say where she found her strength and her hope. She was very bold to say in times of tiredness, she knew where she could find rest.
Which makes me to thing of Christ’s words… “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” He’s looking for the weary and the burdened. He’s looking for the exhausted. He’s looking for those who need rest.
Which makes me to think of how Christ is looking for us to be the right kind of tired. One of the favorite memories of my life are my summers at camp during my college days. I would get done with the college semester exhausted. Tests, papers, long nights, lots of caffeine, little sleep, bad food, reading, typing, and sitting. It was exhausting. But then, I would go to camp.
I remember that our days would start at 6:30am and we would be watching children until 10:30pm, when you would get an hour or so off from them if you weren’t on night patrol. Your days were full of canoeing and bow and arrow, full of silly games and Bible study, full of walking miles and miles and miles through the woods and making breakfast, lunch and dinner over the fire.
It was exhausting, but it was a different kind of exhausted. Not so much of late nights and caffeine but full days and tasks well done, what at least one wise mom would call “good tired.” Not so much of writing papers and taking tests, but the rigorous questions of campers dealing with real life.
We ponder the last days of Jesus. In his early ministry, he frequently went off alone to pray. He was ministered to by angels and took time to rest. But you see him in his last days, and you can’t help but thing about him as tired. Tired from betrayal. Burdened by the weight of the world’s sin. Drug down by the actions of the disciples. Absolutely exhausted, but exhausted by the weight of the whole world’s sin. Tired to the bone, yet pressing on. Pressed to the breaking point, yet still gentle and lowly of heart.
And I tell you that to tell you this: it seems in our American context, as we walk through life, we will all be exhausted and tired, but it seems, that it’s easy to be the wrong kind of tired. Tired from working too many hours, too tired to take time for our Savior. Tired from keeping up our image, too tired to cultivate real relationships. Tired from consuming our media, too tired to listen well to what our neighbor is saying. Tired of defending our honor, too tired to confess our sins.
Dear friends in Christ,
Tonight, I would invite you, come to this table with the good kind of tired. Be exhausted, exhausted because of how difficult and rewarding it is to love others in their lives, and how much struggle it takes to love them well. Come to this table frustrated, frustrated because of the honest struggle and care you have for all kinds of people in your life that you know are in God’s hand even when they don’t do what you told them to do. Come to this table tired and worn out and weak. Come to this table hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
Come to this table after living a life that makes you tired in the right way, because then you shall see what true rest is. Come to this table frustrated, because then you will find what great patience your God feeds into you mouth. Come to this table restless, because then you will find what a peace Christ gives, a peace that passes understanding.
Come the right kind of tired, because as often as you come, you receive the right kind of strength. It’s not a strength of muscle, or even a strength of mind. It’s not a strength of individualism, or a strength of solidarity. It’s the strength that a Savior, looking down the barrel of his betrayal, crucifixion and death. It’s a strength that emptied itself to the point of death, even death on a cross. It’s a strength that was exalted to the highest places, so that every knee will bow and tongue confess. It’s the strength that only our Savior can give.
It’s the strength that can come only in the miracle of our God’s heavenly banquet delivered into your mouth and into your heart. It’s a strength that brings an unearthly peace, the kind of peace that makes all the tension in the world slide away. It’s the kind of strength that has no words to it, because it doesn’t need any words.
There’s a woman that I remember well. I think of her often when I come to the Lord’s Table. She was going into life-threatening surgery, the kind of surgery that she had only a 50% chance of surviving. They were having to fuse her spine from the front. They would have to take all of her organs out, come in from the front and do what they had to do. So, she called and asked for communion and I came out to her and we celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, and after that, with tears in her eyes, she said to me, something that I’ll remember for a good long time, she said,
“Pastor, don’t get me wrong, your sermons are fine…. But there is something unspeakably good about the Lord’s Supper. It has a meaning that I don’t understand. Every time I take it, it means more.”
Come, let us join our Savior in something unspeakably good tonight. Come, let us see our Savior, at the hour of his betrayal, fulfill the Passover will new meaning. Come, let us eat and drink the forgiveness bought and paid for on the cross. Come, let your burdens down at the foot of the cross, for his yoke is easy, and his burden light. Amen and Amen.
Martha Kintzel Funeral Sermon
Maundy Thursday, 2018
In The Shadow of God’s Wings, Singing For Joy
Psalm 63: 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
Dear Christian Friends,
There are one of two ways we can cry as we lay this sweet and spunky Christian woman to rest today. We can cry as people with no hope or we can cry as people with hope. We can cry as if caskets and cemeteries have the last word, or we can cry as if our risen Savior has the last word. We can cry as if our souls are crushed never to be quite the same again or we can cry with souls that are satisfied and focused on the promises of our Good Shepherd to be following us around with goodness and mercy and for us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In today’s sermon, we would focus on the now and not yet nature of Christianity. Already in this present life our souls are satisfied as often as we rest in God’s strength and in His grace, and the day is coming when our souls will be satisfied in the very presence of Jesus Christ in paradise. Already now we live by the grace of God as we behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the guilt of our sins, he takes away the consequences of our sins, he takes away the power of our sins, and the day is coming when we will live face to face with Jesus Christ, all of our tears will be wiped away, death itself will be swallowed up forever.
This morning I invite you first of all to reflect on how God was Martha’s helper through all the dangers and despairs of her life, and secondly to think through with me what it means to live through all the ups and downs of life, in the words of the Psalmist, in the shadow of God’s wings, singing for joy.
I thought of Martha when I read these words of King David in Psalm 63, 6 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
In the year that Martha was born, Hitler’s party was coming into power, when she was 5 Hitler was named chancellor, as a school aged girl she remembers shaking the hand of Adolph Hitler, when she was 17 the war was just ending, in her late teens and early 20’s the Russians were swooping through the countryside raping and ravaging, when she was 27 she and Ludwig were getting married, in the 1950’s he was a coal miner and the coal mines were in their hey day, they were blessed with three children, living in new housing in a new town, at age 33 the Berlin wall was getting built, at age 41 she and her family were moving to Minnesota.
While Martha for the most part didn’t seem to want to talk about years of war and death and despair, I found it necessary to read up a bit on the harsh realities of those post war years. One author wrote about how Berlin was divided, people were living amidst the destruction, and everyone was hungry all the time. He spoke of children and orphans running wild, disease rampant, money was worthless, a thriving black market, displaced people everywhere, nine million German men killed, and women and children suffering atrocities worse than death.
I don’t know about you, but I’m certain that if I were in Martha’s shoes, I would have wondered what kind of a good and gracious God would allow for this hell to happen here on earth, what kind of angels were watching over me in the middle of the night, was it really true that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of his father, ruling all of heaven and earth for the benefit of His Church?
So much that we don’t know, I suppose that Martha wouldn’t want us to know, but this we do know. The Triune God had claimed her as His own in the waters of Baptism, her Good Shepherd was following her around with goodness and mercy, the angels of God were able to guard and protect her over the years, and by the time I was privileged to be one of her pastors, the Holy Spirit had worked in her heart a strong and a steady faith that would not be moved by the winds and the waves of life.
The stories we are privileged to share today are wonderful stories! Stories of Martha being the life of the party, stories of Martha making venison sausage with a cheerful heart and a contagious laughter, stories of a wedding reception where a friend suggested the music was too loud, but Martha suggesting that no, turn the music up, this is supposed to be a party!
My favorite memories of Martha include her sitting still and hearing and holding onto God’s Word, they include her searching her Scriptures, holding onto His promises, watching over and taking care of her family, and eating and drinking at her Lord’s Supper. Favorite memories include her walking around town, talking smart, crying at the suffering and death of her dear daughter, hurting along with loved ones going through all kinds of hell here on earth.
In part #1 of this message we reflected on how God was Martha’s helper in all the stages of life, both smooth sailing and stormy waters, and in part #2 we think through what it means to live through all the ups and downs of life, in the words of the Psalmist, in the shadow of God’s wings, singing for joy.
We noted first of all how there are two ways to grieve the loss of a loved one –we can cry as people without hope or we can cry as people with hope. So also it seems to me there are two ways to live in every one of our days, we can go through life grumbling and moaning and groaning about what is wrong in life, or we can go through life singing for joy about what is right in life.
Amazing Grace is the first song we sang, and it is a song Martha wanted us to sing. It includes these lyrics, Through many dangers, toils and snare, I have already come.T'was grace that brought us safe thus far And grace will lead us home. On the one hand, how tempting it is to fuss and to fume about all that is unfair and hurtful in life, and yet on the other hand, how sweet life can be when God’s Spirit works inside of us the kind of faith that is able to keep on rejoicing in the forgiveness of our sins, to keep on singing for joy in being the apple of God’s eye, as we keep on taking refuge in the shadow of His wings, come what may.
What a Friend We Have in Jesus is a second song Martha wanted us to sing. How tempting it is to slug our own way through life bearing our own sins, carrying our own griefs, forfeiting God’s peace, stumbling again into discouragement and even despair. How sweet life can be when God’s Spirit works inside of us the kind of faith that is able to wake up every morning making the sign of the cross, rejoicing in the privilege of prayer, finding refuge and solace in the arms of Jesus, ending each night with a prayer, Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep. Guard me through the starry night, waken me at morning’s light, if I should die before I wake, I pray thee Lord my soul to take.
Precious Lord, take my hand, is a song Martha specifically wanted us to sing. How tempting it is to take our Savior’s hand only when we feel the need to do so, how sweet life can be when we admit to God and to one another the reality that we are tired, we are weak, and we are worn. How sweet it is when we develop those habits, by God’s grace, where we put ourselves in a position every day to be still and to know that God is God, in position to be encouraged and yes, corrected, in a position where we can be held by the one who holds the whole world in his hand.
Finally, we sing, I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home. (Story of two high school boys getting into the motel room before me and using both drawers to unpack their suitcases. They thought they had pulled one over me, until I told them how silly I thought it was to unpack a suitcase for a four night stay.) You can live here and now as if this is your permanent address or as if you are just passing through.
Dear friends in Christ, in closing, we praise God that somehow and in some way, God had worked in Martha’s heart a faith that knew she was just passing through, she knew the bad times could be survived and the good times could be enjoyed, and that better days were yet to come.I pray that as we lay dear Martha to rest today, the Spirit of God would work inside of you a faith that is strong, a heart that is calm, and a soul that is satisfied every morning with the mercies of God. I pray that your faith would be bearing all kinds of fruit in good times and especially in bad, that your cheerfulness would be contagious, that the love of Martha would live on through you, and that she would rest in peace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Jesus Mounted on a donkey
John 12:12-19 // Zechariah 9:9-12 // Philippians 2:5-11
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In our Lenten weekend series of sermons, we are watching Jesus On His Way to the Cross. Last week we saw Jesus on the way, coming to serve. Before that we’ve seen Jesus speaking hard truths, defending his Father’s house, being lifted up like the bronze serpent, and led into the wilderness after his baptism. Today, on Palm Sunday, we see Christ entering Jerusalem mounted on a donkey.
Here it is. The holiest week of the Church’s year. The seven days that over a quarter of the Gospels are written about. The days that give meaning and authority to all the teachings of Jesus. They would not mean anything, to the Christian, if Christ had not been raised.
To frame our meditation, I’ll begin with a question. What would you do if you knew what you will know in 20 years? Kind of a strange question, but let me explain.
I’ve told many of you this story already, but I’m sure that it’s one of those stories that I’ll never be able to get rid of. I can tell you that my Grandpa Orvel Utech, Benjamin Orvel’s namesake, is in his mid-nineties now, and a year or so back, I asked him what he remembers the most out of his life. Now, he’s been retired for longer than I’ve been alive, so I thought that he would’ve said, the campground down in Florida, or the many trips he’s taken, or this or that.
I remember his words. He said that the clearest memories that he has are from when his daughters were 2 and 4. Clearer than yesterday, clearer than any other memories of his life are the days when he would come home and they were there at the door, waiting for him to come home from work. He’d scoop them up into his arms and read them stories.
His favorite days, his clearest memories, those are the days that I’m just beginning now. What would that do to my conception of these days? If I knew that these were my grandpa’s favorite days of his whole life? How does that make me live my life differently? How does that give all I do a different significance?
I tell you that to tell you this: I think of that as I look at the disciples today. What would they have thought if they knew they were going into the last week of their savior’s life? Would they have acted differently? What would they have done? What would they have thought?
John says that they remembered Christ was here fulfilling the Scriptures, specifically our Old Testament reading for today, Zechariah 9:9-12. Zechariah’s writing after the 70-year exile to Babylon, as the people were returning; they were building the city walls of Jerusalem. They were rebuilding the ruined temple, and as they do all of that, Zechariah comes around and proclaims that as they finish this temple, they will be visited by their God. Their rightful king will come to them, and come to them in a very specific way.
Humble. Riding on a donkey. Why a donkey? The conquering king rides into a city on his warhorse, with a train of prisoners behind, to tell the city whom they now serve. The rightful king comes on a donkey, on a beast of burden, to tell the city who serves them. Bearing peace that will spread from the east to the west and everywhere in between. Giving back to everyone more than anyone had ever had taken away.
But let’s return to John. Remember that it is only after the fact – was that a week after the resurrection, or was it when Christ walked the road to Emmaus? Was it in the decades after? Anyways, it was after the fact that they remembered the words of Zechariah, that they interpreted these events as the rightful king coming into his capital, serving his people, bearing a peace that starts at the cross and spreads from the east to the west and everywhere in between.
What would it have done to them in the days of trouble that lay ahead? How would it have changed them to know this?
Whether they knew it or not, they were seeing prophecy fulfilled. The Scriptures were being unpacked before their eyes. The true significance of the world was right before them. That which mattered -- more even than all that they had been through up to this point -- that which mattered lay before them.
The lynchpin upon which the door of the universe turns, the cross and the empty tomb. The point of reality. We stand on the precipice. The focus of Scriptures. Life coming from death. One preacher said it like this: “Hell took on a body, and touched God. It took on the earth, and met heaven. It took what it saw, and fell to where it did not expect! Death! Where is your sting? Hell! Where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are brought down. Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life triumphs.” What would they have done if they knew then what we know now?
That's been the focal point of our sermon so far, but let me change the question a bit. Knowing what we know now, what do we do?
You see, because the story doesn’t end at the cross, and the promise of our God is that we at this moment are still swept up into the same grand story. In the water and the word, we are seeing the ancient promises of our God fulfilled before our very eyes. We are doing exactly what the disciples were doing. We are sent out into the world, to pray that they will be done and thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. God’s church is his instrument to bring the Gospel to the nations, to draw the universe to a close.
What would that do to my conception of these days? How does that make me live my life differently? How does that give all I do a different significance, that God is working through the promises he’s given to me to do his work?
Or, more pointedly, how does that change my interaction with my coworkers? How does that eternal significance inform the patience I should have with people on the road? How does that work affect the rhythm of my day?
The story that the disciples were swept up in on Palm Sunday is the story that has swept you up in the waters of your baptism. The last supper they ate with their master is the first taste that we have of an eternal feast.
We are swept up in the same story. J.R.R. Tolkien touches on that in his great trilogy, the Lord of the Rings. Two main characters, Frodo who bears the ring to destruction and Sam, his friend, are almost to their goal.
Sam said, “‘The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. … The way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind[, f]olk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. …”
He goes on to remember what he calls the tale that really mattered, that stayed in the mind: “Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril [a precious jewel] …. and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it – and the Silmaril went on ... And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got – you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?'”
And here’s the part to listen to. “'No, they never end as tales,' said Frodo. 'But the people in them come, and go when their part's ended…’”
Here it is. The story of the passion week. The beginning of the end, which is the beginning of the beginning. It’s hard not to talk in poetry about these days of the Church year. They are bitter and they are sweet. They are aching and they are lovely. They measured and they are emotional. They are the days when we find that our Christian calendar is unlike the world. We take time away. We make time these days. We slow down. We go to church on Palm Sunday, On Maundy Thursday, On Good Friday, on Easter Vigil Saturday, on Easter Sunday, remembering step by step, day by day, what it means to be a Christian under the cross and after the empty tomb. (If you’ve never hit for the cycle, I’d recommend trying it!) We find that we are swept up into the same story that the disciples were, the grand narrative that our God began at the beginning of time.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mom and a dad that are often tempted to make the goal of raising children “be quiet and stop doing whatever you’re doing.” But the spirit of God is working in their hearts a patience wrought in eternity. The Spirit of God is working in their hearts a prayer that their children would be held in the hand of their God and Father in heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young woman in a hospital bed, no cure in sight, never knowing if there is a stop to all of the pain. But the Spirit of God is working in her heart to remind her that her story ends in life eternal, in a place where ills have no weight and tears no bitterness.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where God himself comes down to do exactly as he has promised to do. His Spirit fills this word. His water works a life-giving flood. His body and blood give strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. And so, come what may, their hearts are set on a future glory, and their present is lived with an eternal significance, knowing that their story is in the hands of their God.
Amen and amen.
Jesus, Pilate, and Sophistication
March 21, 2018 / Lent VI
John 18: 37 – Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice. Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Story of daydreaming this past Friday night, after a long day, way past my bed time, going to the Dimmels to pick up the dear puppy, distracted and turning too early, onto the four lane, daydreaming cost me six or seven miles of driving time.
Five Wednesdays ago, we saw the Jewish nation distracted by their own false view and definition of the Promised Messiah, and yet we rejoiced in the simple truth that our God never slumber, He never sleeps, we are the very apple of His eye.
Four weeks ago, we saw Judas distracted by his love of money, and yet we rejoiced that Jesus Christ has purchased us and made us His own, not with gold nor silver, but with holy precious blood, and innocent suffering and death.
Three weeks ago, we saw Peter distracted by the train wreck he saw coming at Calvary, distracted by overestimating his own ability to stand firm, distracted by following at a distance and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and yet we rejoiced in our God whose great desire is to hide us in the shadow of his wings.
Two weeks ago, we saw Herod distracted by instant gratification of his personal passions, but we rejoiced in our Lord’s passion which was to suffer all that we should have suffered, his passion was to be crucified for us until he was dead and buried.
Last week, we heard Pilate asking Jesus if he was a king, we spent time with a Roman governor distracted by a false view of authority and how to use it, yet we rejoiced in Jesus Christ who came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for man.
Tonight, we hear Pilate asking Jesus “what is truth?”, we see the highly educated Pilate caught up in elitism, caught up in an attitude that scoffed at the idea of absolute truth, distracted by what an author Herbert Lindeman calls “sophistication.” One dictionary defines sophistication as “having character and tastes based on intelligence and worldly experience, a quality of refinement. An old fashioned example of sophistication would be a person who enjoys opera and broadway musicals, in these days an example of sophistication might be the folks who have chosen science to the exclusion of revealed Scripture or the ones who always have the latest in technological advancement. (At a recent pastors’ conference, I heard one pastor admit somewhat sheepishly that his smart phone didn’t really talk to his ipad very well.”)
Two simple truths I lay before you today. Truth #1 is that our spiritual enemies are constantly tempting us to be full of ourselves, and truth #2 is a version of the theme of our recently completed Lutheran Schools Week, “the good life is still all about Jesus.”
Lindeman describes Pilate as “a man who has tasted so many delights of mind and body that nothing thrills him any more, who looks down from the superior heights of boredom on people who still retain their youthful ideals, who is convinced that life is meaningless, without ultimate significance of purpose.”
Two aspects we could note about how dangerous it is to be highly educated and to have climbed the social ladder all the way into the upper crust of society. First, the trouble with Pilate was not lack of education, it was the wrong kind of education. Many intelligent Romans at that time were for the most part athiests. They regarded religion as a racket maintained by the priests, which in many cases, was true. Pilate was what we would today call a career politician, and this is why the Jewish leaders were so much of a threat to him, they were hell bent on removing him from office, and he was weak enough in the knees that he ended up sentencing to death a man he knew to be innocent.
Secondly, and even more dangerous than the wrong kind of education for Pilate was his theological problem. His main trouble was that he didn’t believe in God. It is entirely possible that he did not have too much opportunity to come to faith. He may have been prejudiced against all religious belief by the false cults of his day. And it seems as though rubbing elbows with all kinds of believers really didn’t change his heart, although it may well be that his wife was a believer.
If we turn the clock forward from Pilate’s day to our own, we find all kinds of people still scoffing at the idea of absolute truth. The term “post truth” is now often used to describe the current political climate in the United States.
And oh how this famous scientist could have heard what our TLS and Sunday school children keep hearing, Jesus declaring, I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And oh how sweet it would be if those who have been caught up in all kinds of self righteousness and moral relativism could hear their Savior coaxing them on their death beds, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. 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.
The kingdom of God is like a highly educated professor who is ever so tempted to place his superior intellect in a position higher than clear and simple truths of Scripture. But in this Lenten season, he remembers back to bedtimes where his sweet mother would pray, “Now I lay me down to sleep….” He remembers back to his parents’ funerals where family and friends would sing loud and proud, in plain view of death, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He thinks back to Lenten services in his little country church, the lights growing dim, the candles getting extinguished, believers singing out Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies. Heavs morning breaks, and earth vain shadows flee, in life in death O Lord abide with me.”
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town. They are like a city of lights set on a hill that cannot be hidden. All kinds of folks come and go, they hear, they believe, they are tempted, they stumble and fall. Again and again, the Lenten season they are reminded that the good life is still all about Jesus, reminded that they are the apple of their God’s eye, reminded that their God never slumbers, and He never sleeps. Reminded that their Savior has fixed His countenance upon them, and He will not be distracted.
Jesus Lifted Up
Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series on our Lenten weekends is focused on “Jesus on His Way to the Cross.” Three weeks ago we saw Jesus entering his public ministry by submitting first to baptism in the river Jordan and then the devil’s temptation out into the desert. Two weeks ago we heard Jesus speaking hard truths about the necessity of him suffering, being rejected, and getting killed before there could be a resurrection. Last weekend, we watched as Jesus overturned the moneychanger tables, drove out livestock, cleansed the temple, and defended his Father’s house from those who would turn it into a place of personal profit. Today we see Jesus predicting that the Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross, much as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.
“I knew he was rooting for me.” When Serena Williams won the Wimbledon tennis tournament for the first time in 2002, a reporter asked her if she was bothered by the fact that many of the English fans rooted against her. “No,” she said. People had rooted against her all her life. “Besides,” she added, “my dad was sitting in those stands, and I knew he was rooting for me and I wanted to please him.” For Serena, the fact that her father was rooting for her more than balanced off the fact that all kinds of others were rooting against her. Romans 8 language comes to mind, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Our lessons for today are jam packed full of evidence that the Almighty God of this universe has been rooting for us, He is rooting for us in these very chapters of life we are living, He will be rooting for us all the way into eternity. In today’s Old Testament lesson, God was rooting for Israel to repent, in today’s Epistle lesson, He is rooting for sinners to be receiving His grace with the ultimate purpose of them doing the good works he has prepared for them to do in advance, and in today’s Gospel lesson, we find Jesus rooting for Nicodemus to be born again. Jesus rooting for the world to be saved and not condemned, Jesus rooting for evil to be exposed and for the light to be chasing away darkness.
Jesus Lifted Up is our theme for today, three lessons to be learned about how beautiful life can be as we fix our eyes and will not be distracted away from Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, ascended, and coming back again.
Lesson #1 comes from Numbers chapter 21 where we see A fiery serpent lifted up for impatient people (dying). Serpents have caused great problems for mankind. It was true in the Garden of Eden, and it was true at this event which took place near Mount Hor. The surface and obvious problem in this story was the poisonous snakes, but the underlying problem was the impatience of God’s chosen people. After nearly 40 years of God providing for their needs, they again complained about he situation that they were in. They were weary of the travel, they detested the food that God gave them each day, they were rejecting the providence of God and his acts of deliverance.
God was in fact rooting for his nation to repent, and his way of getting them to stop their murmuring and to trust in him was to get their attention in spectacular fashion. Luther has this to say about these verses, “In that country, where the heat is so intense, such serpents are called asps. When they bite a man, he swells, turns red, and his whole body becomes so feverish that he is soon past help unless the bitten member is amputated at once. For if such a serpent bites into a finger or a foot, the limb must be amputated immediately. Otherwise the fire or fever will penetrate the whole body and affect all its parts, and death will be inevitable.”
We think of Hebrews 11 language, “11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. We see that it was not the Lord’s will to kill these Israelites. It was his desire to have mercy on their souls. He had made a promise with them, and he would keep his promise, even though they kept on going their own way in life. His remedy was not to crush the serpents, it was to have Moses make a fiery serpent and lift it up for these dying people.
These people were asked to look at the serpent physically, sinners in all generation are invited to look spiritually and in faith to Jesus lifted high on the cross. They were cured of bodily poisoning, we will be delivered from eternal poison. They recovered from physical ailments, we from spiritual disease, and even worse than disease, apart from Christ we are dead in trespasses and sins.
The kingdom of God is like a man regretting so deeply his failed marriage. His habits of drinking too much, working too much, and caring for his wife and children too little had come back to bite and wound all concerned. But once again he looks upon the cross where His Savior died. He’s humbled by his mercy and he’s broken inside. Once again he thanks Jesus for being lifted up, he marvels at a grace which makes him alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of his heart.
Lesson #2 comes out of today’s New Testament lessons, where we see A Father’s Son lifted up for a dead man (walking). Nicodemus wasn’t just a good person with a lousy theology, he was by nature a child of God’s wrath who needed to be born again. He wasn’t just a Pharisee caught up in legalism, he was a dead man walking. That’s Ephesians 2 language, where Paul the former Pharisee had come to understand that he wasn’t just a misguided religious fanatic, he was spiritually dead, the only way he could be made alive would be for the Son of Man to be lifted up on the cross.
Humanly speaking, the crucifixion of Jesus would never have happened if the Jews had been an independent nation when the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty and condemned Him to death. According to Jewish law, he would have been executed by stoning But the Roman Empire ruled, and the Romans executed non Romans by crucifixion. And so Jesus spoke of being lifted up, and pointed to the bronze snake on the pole as God’s prototype of this. Elsewhere, John quoted Jesus, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to Myself,”, and then John commented, “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.”
The kingdom of God is like a young mother who lost her temper with her children this past week, again, and this morning, she is feeling one more time like a bad mom. It’s like a grandpa who has more patience with his grandchildren than he did with his own children. And every so often he wishes he could do it all over again, maybe he could do it better. The kingdom of God is like a successful retired person, who is realizing more and more than so very often over the years he has been full of himself, he has chased the almighty dollar at the expense of his family, and this morning, he wonders if there is some way he can make up for lost time, he wonders if he can somehow make it up to God and loved ones. This morning, one more time, this young mom, this grandpa, and this successful retired person are drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Lesson #3 comes out of our Gospel lesson for today, A Great Light lifted up for people (preferring darkness). Jesus often goes from one metaphor or simile to another, and today’s text is no exception. John 3:16 is one of the two or three most familiar verses in the Bible. Say it with me, if you will, in King James language, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Luther had this to say about this Gospel in a nutshell, “Look at the words, I beseech you, to determine how and of whom Jesus is speaking…No one is here excluded. God’s Son was given for all. All should believe, and all who do believe should not perish. Take hold of your own nose, I beseech you, to determine whether you are a human being, that is, part of the world, and like any other man, you belong to the number of those comprised in the word, all.”
One can imagine the mind of Nicodemus spinning fast as Jesus first explains why he has to be born again, then says that the Spirit is like the wind which blows wherever it wishes, then scolds this teacher of the law for not receiving the very testimony they had been waiting for, then teaching the necessity of the Son of Man being lifted up, then making a sweeping statement about how believing in the Name of the only Son of God, and finally, pronouncing the verdict, “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
On the one hand, Christ died for all, on the other, many are not saved. On the one hand Christ made satisfaction for everyone, on the other, salvation requires the tgift of faith that holds to Christ. Although the light is for everyone, many, for one reason or another, or for no particular reason, will prefer darkness.
The kingdom of God is like a couple in their 60’s who came to church as little children, pretty much against their will. They were drawn to the church when it was time to get married, drawn to the church which is like a city of lights set on a hill when it was time to get their children baptized, drawn to the church when it was time for their teens to be catechized, drawn to the church when it was time for weddings and funerals, but other than those special occasions, they are realizing this morning they have preferred darkness, they have wandered into lukewarm Christianity, in so many ways they have lived in the shadows instead of letting their Gospel lights shine. This morning, they hear one more time that which they have heard a thousand times, they are saved by grace, through faith, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any should boast. They drawn to the cross where their Savior died. They are humbled by his mercy and broken inside. One more time they thank Jesus for being lifted up, they marvel at a grace which makes them alive, a new day is rising up on the inside of their hearts.
Dear friends in Christ, know that no matter how often, as Pastor Muther would say, you have slapped away the gift of your God’s grace, no matter how frequently you have preferred darkness, it is still the truth that your God is rooting for you. He is rooting for you to repent, to be in the Christian faith, to be strong in that faith, to be growing in that faith. Even more than that, to know that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for “Good works prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Story of a pastor friend of ours and his wife who has since August of last year been walking through the valley of brain cancer. Walking through more doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments than can be counted, walking through stem cell cancer, through nausea upon nausea, in these very days through tiredness, frailty, and more days of trouble than the average. A few days ago we explored Ephesians 2:8-10 together, I suggested that the sermon they were preaching as they suffered patiently the afflictions laid on their shoulders was a powerful sermon, more powerful than sermons preached by pastors traveling through smooth sailing times in their life. The good work prepared in advance for them is one they would not have chosen, but by the grace of God, they are doing it well. May God give everyone of us the grace necessary to do well our own good works, prepared by God in advance, in all the chapters of our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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