Saturday, March 30, 2024

Sermon for the Feast of the Resurrection - 1 Cor 15:1-11



                                                                                     1 Cor 15:1-11



          If you were going to create a religion that you wanted to spread in the first century world, Christianity would be the worst possible idea you could suggest.  Let’s start with the events of Good Friday.  On Good Friday, Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans. 

          Now the apostle Paul was clear that this was the heart of the Christian message.  He said earlier in this letter, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  Jesus was a Jew who had died as a criminal at the hands of the Romans.  Not only had he died – he had been crucified.  He had been subjected to the most humiliating form of execution in the ancient world. Completely powerless, he had been put on display as he died a slow and agonizing death.  Crucifixion was considered such a terrible thing that it wasn’t spoken about in polite society.

          The claim of Christianity was that “Jesus is Lord.” Not surprisingly, this claim met with rejection and outright scorn.  Paul says in this letter, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

          Greeks considered it to be folly – to be moronic.  A crucified Jew as Lord was simply absurd.  Jews considered it to be a stumbling block – a scandal.  Christianity preached a crucified Christ.  Yet Judaism believed that the Christ was mighty, powerful, and victorious.  The death of Jesus was the ultimate proof that he was not the Christ. It demonstrated that he was in fact a false messiah rejected by God.  In fact, hung on a tree, one could conclude that he had been cursed by God.

          And then Christianity proclaimed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.  This was the central event that vindicated Jesus’ and his death.  It meant that Jesus was the living Lord who had been exalted to God’s right hand and would return to carry out the final judgment on the Last Day.

          The problem was that resurrection of the body was something that only made sense to Judaism.  In the Gentile world – for the majority of people with whom Christians would interact – the idea of the resurrection was absurd.  The physical body was considered a bad thing.  It was described as a prison that a person’s soul needed to escape. The last thing Gentiles wanted or believed in was a resurrection of the body.  When Paul preached at the Areopagus in Athens, he was mocked when he mentioned the resurrection.

          Yet in spite of these obvious challenges, Christians proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We see this in our text this morning as Paul deals with the Corinthians.  We have our text because the apostle was addressing yet another of the problems at Corinth.

          Just after our text Paul asks, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?”  The Corinthians had been influenced by their own cultural setting which rejected a physical resurrection. They seem to have concluded that they had already experienced the victory in Christ – one that was purely spiritual.  Earlier in this letter Paul said to them ironically: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!”

          In our text Paul returns the Corinthians to the Gospel.  He says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,

and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain.”  The apostle sets forth a contrast.  If they hold fast to the word he preached, then they are being saved.  If they don’t, then their initial faith meant nothing.  They are lost.

          Paul begins by taking the Corinthians back to the basics.  He says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”  Paul takes them back to what had been handed on by the apostles – the tradition of the Church.

          The starting point was that Christ had died, and that he had died for a reason.  He had died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.  The apostle tells us that sin is the fundamental problem that confronts all people.  We were created in the image of God in order to live in fellowship with God.  But since the entrance of sin through Adam, this fellowship had been destroyed.  Paul told the Romans, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Instead of fellowship with God, our sin brings God’s judgment.  It brings physical death. And it brings the eternal spiritual death of damnation.

          However, in the fullness of time, God had sent his Son into the world.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary he was true God and true man here with us.  God sent him to fulfill the Scriptures which described the answer to sin.  Jesus had died on the cross as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words about the suffering Servant: “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.” 

          Jesus had taken our sins, and received God’s punishment for them in our place.  Isaiah said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  Paul summarized it this way: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

          Yet if Jesus had only died, that would have been the end of it. He would have been no different than Simon bar Kokhba. Simon was a messiah figure who lead a revolt against Rome during the period of 132-135 A.D.  In the end, the Romans killed him.  And that was that.  You’ve probably never heard of Simon bar Kokhba.  He had no followers that continued to proclaim him – who worshipped him.  He didn’t because he was dead – a false messiah who had led many people to their own deaths.

          But things were very different with Jesus. Yes, he had died on the cross. Yet in our text Paul goes on to state how he delivered to them … “that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

          Jesus Christ did not remain dead.  Instead, on the third day he rose from the dead.  Paul goes on to provide a whole list of witnesses who saw the risen Lord.  First there was Peter, and then the reset of twelve apostles. Then Jesus had appeared to more than five hundred people at one time.  Most of those people were still alive and could confirm the experience.  Then Jesus appeared to his brother James, who had not been a believer during Jesus’ ministry.  Then he had appeared to all the apostles – all the believers who saw him and became witnesses.  Finally, he had appeared to Paul himself.

          The resurrection of Jesus had changed everything.  It showed that Jesus’ death was not a failure.  Instead, it was God’s great action to forgive sin.  The resurrection showed that Jesus was the living Lord over all. And his resurrection was the beginning of the resurrection of the Last Day – the Last Day had started on Easter.

          Jesus’ resurrection had changed everything, and it meant everything.  Right after our text, Paul lays out the implications of Jesus’ resurrection.  He says, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  He says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Finally he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

          Paul is brutally clear about the implications if Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead. All of this – everything we do in the Church - is completely pointless. Yet in response to this thought Paul declares: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

          Paul and the apostles went forth to proclaim a message that sounded like it was guaranteed to fail. They proclaimed Christ crucified.  They proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, and the resurrection of the body.  They proclaimed a message that they knew would be rejected as absurd, moronic folly.  They struggled, and suffered, and died in order to proclaim this message throughout the Mediterranean world.

          They did this because they had met the risen Lord Jesus.  He had changed everything for them.  They now understood that because of Jesus’ death they had forgiveness and peace with God.  They also understood that Jesus’ resurrection was the defeat of death and beginning of their own resurrection.

          Paul says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  Adam’s sin had brought death to all people.  Jesus Christ is the second Adam whose resurrection begins the resurrection for those who believe in Christ.  The apostle adds, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

          Through faith in the crucified Lord we have been justified.  We are forgiven and know that the verdict of the Last Day will be “not guilty.” Because of this we have peace.  Paul told the Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

          Because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we know that death has been defeated.  Death cannot end our life with Christ.  Paul told the Philippians about death, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”  And in Christ’ resurrection at Easter we find the model and pattern of what our resurrection will be like.  Paul said that “we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

          The Gospel is very simple.  Paul tells us that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,

that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.  Yet in this simple truth we receive forgiveness, peace with God, and the defeat of death.  We receive comfort in the present, and hope for the future that carries us on through difficulties. By this we are being saved, if we hold fast to God’s word that has been preached to us.









Friday, March 29, 2024

Sermon for Good Friday - Jn 18:1-19:42


Good Friday 

Jn 18:1-19:42



          “Suffered under Pontius Pilate.”  We say this phrase in the Apostles’ Creed.  It anchors the events of the Creed in the history of this world. It tells us that Jesus suffered, was crucified, and buried during the first part of the first century A.D. in Judea.

Pilate was the Prefect – the Roman governor over Judea during the period of about 26 to 36 A.D. As we hear in our text tonight, during that time Jesus Christ was brought before him for judgment.  As we listen to Pilate in our text tonight, we almost have to wonder whether he is the villain or the victim here.

The Jewish religious leaders had seized Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and had held their own “trial.” Their goal was to kill Jesus.  But here they faced a problem.  Living under Roman rule they were not able to carry out capital punishment.

They went to the governor’s headquarters, but didn’t enter lest they defile themselves.  Instead, Pilate had to come out to them.  He asked, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”  Pilates’ question was a simple one.  He wanted to know what Jesus had done that deserved Roman punishment.

They answered evasively, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”  Now the Jews had a problem.  They wanted to kill Jesus for religious reasons.  However, Pilate didn’t care about that.  He would only act on the basis of Roman law and interests.

Pilate told them to take Jesus and judge him by their own law.  The Jews had to admit, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” Then John tells us, “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” 

At the beginning of Holy Week Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Then John tells us, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.”  Jesus had said that his death would be by crucifixion.  He would be lifted up. For that to happen, Pontius Pilate would have to be the key figure.

Pilate questioned Jesus and must have been puzzled when Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world.  When asked if he was a king Jesus said, “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 returned to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”  He tried to use the Passover custom of releasing a prisoner to free Jesus, but the Jews refused.  So Pilate had Jesus flogged and brought out wearing a crown of thorns and purple robe.  He brought out Jesus out looking pathetic and said, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”

The Jews demanded that Jesus be crucified. And so Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid.

          John tells us that from then on, Pilate sought to release Jesus.  But then the Jews went where they knew Pilate was vulnerable. They cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” They presented Jesus as a political revolutionary – a king - who threatened Roman rule.

          Pilate still did not want to condemn Jesus to death.  He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” So in one last try Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”

          The Jewish leaders reject their true king, the Son of God who had come into the world.  Instead, they claim the brutal Roman emperor as their king.  Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent of anything deserving death. But the Jews have got him in a corner from which he cannot escape.  And so he caves.  He delivers Jesus over to be crucified.

          Jesus said that this is what would happen.  He had come to Jerusalem with a timing and a purpose.  At the start of Holy Week he said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

          Jesus had come to Good Friday with a purpose. His purpose was to carry out the Father’s will.  On the night of his betrayal Jesus said, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me,

but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”  When Peter tried to defend Jesus with the sword in the garden our Lord said to him, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

          Jesus had come to drink of the cup of God’s wrath by dying on the cross.  John’s Gospel tells us that this was necessary as it says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  Apart from Christ’s death on the cross there is only God’s wrath against sin.  Our Lord said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  Apart from Christ’s death on the cross there is only God’s judgment.

          Apart from Christ’s death on the cross there is only wrath and judgment because of our sin.  Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”  As John says in his first epistle, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 

          There is no point in deceiving ourselves because we see the sin in our lives every day.  We have jealous, angry, and lustful thoughts.  We put God second behind our interests, hobbies, and sports.  We share gossip and harm our neighbor’s reputation.

          Jesus was crucified to deliver us from God’s wrath and judgment against our sin.  When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus took away the sin of the world by his death on the cross.

          Our Lord said during Holy Week, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  In his death Jesus has borne the fruit of forgiveness before God.

          In the cross we see the depths of God’s love for us. John’s Gospel says, “For God loved the world in this way, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

          God did not send the Son to judge the world.  Instead, in the incarnation he sent him into the world to die for us. The Word – the Son of God – became flesh in order to be nailed to a cross.  John says in his first epistle, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

          Gods saving love and glory is revealed on Good Friday.  But it is revealed in the cross.  It is revealed in something that does not look like victory or success.  Instead, it is revealed in a way that looks like failure and weakness.

In the cross there is important insight about the way that God continues to work. God works now through message of Christ crucified – a message many reject with hardly a thought.  After Jesus had died, the soldier pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. We see in this event a reminder that Sacraments of the Altar and Baptism find their source in the death of Christ as they deliver the benefits that he has won for us.  Yet water, and bread and wine hardly seem like powerful and impressive things. Quite the opposite, they are often rejected as means by which God is at work, and instead are merely called symbols.

Yet like the cross itself, they are the powerful means by which the Holy Spirit delivers forgiveness and strengthens faith.  They may appear to be weak and unimpressive, but this is simply how God works as he delivers the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus won through the means of the cross.

In our text we learn that Jesus said, “It is finished” and then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  Jesus declared that he had completed the work of taking away the sin of the world.  This completed work was the dead Christ hanging on a cross.  It was the body of Jesus being buried in a tomb.

If that was all there was, we would conclude that the cross was indeed failure and weakness.  We would view the Gospel and the Means of Grace as being powerless and pointless.  But Good Friday is not the end. Instead, we have to wait. We have to wait knowing that Jesus said: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”




Thursday, March 28, 2024

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - Ex 12:1-14


Maundy Thursday

                                                                                      Ex 12:1-14



          It turns out that in eastern Europe, people don’t want to remember.  After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union built numerous memorials to the Red Army and its soldiers in the countries where it defeated Nazi Germany.  These countries then became areas that were dominated by the Soviet Union. They were forced to become communist as true free elections were denied.  They were places where free speech was not allowed, and the state police repressed all opposition.  These nations were basically colonies of the Soviet Union, and the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1967 in order to maintain this control.

          With the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, these nations have regained their full independence.  However, the past remains. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, it prompted a reaction across eastern Europe.  Places like Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Bulgaria began tearing down Soviet Union memorials in their lands.  These countries don’t want anything to remind them of how the Soviet Union oppressed them.

          In tonight’s Old Testament lesson we hear about a memorial with completely different associations.  Yahweh institutes the Passover as a memorial that will recall his rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt.  We learn tonight that the Passover lamb was something that pointed forward to the great rescue Jesus Christ has won for us.  At the Last Supper, Jesus took the Passover meal and transformed it into the means by which he gives that rescue to us.

          Israel had been enslaved in Egypt.  Yahweh had sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message that he must let God’s people go.  Pharaoh had refused, and so God had sent a series of nine plagues upon the Egyptians.

          Now, in preparation for the tenth and final plague, Yahweh told the Israelites to take a lamb and kill it at twilight.  They were to take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and lintel of their houses.  Then they were to roast the lamb with fire, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

          This was no ordinary meal.  Yahweh told them: “In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover.”  They were to eat it ready to go, because God was going to act.

          He told them, “For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.”  Yahweh promised that the blood on the houses would be a sign, and that no harm would befall the Israelites on that night when he struck the Egyptians.

          God would rescue them, and this meal would not be a one time thing.  Instead, Yahweh said, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” The continued celebration of the Passover meal would cause the Israelites to remember how God had rescued them from Egypt.

          At midnight Yahweh went through the land and struck down the first born of all the Egyptians.  However, wherever the blood of the lamb was on the house – God passed over that house and the Israelites were spared. The trauma was so great that Pharaoh finally commanded the Israelites to leave. 

God acted through the Passover lamb to rescue Israel from slavery. This action by God was type. It was an event in the Old Testament that pointed forward to what God would do in the New Testament.  St. Paul told the Corinthians, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”

In our text we learn that the Passover lamb was to be blameless.  Jesus Christ was the sinless Son of God who entered the world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Born without sin, he perfectly kept the Law and fulfilled God’s will.  

The Passover lamb was killed and its blood was placed on the houses.  This blood marked the house and caused God’s judgment to pass over the Israelites. Jesus Christ’s blood was shed on the cross for us.  Paul told the Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”  Because of the shedding of Jesus’ blood for us, God’s judgment has passed over us. God acted in the Passover to rescue Israel from slavery.  God acted in Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb - to rescue us from slavery to sin.

This is deliverance that we needed because we were conceived and born as fallen, sinful people.  We were unable to free ourselves because our actions simply pile one sin upon another. In thought, word, and deed we continually generate sin and so we have no basis for living with the holy God.  Yet Jesus Christ’s death has won for us the forgiveness of sins and rescued us from God’s judgment.

At the end of our text God says, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.”  The Passover meal was to be celebrated each year.  It would continue to call to remembrance what God had done for Israel.  Later in this chapter Moses adds, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?' you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’”

Jesus, the Passover Lamb, had come to Jerusalem to die at the time of the Passover.  As he prepared to do so, he celebrated one last Passover meal with this disciples.  He told them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

But as the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb – as the true Passover Lamb sent by God – Jesus took the Passover meal and transformed it.  He took bread and gave thanks.  Then he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me.”  Then after supper he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Jesus told the disciples that he was giving them his body to eat.  It was his body that was given for them.  Then he told them that he was giving them his blood to drink. It was the blood that established the new testament – the blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.

At that last Passover meal, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar.  Jesus’ words do what they say.  He declared that the bread was his body to eat.  He announced that the wine was his blood to drink.  These things are what Christ declares them to be. And so in the Sacrament we eat and drink the true body and blood of Christ.

Jesus gives his body and blood to us for a reason.  He does so in order to give us the benefits that he won by his death on the cross.  We receive his body given on the cross for us – the body nailed to the cross to rescue us.  We receive his blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Jesus the Passover Lamb gives us the very price that he paid to rescue us from the slavery of sin.  He places it into our mouth in order to apply the benefits of that redemption to us.

Jesus died on the cross as the Passover Lamb. But on the third day God raised him from the dead.  It is the risen Lord who continues to be the host of the Sacrament of the Altar.  Our Lord speaks his words through the pastor. The risen Lord gives us his true body and blood into our bodies. And in doing so we receive the pledge and assurance that our bodies will be raised up on the Last Day.

God had told Israel that the Passover meal was to be a memorial – it was to be a yearly reminder of the Passover and God’s rescues in the exodus.  When Jesus fulfilled the Passover and transformed the meal, he declared that it was still to cause remembrance.  Yet now it reminds us of Jesus’s saving death.  Our Lord said that we are to celebrate his Sacrament in remembrance of him.

For the Israelites, the Passover meal was an act of remembering a past event. But in the Sacrament of the Altar we do not have only a mental activity occurring – an act of remembering.  Instead, the remembrance is caused by the true body and blood of Christ that is present.  Our Lord – the risen Lord - comes bodily into our midst. We celebrate the Sacrament in remembrance of Jesus because in this way he is present with us and gives us the benefits of his saving death and resurrection.

In the Old Testament lesson tonight we hear God establish the Passover meal as he rescues Israel from slavery.  The death of the Passover lamb was the means by which God spared Israel from judgment.  Jesus Christ is the true Passover Lamb whose death has rescued us from slavery to sin. He has transformed the Passover meal into the Sacrament of the Altar in which he gives us his true body and blood.  He causes us to remember his death as he gives us the very price he paid to win us forgiveness.  Here we have the assurance that we are forgiven, and the pledge that the Lord will raise up our bodies on the Last Day.