April 19, 2019 Good Friday- The Punishment that Brought Us Peace-John 19:17-30, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53:1-5, Matthew 27:51-54

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So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.  Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.  So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”  Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:18)

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture – Psalm 22:14-15), “I thirst.”  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:17-30 (ESV)

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (ESV)

The Lord of Life, tried and hastily convicted by a kangaroo court, at night, is now consigned to a cruel and ignominious death nailed to a Roman cross in a place called Golgotha, a place of a skull.

The penalty for sin- the sin of the Garden and all the sins that humanity has built upon and multiplied ever since- is death. This was death that Jesus had neither earned nor deserved. Our sins and our inability to save ourselves from the penalty of death put Him there.

Jesus’ captors took the opportunity to divide up his clothes, even rolling the dice to see who would get his one-piece tunic so they wouldn’t have to tear it up. The prophetic psalm of lament (Psalm 22) that David had written centuries before the Romans and their exquisitely cruel method of death by crucifixion came into being springs to brutal reality as Jesus was scourged, mocked, and left suffering, panting and thirsting on the cross.

He was offered sour wine, which could not have been worth much to assuage anyone’s thirst. After being offered this offensive drink, His suffering was finished. The punishment that brought our peace, the blood sacrifice required to redeem us from eternal death and hell, at that moment was fulfilled.

At the moment Jesus surrendered His spirit, the curtain of the temple that separates the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from common sinful humanity was torn. The new High Priest has made a new covenant in His blood, not the sacrifices of lambs and goats and bulls that could only foreshadow His true and once and for all atonement. The dead who had died in the promise of Christ by faith were raised from their graves.  Even the centurion assigned to witness the crucifixions on that day declared, “This truly was the Son of God.”

Today we take a somber look at Jesus’ death. We thank God that by His wounds, we are healed.  By His suffering and death, we have peace.  We dare not overlook so great a salvation.

By the grace of God, in Christ, it is finished. He has had the final say over death and the grave.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.


But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (ESV)

April 18, 2019 Maundy Thursday-The Lord of Life, Given for Us -Luke 22:7-23

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Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?”  He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to 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.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”  And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this. Luke 22:7-23 (ESV)

The disciples are sharing the Passover with Jesus in the upper room. Judas has already betrayed Jesus to the chief priests (Luke 22:1-6) but the others are not aware that he has done this.

Theologians and scholars have speculated on Judas and his fate for centuries. It was appointed before the world began that Jesus would have to die and to be the sacrifice for fallen humanity.  To be Judas, the one who would betray the Lord of Life for a few coins, is hard to imagine.

The hard reality is that we are all guilty in the same way as Judas. Every fallen human being, in our sinful nature and in our inability to stop sinning, betrays the Son of Man.  Every lie, every covetous thought, every time we put ourselves and our idols above the One True God, every time we fall into resentment and hate, we too are the ones who surrendered Jesus to the chief priests.  Our sins consigned Jesus to the Cross.

Even with the knowledge that His betrayer sat at the table with Him, Jesus still gives His body for us to eat and His blood for us to drink. In, with, under and through the elements of bread and wine, Jesus is truly present and truly given in the Sacrament.  His Body and Blood, given, even for His betrayer.  Given for the remission of the sins of the world, for even the most vile sinner who looks to Him in faith will be forgiven.

Maundy Thursday is a day of promise for the disciples, but also a day of worry and uncertainty. Where is this Supper heading?  Jesus knows what He must encounter the next day.  Judas knows Jesus is going to be put to death, and that he was the one who set the wheels in motion.

None of us can claim moral superiority to Judas. We learn in James 2:10 that anyone who violates even one teeny tiny point of the Law is guilty of violating all of it.  Yet Jesus gave Himself and took our place so that our sins don’t stick to us.  By faith in Him alone, we are brought to the font.  We come to the Communion table.

April 14, 2017- Good Friday: The Crucifix and the Empty Cross- John 19:30, 33-36, Isaiah 53:1-5

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When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)  These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the One whom they have pierced.” John 19:30, 33-36

Most Lutheran and almost all other Protestant churches do not display a crucifix in the church. Jesus is risen, and we don’t want to focus on the gory reality He suffered to purchase our redemption and freedom.

Yet His suffering was both necessary and costly. Our freedom and redemption was not bought without a price. One Lutheran church I belonged to displayed both the crucifix and the empty cross, because our pastors believed we need to acknowledge both Jesus’ sacrifice and the miracle of the empty tomb.  We cannot have the glory of the Resurrection on Easter without the passion and sacrifice and pain of Good Friday.

We should pray and meditate on today’s sorrow and passion, but we should not dwell upon the suffering of Jesus without the realization that it culminates in resurrection, and that we share in that resurrection. Even as we stand at Golgotha, there is hope.

Today is a day in which we should take a long and loving gaze on the One we have pierced. Our sin put Jesus on the Cross.  While we should not go around guilt tripping about that, because sin is part of the human condition we were born into, we should realize that it wasn’t just the Jews or the Romans who killed Jesus.  Every one of us has His Blood on our hands, but it is blood of atonement rather than guilt.  Blood freely shed to cover our sin and shame. Blood freely shed to set us free and to give us life.

Today is a day in which we can learn from the iconography of the crucifix, even though that image itself is sanitized. Yes, the crucifix depicts Jesus nailed on the Cross, but the reality of crucifixion is much bloodier and more gory.  The Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ” is extremely graphic, but it is probably the closest we can see to the actual horror of scourging and crucifixion.  Sometimes our hardened hearts need to see that image Isaiah gives us of the Suffering Servant:

Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions,crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole,and by his bruises we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (NRSV)

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He didn’t have to do it /He could have set Himself free /He didn’t have to do /But He stayed there just for me /Surely, surely, surely He died on Calvary

Surely, Died on… He died, he died, on Cavalry – Richard Smallwood, from the song “Calvary”

 

April 17, 2017 – Maundy Thursday- How Deep is Our Love? Matthew 16:15-16

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“He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you [yourselves] say I am?  Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.'” Matthew 16:15-16 (AMP)

Early in Jesus’ ministry, the apostle Peter got it.  At this time, at least on an intellectual level, the apostle Peter understood Who Jesus is.

If we fast forward to the night of the Last Supper, after Jesus had shared His Body and Blood with the disciples, the apostle Peter still maintained what he knew about Jesus:

“Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”  Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples. Matthew 16:15-16 (NRSV)

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The spirit is willing, and Peter knew in his rational mind that Jesus is Who He claims to be.  Head knowledge, in this instance, wasn’t Peter’s problem.  Unfortunately, the things we humans do when our hides are on the line sometimes defy rationality.  Our flesh is weak, especially when that primal self-preservation instinct kicks in.

Head knowledge is something to be sought after, but not simply for the sake of knowing facts and figures.  Knowledge without practical application is at best, superficial, and at worst, pointless.  Knowledge that rests on the surface, but that really hasn’t sunk in and become part of one’s deepest heart of hearts is not of much value.

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There’s a reason why the Israelites were commanded in the Shema, which is the primary prayer in Judaism, (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) to keep on repeating and meditating on Scripture at all times:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

It is a good thing to internalize the Scriptures, and the act of reading, reciting, teaching and memorizing them does serve to write them not only on our minds but also on our hearts.

Even considering that the apostle Peter would have been taught the Shema from his earliest days, and he spent three years with Jesus, it’s still one thing for us weak humans to know Who Jesus is, but it’s quite another for us to act accordingly.

Jesus knew the disciples’ weaknesses, including Peter, who shared with us the human flaw of having a crocodile mouth but a canary patoot.  It’s one thing to pledge to follow Jesus to His death, but the irony is that it’s impossible to do that apart from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ statement directed toward the disciples on the night of the Last Supper is telling: “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”(Matthew 16:15)

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Apart from the Shepherd, no matter how much they might know, the sheep don’t have a chance.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6 (NRSV)

There are deep spiritual benefits of studying and meditating upon Scripture, but the point of any spiritual discipline, and the point of our faith is always to remain connected with Jesus.  Knowledge is meaningless if there is no practical application of that knowledge, and faith is pointless if we believe in the wrong things.  The scattering of the disciples after the Last Supper simply proves that we humans (even disciples who walked and ate and took part of the Body of Christ in an intensely tangible way) cannot stay faithful to God apart from Jesus.  It’s impossible to stand strong, no matter what you know, no matter what kinds of high spiritual experiences you can claim to have experienced, if you are apart from Jesus.

Jesus said that if a person loves his/her life, he/she will lose it. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25 (NRSV)

This statement speaks to our self-preservation instinct.  Most of the time it’s wise and prudent to heed that instinct, but if and when our choices come down to this life and this physical body versus things of God’s Kingdom, we should choose the things of eternal life over ease and expediency in this life.  It’s easy to say, but infinitely hard to do.

The good news is that Jesus came to live in this world to show us how to do that, and to give us the strength we need to do what He calls us to do.

I pray that we will find strength in sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ with other believers, and that Jesus will hold us up to stand for Him when our weak flesh cannot.

April 12, 2017 – Holy Week Wednesday- Purchased With Holy Blood- 1 Peter 1:18-19

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“You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, but [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah) like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19 (AMP)

Interesting, the paradox of this week.  First, Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 –

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV)

Then just a few short days later, Judas betrays Jesus and offers him up to the high priests for the equivalent of less money than it would take to fill up a Honda Accord.

Jesus freely gave His precious blood, that has value way beyond any material currency here on this earth, to redeem us from the conditions of sin and death that humanity put in motion to begin with.

Somehow, it seems like a rather raw exchange.   Something in us wants to say, “Jesus, you got ripped off!”

There is a deep injustice here.  Jesus was sinless, yet He had to endure the torture and death on the Cross?  Crucifixion wasn’t really done in the neat and easy and clean way that medieval and Renaissance authors usually depict it.  The artwork is aesthetically pleasing, but not terribly accurate. It’s a lot more bloody and dirty and nasty than the sanitized painting above.  Mel Gibson had the gory details of Roman torture and crucifixion portrayed pretty closely in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

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Unfortunately we are more like Judas than we want to admit.  How often do we sell Jesus down the river for trivial things that have no eternal value?  How often do we overlook or miss an opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom to do something else?  How many times do we make decisions without thinking about whether or not our actions are pleasing to God?

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 (NRSV)

This statement Jesus makes is scary. We don’t acknowledge Jesus in everything we do 24/7, 365.  Sometimes our behaviors and actions and the words we use betray our faith.

The good news is that (paradoxically) Jesus forgives us when we ask Him.  He forgives us just for the asking, no matter how badly we have screwed up.  We are not forgiven because we are such great people.  Left to our own devices we end up like Judas- selling out Jesus for the most trivial and mundane of things, and sinning over and over and over again in spite of “knowing better.” Our salvation is made possible only by the greatness, love and mercy of Christ.

Mercy

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39 (NRSV)

We can thank God today that Jesus took the punishment that we deserve.  We can pray that the Holy Spirit will help us live in response to His priceless gift of salvation.