November 13, 2019- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

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And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.

Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories.  He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms.  He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all.  John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)

This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word.  He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn,  everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.

We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence.  While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.

Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.

 

 

 

March 30, 2018 – Good Friday- By His Wounds, We Are Healed – Matthew 27:45-54, Isaiah 53:5

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From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.  The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54 (NIV)

The promise of Isaiah 53:5 comes to fruition at that moment. He was pierced because of our transgressions.  He was crushed and broken for our iniquity.  His punishment purchased our peace.  He was wounded so that we could be healed.  It is important for us as Jesus followers to see and understand that His sacrifice for us was no small or inconsequential feat.  As we embrace the theology of the Cross, we take up our crosses as well.  Because of Jesus we are free to die to ourselves and live for Him.

The Lutheran tradition can be a bit divided on the imagery of the crucifix. Some find it a bit macabre and gory to have a crucifix displayed in the church, or a bit too solemn and joyless for to focus upon the Body of Jesus as He dies on the Cross.  Crucifixion is macabre. Jesus’ death was painful and dirty and humiliating. His grace- and our salvation- was infinitely expensive. We have no way to imagine the cost to our Savior.  We cannot fathom the weight and the agony of carrying the sins of the whole world, for all of time.

Jesus would no more have been remembered than any other common thief or insurrectionist, except for Easter morning. Good Friday would commemorate nothing more than one of many men being crucified for being an enemy of the Roman Empire, if it weren’t for Easter morning.   There was no shortage of crucifixions in Jesus’ day.  Public crucifixion was common, and there were plenty of dissidents and criminals who met their death in ignominious fashion on Roman crosses.  The difference is that for Jesus, crucifixion was not the end.  The Cross could not defeat Him.  The tomb could not hold Him.

We need to be shocked and appalled and brought to sorrow by the imagery of the crucifix just as much as we need the triumph of the empty cross and the empty tomb. It is good for us to regard Jesus as He is dying on the tree, as long as we understand that His death on the Cross is not the end of Him.  Isaiah was completely right about Jesus. The age old prophecy has been fulfilled.

May the Holy Spirit bring us to the same conclusion as the centurion today: “Surely this man is the Son of God!”  By His wounds, we are healed.

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”