April 10, 2019- The Great Exchange: Give Us Barabbas, the Son of His Father, for the Son of God-Mark 15:1-15

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And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things.  And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.”  But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the feast he (Pilate) used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”  And they cried out again, “Crucify him.”  And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.  Mark 15:1-15 (ESV)

Pontius Pilate certainly was not a Jew, but he did have to be somewhat aware of the meaning behind the Passover celebration. He had to see the danger of a conquered people celebrating their past freedom. The number of people coming into Jerusalem for Passover created a logistical nightmare and an opportunity for violence and riots to break out.  His assignment was to enforce the pax Romana in his jurisdiction by whatever means were expedient.   If freeing a known murderer would mollify the crowds, so be it.  If it took crucified bodies still on their crosses lining the roads to keep the peace and to remind the vanquished who is in charge, so be that too.

The chief priests saw Jesus as a threat to their authority, so they had no problem with sending Jesus to Pilate to do their dirty work. The Romans weren’t exactly known for their benevolence.  If anything Pilate was a pragmatist- using whatever methods necessary to get the desired results.

The name Barabbas means “son of the father.”  And this Barabbas was a guilty man, a murderer who had earned the earthly punishment of death.  Yet the crowd (in which all of fallen humanity is represented) begs for the vindication of Barabbas, who was very clearly guilty as sin. We are all children of fallen man, offspring of the first father, Adam.  The cries to free Barabbas were cries for our own vindication as we are all sons of Adam.

Our sins put Jesus on the Cross- not because He was forced to take our punishment, but because He chose to. Out of His amazing love and mercy for fallen humanity, He took on the sins of the world, even as the crowd demanded, “Crucify Him!”

Free Barabbas, who is truly a son of his father, Adam. Crucify Jesus, the sinless, eternal Son of God. The irony of the Great Exchange is made crystal clear here.

Jesus was the only man who ever lived who was qualified to take on the redemption of humanity. While Barabbas- and every other human being except Jesus- deserved eternal death and punishment, only Jesus’ death would suffice to answer the wrath of God and break the curse of Adam.

…Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! – John 1:29 (ESV)

February 5, 2019 Agnus Dei: Behold the Lamb of God! Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-34

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Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV).

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And this is the testimony of John, (meaning John the Baptist) when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:19-34 (ESV)

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What beautiful solace Isaiah gives us- Comfort, comfort my people! Your iniquity (sin) is pardoned!

Our pardon, our comfort, our peace, came at an unimaginable cost- the suffering and death of Almighty God Himself. The One upon whom the Spirit descended as like a dove, the One with whom God was well pleased, the God-Man, had to be given to die.

The concept of penal substitution – the theological premise that Jesus was given as a sacrifice to save us from our sins- seems foreign and archaic to modern ears.  Yet the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  The blood on the door frames on the night of Passover lead to lives being spared because they are covered by the blood of a lamb.  (Exodus 12:1-13)

John the Baptist was the man appointed by God and foretold by the prophet Isaiah to point the way to Jesus- the Agnus Dei- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  John didn’t come into the world to build himself up or to tell everyone how great he was. His entire life was spent pointing others to Jesus.

Nothing we can do can make us right before a holy God- there is no other path to salvation and life than by faith in Christ, by trusting that we are covered by the blood of His sacrifice.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is simply turning away from the things that we know are contrary to God’s will for us.  When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our old nature is drowned in the water.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, and we are made alive in Christ.  This is a daily experience for the Christian, turning from our sins, drowning that old man in the ongoing promise of our baptism, and clinging to our new life in Christ.

The blood of the Lamb covers us and makes us clean. (Revelation 7:9-17)  Jesus had to die and rise again so that we can be alive in Him.

The very son of God died and rose again. For you. For us.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

November 2, 2017 – White Robes, Apocalypse, and God Wins- Revelation 7:13-17, Mark 13:32-37

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Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?”  I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;  for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:13-17 (NRSV)

Revelation is one of the books of the Bible that some people find confusing and intimidating. Apocalyptic (meaning “of the end times”) literature uses extreme imagery and symbolism to get the message across. Its purpose as written to its original audience (Romans living in the province of Asia in the late first century), however, is one of encouragement. The people to whom Revelation was addressed were living in a time when believers were routinely persecuted and killed for following Jesus. The perspective of Revelation is one that states that today might be really terrible, and there might be even more really terrible stuff happening in the near future, but the end of the terrible stuff is near, and the end turns out good for those who persevere. The graphic imagery that can be found in Revelation makes for some good pop fiction (remember the Left Behind novels?) and cheesy end of the world movies, but the message of Revelation has a much deeper purpose and meaning for those who follow Jesus.

As for the people robed in white, they are the ones who have gone before us in heaven. They are living in what is for us, the “not yet.”  We can take hope that no matter how bad things get here on earth, that the bad things going on here and now aren’t the final reality for us.  God’s plan for humanity and for the universe He created is one of redemption and restoration.

The caution that should be taken from apocalyptic literature is that the imagery used isn’t always meant to be literal. The imagery is supposed to make sure that the truth of the story sticks in one’s mind. When Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God” throughout Scripture, it is not meant that He is a sheep, but that He is the one perfect sacrifice made for all of us for all time.

There is a temptation in having the knowledge that “today is not forever” to give up on making things better where we are. That is not the intent behind the message of Revelation.  We aren’t supposed to give up on the here and now.  While the End of Days (or the end of our own personal days) can occur at any moment, only God knows the hour and the time.

(Jesus said): “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:32-37 (NRSV)

So the take away here is that we should be ready for any contingency, knowing that we know the end of the story: God wins. In this assurance we are free to embrace the ongoing work of bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth. We have the knowledge that the best is still to come.

October 10, 2017- The Passover Lamb, Given for Us, Exodus 12:1-13

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The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:  This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.  Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.  For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Exodus 12:1-13 (NRSV)

 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?”  He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. Matthew 26:17-19 (NRSV)

 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28 (NRSV)

 The Last Supper takes place as Jesus and His disciples are celebrating the Passover. There are many parallels between the Passover and Jesus’ institution of the Sacrament of the Altar, so it was fitting that Jesus instituted this Sacrament as part of the fulfillment of the covenant between God and man.

A lamb without blemish is to be sacrificed. Not a defective lamb that would have been culled anyway, but a perfect lamb is to be offered.  Jesus was the only acceptable sacrifice for God, because He was sinless and without blemish.

When Jesus speaks of His Blood being poured out as the new covenant, it is His Blood poured out for us that takes away our sin- we are no longer subject to the penalty for our sin. We are passed over, just as the Israelites were passed over by the Angel of Death when they put the lamb’s blood on the door frames of their homes.

For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. Exodus 12:23 (NRSV)

The beauty of the Sacrament (as it is the fulfillment of the Passover celebration) is that Jesus invites us to the table often. Not just once a year, but as the needs of the people dictate.  In some churches Communion is celebrated monthly, or even at every service. He knows that we need His healing and sustenance on a regular basis, even as we pray, “Give us our daily bread.”

And we have, in the first place, the clear text in the very words of Christ: Do this in remembrance of Me. These are bidding and commanding words by which all who would be Christians are enjoined to partake of this Sacrament. Therefore, whoever would be a disciple of Christ, with whom He here speaks, must also consider and observe this, not from compulsion, as being forced by men, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to please Him. However, if you say: But the words are added, As oft as ye do it; there He compels no one, but leaves it to our free choice, answer: That is true, yet it is not written that we should never do so. Yea, just because He speaks the words, As oft as ye do it, it is nevertheless implied that we should do it often; and it is added for the reason that He wishes to have the Sacrament free, not limited to special times, like the Passover of the Jews, which they were obliged to eat only once a year, and that just upon the fourteenth day of the first full moon in the evening, and which they must not vary a day. As if He would say by these words: I institute a Passover or Supper for you which you shall enjoy not only once a year, just upon this evening, but often, when and where you will, according to every one’s opportunity and necessity, bound to no place or appointed time… from the explanation of the Sacrament of the Altar, Martin Luther’s Large Catechism

 

 

 

 

May 23, 2017- God Provides the Lamb- Genesis 22:6-14

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Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.  Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”  Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”   And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided .” Genesis 22:6-14 (NRSV)

Scripture doesn’t really tell us if Isaac was pretty freaked out at this point.  I don’t think it’s very easy for a parent to imagine setting one’s child on fire, on purpose, either.  Isaac’s reaction isn’t that important to the point of the story,  although it was probably very important to Isaac at the time.   God provided the sacrifice.  Think of the phrase Lamb of God and you get the drift.

God was testing Abraham’s ability to trust Him and Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his gifts to God’s will and purpose, which is important.  More importantly, God was also showing Abraham that God is the One Who ultimately provides the sacrifice that covers us and redeems us.

God’s Son, given as a sacrifice to save us.  Given from God’s heart of anguish and at His great pain so that we are spared the penalty of sin and death that we have earned.

This is a great foreshadowing of the sacrifice to come.

We are powerless to save ourselves, We don’t have the means even if we would be willing to sacrifice that which is most precious to us.  God does test us and God does desire that we are willing to give of ourselves, but it is only in and through Him that our gifts can be made active and useful.

God can and does work wonders with willing hearts.  He makes a way even when the way seems impossible.  He has provided the Lamb.