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[Note: This homily, drawn from Isaiah 53:1-12, was preached in chapel at the International Center of the LCMS on Friday, March 6, 2015. + Herbert Mueller, LCMS First Vice President]
It is almost as though Isaiah was there, in the background, watching the events unfold that Friday morning on Calvary. In some mysterious way, Isaiah, by the Holy Spirit, can see it all happen, and write it down 700 years before hand.
- Despised and rejected by men — as they mocked him, “if you are the Christ, come down from the cross!”
- A man of sorrows — as the women on the Via Dolorosa were weeping for Him.
- Despised, we esteemed Him not — as the world insults or ignores Him.
- Oppression and judgment carried Him away — at the farce called a trial before Caiaphas, then Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again.
- He is cut off from the land of the living.
- They made His grave with the wicked, and a rich man — as they buried Him in Joseph’s tomb.
- Though He had done no violence — as Pilate washed His hands of Him.
- Numbered with the transgressors — crucified between two thieves, but He prays, “Father forgive them…”
- He poured out His soul in death and bore the sin of many — as He said, “no one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18).
So many details. So much that Isaiah wrote down ahead of time. There can be no doubt that this is true prophecy. No one went back and wrote this into Isaiah after the fact. In 1947 they discovered the Qumran Scrolls, with an almost complete copy of Isaiah, a copy made 200 years before Christ, containing these exact words.
God gives Isaiah the privilege to stand, together with all believers, at the foot of the cross. It is holy ground. Indeed, as we watch, we cannot help but think of our sins.
We put Him there.
We despised Him. We esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. He was wounded for OUR transgressions. We are the sheep gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way.
“Who has believed what they heard from us?” Isaiah asked. Who is the suffering servant of the Lord? Who will it be? They must have wondered at Isaiah’s time.
Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, on his way back to his Queen, when the Spirit told Philip the Evangelist to join his chariot, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” “How can I,” he replied, “unless someone guides me.”
And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this (from Isaiah 53): “Like a sheep that was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this? About himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. (Acts 8:32-35)
For what this Scripture reveals in Christ is much MORE than simply the details of prophecy ahead of time. God moves Isaiah to lay out the WHY. Notice the interplay of HE and WE, and HIS and OURS, as I read this portion again:
- Surely HE has borne OUR griefs, and carried OUR sorrows.
- Yet WE esteemed HIM stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
- But HE was wounded for OUR transgressions.
- HE was crushed for OUR iniquities.
- Upon HIM was the punishment that brought US peace.
- With HIS stripes WE are healed.
- All WE like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on HIM the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
This is where our wonder and amazement increase beyond measure. All OUR sins are on HIM. He was oppressed. He was afflicted — FOR US.
But here is the greatest wonder of all! Isaiah says:
“It was the WILL of the LORD to crush Him. He, [the LORD God Himself,] has put Him to grief!” (Isaiah 53:10)
Now picture Jesus in Gethsemane. He knows this prophecy. He knows what it means. “Yet not my will,” he prays to the Father, “but Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).
THIS is the great good news Philip spoke, the Good News we now proclaim, this great exchange that happens with Jesus.
Luther writes of this passage: “He was punished for the sake of our peace. Note the wonderful exchange. One man sins, another pays the penalty. One deserves peace, the other has peace. The one who should have peace, has punishment, while the one who should be punished has peace. … This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours any longer; and again, the peace is not Christ’s, but Christ makes it ours.” (American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 17, p. 225).
And so it is. “By His knowledge, shall the righteous One, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, for He shall bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11).
Isaiah shows us our sins, not on us, but put on Christ. So we are called to turn away from self, and to be carried over to Christ, “because he poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, for he bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12).
Yes, this text is holy ground for us …
- And we are filled with penitent sorrow for our part: we put Christ on the cross.
- But by the Spirit of God we have humble gratitude that the Lord laid all our sins on Him, that He was wounded for us, that with His stripes we are healed.
Even when you don’t feel it! Hold this Word close.
In the name of Jesus — Amen.
Rev. Mark Wood, Director of Witness & Outreach/Revitalization for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Office of National Mission, preached a striking homily on Thursday morning in the regular chapel service at the International Center. The text is Isaiah 52:1-7. A synopsis is included below, and if you click on the audio player below, you will be able to hear the message. May God bless your hearing of His Word! + Herbert Mueller
If the Lord were to ask you what part of your body you’d like for Him to make beautiful, you’d probably have a ready answer. Our world presses its own standards of beauty onto us and we are quick to embrace them. We want beautiful faces for all to see our beauty, beautiful hair to appear youthful, beautiful breasts to be alluring, and beautiful abs to convey our fitness and strength. But God chooses something better for us; He gives us beautiful feet.
Our feet are beautiful because Christ has fitted them with His Gospel of peace. But what makes having beautiful feet so important? In the first place He has given us beautiful feet to stand. As the people of God in the world, we must endure many difficulties, hardships, and even persecutions. The Lord gives us the feet to stand in the face of these things. But we are called to do more than stand; we are called to go. With our beautiful feet we carry the Gospel of Peace to our broken and dying world. As we go, our feet are reflections of the most beautiful of feet, the feet of Jesus.
The beautiful feet of Jesus are feet of flesh that brought God’s love into our world. They are dusty feet that walked the paths that we walk and experienced all of the hardships, troubles, and temptations that we experience. They are feet washed by the tears of one who had used her beautiful body in ugly ways welcoming those tears and washing them away. His beautiful feet are feet that served, even serving in the lowly way of washing others’ feet. Above all, His feet carried the Cross to Calvary and were pierced for our transgressions. The blood that flowed from the beautiful feet of Jesus has taken away the ugliness of all of your sins.
Your feet have been made beautiful to carry the Good News of Jesus to those who are perishing because they either do not know the Name of the Lord or they despise it. They may take you near or far. You may be shod with snow boots, flip-flops, or go barefoot in the places God has chosen for you. Wherever your beautiful feet go and whatever you may experience in those places, you can be certain that you will stand because your God reigns. Rejoice, be glad, be confident; God has given you beautiful feet.
Note: This sermon was preached in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Arcadia, Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa on 28 October 2011 for the blessing of the first deaconesses in the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a partner church of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The deaconesses were trained in an intensive course over two years by Deaconess Grace Rao of LCMS World Relief/Human Care. In attendance in the service were the members of the LCSA Church Council, many pastors and Women’s League members of that sister church. Presiding for the ceremony was Bishop Wilhelm Weber, Bishop of the LCSA. To say the least, it was a day full of joy in the Lord!
Bishop Weber, Deans, Pastors, beloved brothers, and people of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, students and teachers at the seminary, guests from the LCMS – and especially you, the ladies who have completed these intensive deaconess courses taught by Deaconess Grace Rao.
It is my honor to bring greetings to you this day from President Matthew Harrison, and to represent our Synod as together we celebrate God’s gifts. I am humbled by your example and by your desire to serve the Lord Jesus – may God bless you and keep you in His Word.
The Word of God that comes to us this day is 2 Corinthians 8:1-9.
As we begin, you must see this passage in light of the unity of the Church. The Church is One. We confess in the creed, one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church, because we are united by faith, to the One Lord Jesus, and to one another. To be specific about this text, Paul is using the generosity of the Macedonians as an example for the Corinthians in their giving to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. Even from their poverty, the Macedonians gave generously, giving themselves first to the Lord, so Paul wants to motivate the Corinthians to complete their portion of the gift.
Here’s what this has to do with the unity of the Church. In the book of Acts, the Church began with Pentecost in Jerusalem. At first, most Christians were also Jewish. But as the Church grew and expanded in Antioch, many Gentiles were brought in. This brought conflict, which the Church addressed in the Apostolic Council in Acts 15 – keeping the Gospel at center. But then there came a famine in Jerusalem, so that the Jewish Christians were suffering terribly, poor and starving.
So Paul had this idea that the Gentile Christians should gather a large offering to bring relief and help to these suffering saints in Jerusalem. This would show the unity, the oneness of the Church, by the gifts of Christ for the Church. In chapter 9 Paul says this offering, not only supplies the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God from both Jew and Gentile, showing in a tangible way how the Church is One in Christ.
In a similar way, our service this morning is a sign of the unity of our churches today. A sign that the body of Christ is one and that Christ gives great gifts. You invited Grace Rao to come from the LCMS to teach. So we share together in the grace of God. We share in teaching and we share in learning. Teachers are encouraging students and students encouraging teachers. This all grows from the fact our churches are One in Christ.
That’s why I am honored to bring the Word of God for you this day. Because in this Word of God we share, we are truly rich, in the Lord Jesus. In fact, no matter what else we do not have, if we have the Lord Jesus in His Word, we have everything we need. Together we are rich.
However, if we did not have Jesus in His Word, no matter how much money we might have, we would be the poorest of the poor. For if we do not have Jesus, we really have nothing.
Think of this for a bit. If we look at ourselves without the Lord Jesus – what are we? In my Bible study with the Church Council, I said that without the Lord Jesus, we are like the chicken where the head has been chopped off. He might move and flop around for a few seconds, but as fast as he goes, he has no head, he is lost, and he is dying.
Even when we think we have everything, without Jesus, we really have nothing. Moruti Tswaedi reminded us Wednesday that our parents, Adam and Eve, after they had fallen into sin, had nothing. Even the fig leaves they tried to cover themselves with were drying up and crumbling away.
You and I know this, too. When we act on our own. When we do not care what God says or wants. When we push ourselves in front of others, we may think that is the way to go. But like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves, it all comes to nothing… and may even throw away the gifts of God.
Our Lord calls us daily to REPENT – that is, to see the poverty of that way, the way that leads to death. And by the Holy Spirit in His Word, our Lord wants us to see our true riches in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.
Then, as God in our flesh, he humbled Himself. He became poor, as Jesus said, Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head. He came down even more, suffering under Pontius Pilate, came down all the way to the cross, all the way to death and the grave. He took our spiritual poverty into Himself, for the Scripture says, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. So because Jesus takes all our sin, our poverty, our death, now by His resurrection from the dead, He makes us rich. He makes us rich with the forgiveness of our sins, with the promise of the resurrection to eternal life. He makes us rich, by calling us, by adopting us, as the Children of God, making God our Father. Everything that belongs to Him, He now gives us.
By His poverty, we are made rich.
The Bible says that baptized into Jesus, we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we might declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His own marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). A people for God’s own possession, a people God marked out for Himself. In another place it says, you are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19).
As the Catechism says, Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him… Jesus makes us rich in His gifts… And in the richness of His gifts… we serve Him together.
Our temptation as churches is often to think of ourselves as poor, that because we don’t have enough money, we are weak, that we are poor and have little or nothing to give. But our Lord calls us to see today that we have, together, the greatest treasure in all the world, in Jesus Christ.
- In our confessional service on Wednesday, our Lord gave us riches beyond measure in the forgiveness of sins. You have those riches always to share.
- In the Lord’s Supper, we have, given into our very mouths, the most precious things in the universe, the body and blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of sins.
- Sunday after Sunday in Church, as well as whenever we open our Bibles, we open up a treasure chest of Spiritual riches.
By Christ’s poverty on the cross, by His sacrifice, we are now RICH! And when we receive that treasure, when we receive the forgiveness of sins, when we believe the promise and Christ gives His righteousness, He makes us RICH beyond measure!
St. Ambrose first told the story of St. Lawrence, a leader of the church in Rome. When the emperor’s representative demanded that he turn over to him the riches of the Church, he asked for three days to gather them up. First, he gave away to the poor all the money the church had, then he gathered all the sick, the blind, the lame, the hurting, the poor, all the people who had been gathered into the church and said, Here are the riches of the church!
You see, the true treasure of the church is the forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus, the life of Christ given to us. These riches are the possession of every believer in Jesus. For the true riches of Christ’s Church are not measured in dollars, but are measured in people who know the Lord Jesus Christ, who are baptized into His name, and are living in His forgiveness. The riches of the church are given by the Lord Jesus Himself when he forgives us, makes us His own, and fills us with His Spirit. And these riches of Christ are given away through you Pastors as you proclaim the Word of God and forgive sins.
That’s also why, the real riches of the Church are present here, here in the people Jesus has forgiven, that Jesus has given His Church. YOU are a treasure to the Lord Jesus because He shed His blood for you. So the treasure is here in you, dear pastors… And here in you, dear ladies, whom we are recognizing today.
You are being trained as deaconesses. You are part of the treasure of the Church. For you know the Lord Jesus. You are giving away the riches of Christ’s love, the riches of His mercy and His care for poor, hurting sinners. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty, we might become rich! (2 Corinthians 8:9).
And in this way also, the Church is One… As St. Paul was seeking to demonstrate. For the Lord has raised you up, dear ladies, through the congregations of the LCSA. You have been gathered and prepared and sent here.
And another part of the Church has provided training and help through people like Deaconess Grace and others.
So the Church is One… Because we receive the same gifts of Christ. He makes us rich.
And now these deaconesses in training are being blessed and given to the Church, to learn and to grow in service, to work with the Pastors and congregations, to be servants in the Church, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to care for people, to help bring the riches of Christ to His people.
We thank God for you today… We thank God for these ladies:
So the Church is One, and it is rich in receiving and giving the gifts of the Lord Jesus!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ Herbert Mueller
LCMS First Vice President
28 October 2011
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Our Scripture today is much more than the words we have recorded here in this brief passage. Certainly, it connects to everything President Harrison had to say on Tuesday and to what President Stoterau was saying yesterday, about the Pentecost proclamation of Peter [Both preached on earlier portions of Acts 2]. It connects also to the proclamation in the chapters to come, as Peter would preach in Acts 3: “Repent, therefore, and turn, that your sins may be washed away, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (3:19-20).
But what is it that we have here, really? That they were holding everything in common? Distributing to everyone as he had need? Is this an experiment in “proto-communism” that was destined to fail? An impossible ideal? Inspirational to be sure, but impossible nonetheless?
Yet the language here is very nitty gritty – down to earth, incarnational, even. Full of present participles, periphrastic constructions and imperfect verbs, it’s describing ongoing actions, videos, if you will, not snap shots. This is what they were continually doing, those 3000 who were baptized on Pentecost, to whom the Lord was adding every day.
They were devoting themselves – proskarterountes – meaning, to be firm, to persevere, to be faithful to a person. We might best say – “They were completely given over to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
Next verse: Literally, “fear was happening with every soul” and “signs and wonder were happening through the apostles.” “They were selling their property and possessions and distributing them.” “They were devoting themselves to the temple together,” same word – proskarterountes – and the Lord was adding to their number daily. None of this could be human work, but it was the Lord Jesus Himself alive in their midst working by His Spirit.
But that also begs the question! To what are we devoting ourselves? To what are we completely given over? What or whom do we fear? What signs are at work among us? What reputation do we have?
Maybe what really makes us feel uncomfortable with this passage is the contrast… The contrast between our life together and the koinonia, the life together, of these 3000, growing daily. I guess, when we really consider it, the contrast makes us feel, even at our best, like nothing more than sinful frauds.
Yet therein also lies a trap, a deceptive trap laid by Satan himself. For when we talk about this contrast, it is so easy to think of the sins of others against the koinonia, and much harder for me to consider my own, to consider how often I have been the obstacle to koinonia, how my actions and attitudes have hindered the Lord’s way among us. And the same is true for you.
But when the Spirit thereby leads us to repentance, He also shows us the truly incarnational side of koinonia, the incarnational nature of this word, koinonia, the act of holding things in common.
These baptized believers were led to hold everything in common. But before that could ever happen, the Lord Jesus came to hold everything in common with us. St. Paul writes, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
What does it mean to have fellowship with Jesus? It means we have everything in common with Jesus. Well, what do I have to give to Jesus? Nothing He hasn’t first given to me… except for my sin, my death. But that is exactly what He has come to take! In this wonderful great exchange Jesus takes my sin, my death and gives me His righteousness, His life, His peace, His presence for ever.
This is the truly incarnational meaning of koinonia. Jesus identified with us. He took on our flesh. He carried all our sins. He held them in common with us on the cross. He took them along into His grave where they are buried forever because He rose from the dead.
That’s why the real koinonia begins as a fellowship of sinners, sinners who know they are dead without Jesus. Sinners who know it is true: what the Pharisees in Luke 15 meant as the ultimate putdown, is actually the ultimate good news, for sinners, “This man receives sinners and even eats with them!” (Luke 15:2).
Not only that, He feeds them with Himself! The ultimate fellowship or koinonia here on earth is what Paul describes in chapter 10 of 1st Corinthians: “The cup we bless, is it not a participation [a koinonia] in the blood of Christ? The bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
And this koinonia, this holding in common, goes both ways. Bread and wine share in the body and blood of Christ placed on our lips, so that we who share in His body and blood also have koinonia with one another even as Christ gives Himself to us.
So “they were devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The apostles teaching and fellowship… this is the teaching about a real Savior, for real sinners. Who actually took on our flesh, who took our sin into Himself, who suffered the full wrath of God for our sin on His cross, in our place. Who rose again and is alive today.
He does not leave us as sinful frauds, but He unites Himself with us. He sits down to have a meal with us, a meal where He feeds us with Himself, where He has fellowship with us, where He brings us into the Father’s house, and restores us to the Father’s table.
As you may know, we are developing what we are calling “The Koinonia Project,” a means by which we pray our Synod can be drawn closer together in its life together by means of helping each other hear God’s Word clearly. For more information, the concept paper is on the Synod’s website on the President’s page.
But the heart of the real koinonia is this: that we have Jesus in common, and that Jesus receives us, that Jesus takes everything we have, even our sin and death. And that Jesus gives us everything He has, everything good, now and forever.
Then what John writes about koinonia becomes true for us as well:
“If we say we have fellowship with Him, and yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another [koinonia] and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-8).
“And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Sermon preached by LCMS Vice-President Herbert Mueller on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the National Mission Conference of members of the COP, District Mission Execs and others, for opening devotion.]
Dear Jesus Christ, Lord from Your cross, and Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, rule our hearts through Your suffering cross and forgive us our sins, that we may become partakers of Your divine life; for you live and rule with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN
Text – 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Mark was the apple of his father’s eye. His parents had seven daughters, and then came Mark. He was supposed to take over the farm, the center of all his father’s hopes and dreams. But then… At the time I was a 33 year old associate pastor. In the weeks before had done weddings for two of Mark’s older sisters. So I knew Mark fairly well. But then… there was this hot afternoon in July. The senior pastor was away. I was just coming home from visiting with another family where the grandfather, Johnny was his name, had died of heart disease at the age of 55. That didn’t phase me too much. At 55 you’ve lived most of your life anyway – right? That’s what I thought when I was 33.
But then… I was just coming home when my wife met me on the front porch, “Here, call this number. Something terrible has happened to Mark.” He had gone on a canoe trip with his girlfriend with the youth group of the neighboring congregation. He had fallen into a hole in the river and drowned. And now they couldn’t reach his parents. I found a daughter and son-in-law and drove out to the farm. How do you tell a father his only son is dead? The rest of the night was a blur, of crying out to God, of turning to His Word, then crying out some more.
Well, the very next day, after a long day of funeral homes, of visiting with both grieving families, I was coming home, and there was my wife on the front porch again: “You’ve got to go down to the hospital. Bobby has been electrocuted and they don’t know if he’s going to live.” I do remember pounding the dashboard of my car yelling at God: “Let him live! I’ve had enough death already!” But as soon as I came into the emergency room, it was clear that Bobby was gone.
Three terrible tragedies in three days. What happens to you when you meet with broken people? What happens when the ministry starts to break YOU? To what do we cling? When our hearts are broken?
St. Paul had not had an easy time of it before coming to Corinth. Beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. A riot and a nighttime escape from Thessalonica, followed by another hasty “gotta get outa town” from Beorea. Then the cool indifference in Athens. That must have been the worst of it. So Paul had determined to know nothing among the Corinthians, except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He was with them, Paul said, in weakness, in fear and in much trembling. His message and his preaching were not in overwhelming words, or lofty rhetoric, but in the simple demonstration of the Spirit and of the power of God. In the foolish message of the cross, where God had hidden all His power, so that their faith might rest, not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.
What about you? Where do you not have an easy time of it? Where are you broken? Here I want you to think past all the outward signs of success – or failure for that matter – in the ministry. You see, we preachers have fine ways of fooling ourselves: How many are you worshipping? If there are more and more, wow! That’s great, we must be doing something right! Or perhaps your numbers are decreasing, but we’re being faithful! And the people left behind are the REAL Lutherans!
Forget about it guys! God can see through BOTH masks, even if no one else does. Those are both theologies of glory, not of the cross. Think about it. As a pastor, and as a MAN, where are you broken? What wakes you up at two in the morning and does not let you go back to sleep?
What if it’s not true? What if I have it all wrong? Why won’t they get it? How will we go on if this doesn’t happen? How will I get through to them? What about my family? My kids? Why are they wandering so far from God? What if my people discover I’m really a fraud, that I’m just as scared as they are? That I have questions – even doubts, as well? What about my failures, my sins? What about my own fear of dying?
Those were just some of the thoughts racing through my mind when I went with Mark’s mom and dad to identify his body in the morgue, and then go to help them pick out his casket. And later that same day to sit down with Bobby’s mom and his brother to plan his funeral. I felt like I had nothing to give. No more theology of glory left in me. I was empty. But God was thereby teaching me that in the cross of Jesus, I still had just what was needed. For those folks didn’t care what Pastor Mueller was thinking. They wanted to know what God was thinking!
And this is what God had for them in His Word: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified! Crucified and raised from the dead. It was for moments just such as this, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, hung on the cross and died. If you are looking for a sign that God is THERE, even in the casket room. That God is THERE at 2 a.m. That God is THERE whenever we suffer. That God is THERE when we are weak, when we are empty and our faith is just about ready to give up. Look no further than this: the crucified, bloody, dead, Son of God, hung on the cross.
Not only because we also know the victory to come on Easter, but because this is our Immanuel, our God with us, even in suffering, even in the worst of times. This is the Lamb of God, the mysterious power of God made perfect in weakness. And not just for your people, but also for YOU, pastors, and wives and church workers. FOR YOU! Here in the bloody body of Christ on the cross, is the power of God. Here is the place our faith rests in the power of God.
In a sermon on the words of John, “behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), Martin Luther preaches to us:
This is an extraordinary comforting sermon on Christ our Savior… He assumes not only my sins but also the sins of the whole world, from Adam down to the very last mortal. These sins He takes on Himself. For these sins He is willing to suffer and die that our sins may be expunged and we may gain eternal life and blessedness. Who can ever give adequate expression to this? … Anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb! So John points to Christ, to this Lamb, saying, ‘Do you want to know where the sins of the world are placed for forgiveness? Don’t look to the law! You will find sins there to terrify and damn you. But if you really want to find a place where the sins of the world are exterminated and deleted, then cast your gaze upon the cross.’ The Lord placed all your sins on the back of this Lamb. … There is no other comfort… for this Lamb bears the sins of the whole world. (Luther’s Works, Volume 22, Sermons on the Gospel of John, p. 162).
This Lamb bears YOUR sins…
Your doubt and your fears? Placed on Jesus! Your sinful pride and the masks we use to cover up? All placed on Jesus! Your hateful thoughts, your frustrations, all the sins you hide? Yes, they are all laid on Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God. This is the remarkable, powerful wisdom of God. The One who is fully and perfectly God in our human flesh, saves us by becoming bloody, dead, hanging on a cross.
I lay my sins on Jesus! Says the Hymn, the spotless lamb of God…
He bears them all and frees us, from the accused load
I bring my guilt to Jesus, To wash my crimson stains
Clean in His blood most precious, till not a spot remains. (LSB 606, st.1)
No human being could have come up with this. But it is just what we need. God Himself takes on our deepest fear, the fear we have, if we are honest, of our own suffering and death.
So it was Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Three days, three funerals. The following Tuesday I had taken my two boys to a water park when there came an announcement over the PA that I had a phone call. I tried to ignore it, but it came again, so I answered the phone and discovered that a young man from our congregation – just over 30 years old, a seminarian, on vicarage – had died in an accident, leaving a wife and two little kids. Would I go see his parents?
This was the hardest one of all. To this day, I don’t understand it. So it turned out there were four terrible funerals in ten days. The congregation was absolutely rocked. And then the epistle for the Sunday after all of that was Romans 8:28, “God works everything for good, for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” I read the text, and then said, “Oh yeah?”
YES! What could be worse than the Son of God dead and buried? I asked. But surprise! God brought good out of that by raising Him from the dead. So God will also work good for you, raising Christ from the dead. Forgiving your sins. Walking with you alive through all the trials of this life. And raising also YOU to life in the resurrection He will give YOU! So that your faith does not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, the saving power of Christ crucified.
Just this past Saturday afternoon, while driving home, I was listening to NPR’s program This American Life. Some kind of psychic was describing how she had been giving readings from tarot cards to people she met on the train she rode every day. Lots of people readily had her give them a reading. Then she described a man who ridiculed the process, would curse her, berate her, make fun of her.
But finally, one day, he asked for a reading, “Oh just do it!” So she did. And the reading was terrible, with all the worst cards, predictions of doom. Suddenly, this man broke down and cried in front of her, and in between his sobs, his story spilled out. He had heart disease, his wife was divorcing him and he was about to lose his job. And he felt completely alone. Now please, I’m not in any way condoning satanic arts like tarot cards, but the thing that hit me was this: The man exposed his deep despair. And all the tarot card reader could say was, “You know, how this all turns out … is up to you!”
All that did was to make his situation even worse! It just deepened his hopelessness. For that’s all Satan, the world and our sin will give: darkness and despair.
How absolutely DIFFERENT is the message of the cross. For on the cross, Jesus entered our suffering. On the cross, all our sins, all our failures, our death, were all laid on Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God. On the cross, God Himself took even our despair. So that now, in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, you have everything you need. Everything to give you hope, and enable you to bring hope into the worst despair. Everything to give you light, and also to bring light for the darkest soul. Everything to forgive your dirtiest sins, so that you also can speak Christ’s forgiveness for the sins others bring to you.
For you have God Himself, dead on a cross, so that you will know how great is His love. You have God in Christ, raised to life again, FOR YOU! For all, yes… but FOR YOU, too, dear pastor, especially when you are empty of anything to give. For this is how God works with us – by death and resurrection. First with Jesus, now with us in our Baptism.
We were buried with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may be raised with Him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4).
God kills us by His law, so that in Christ, He is alive to raise you and me to life in Him.
Johnny was 55 when he died. Mark was 18. Bobby was 21. And Rick was about 32, with a wife and two little kids.
I don’t pretend to understand. But I know this. They are with the Lord, awaiting that last great day, when what Paul writes 14 chapters later in this same letter will come true: “Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. … Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory, O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57, selected verses).
What I learned that terrible week in July is that this victory in Christ crucified and raised from the dead, this victory is for pastors too. Pastors broken by sin and death. Pastors beset with despair and disappointment. Pastors discouraged and beaten down. Christ crucified is for pastors, too.
Though this proclamation of the cross may be a stumbling block to some, and rank foolishness to others, when you see yourself as empty, and realize you have nothing, then Christ, dead on the cross, but now raised from the dead. Then Christ becomes the sure sign that God has NOT abandoned you, that God is with you, that God is turning your face away from all those things that cannot help you, turning your face toward HIM, and Him alone. That Christ crucified is final assurance that He has taken all your sin and death, all your despair, into Himself. And that just as Christ has been raised from the dead, so does He forgive YOU, and so will He raise YOU to life with Him.
The Church may look like a weak and foolish thing, often times exasperating even the strongest pastor. But it is still the Bride of Christ, whom He loves and cleanses daily by the washing of water with the Word. Just as He does you! And in just a moment, we will gather here at His altar, for His Supper, to show forth His death until He comes again, and to receive His forgiveness. For every week, somewhere, somehow, for 2000 years, Christ has been giving His body and His blood, as He promised. So that He is now RIGHT HERE! Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, right now, FOR YOU!
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
(Sermon preached for the Northern Illinois District Pastoral Conference, February 8, 2011.)
+ Herb Mueller