Midweek Lenten Sermon for March 23, 2011

Sermon: The Miraculous Earthquake

(Matthew 27:51b)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

When an organization, club, or corporation wants to promote a certain event, to draw a lot of people to it, what means do they use to do this?  Don’t they use posters or billboards or perhaps send out a mass mailing?  Don’t they use balloons, lights, or perhaps a searchlight to shine a beam of light into the sky?  Don’t they use newspapers, radio, telephone, or the Internet?  Some might even use a band—the louder the better.

What means did God use to draw people to His Son, Jesus Christ, and especially to His death on the cross for the sins of the world?  One thing He used was an earthquake.

There can be no doubt that the crucifixion of Jesus, humanly speaking, can be traced back to the jealousy and hatred of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.  Jesus had called them hypocrites.  He had interfered with the way they wanted to run the temple, which Jesus called His “Father’s house.”  Twice Jesus threw money changers out of the temple; He was critical of their lifestyle.  From their perspective, Jesus was very much in their way.

So they made plans to get rid of Him, to shut Him up.  The Jewish leaders, blinded by their hatred and jealousy, foolishly believed that Jesus’ death would be the end of Him.

In Matthew we read about their plot to kill Jesus: “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said to His disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’  Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill Him.” (Matthew 26:1–5)

Following that there was the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, the mock trial, Pilate’s delivering of Jesus over to be crucified, and then the crucifixion itself.  Certainly up to the moment of His death, the Jewish leaders must have felt that their plans were progressing very well.  Soon Jesus would be silenced and out of the way for good.

But God had other plans.  There were a number of miracles like the earthquake.  It must have been rather intense.  Certainly the earthquake, the tearing of the curtain in the temple, the splitting of rocks, and the opening of graves were all related, all occurring at the moment Christ died.  They could hardly have gone unnoticed.

Earthquake tremors can be felt for miles from the center.  The earthquake would have been felt by the people who lived in neighboring towns and villages; perhaps even in neighboring countries.  If the Jewish leaders thought that they could pretty well restrict the notice of their dastardly deeds to Calvary or even to Jerusalem, they were sadly mistaken.

What complicated matters for them is that God kept on performing miracles.  There was the miracle of the resurrection.  The disciples had been demoralized by the crucifixion but rejuvenated by the resurrection.  The resurrection of Christ had a profound impact on getting the word out about Jesus and in the process drawing people to Him.

Then there were the miracles of Pentecost: the wind-like sound that attracted the attention of the pilgrims in Jerusalem; the flames of fire that rested on the heads of the disciples, to say nothing of their ability to speak in languages which they had never learned.  Peter took advantage of the situation. Moved by the Holy Spirit, he preached a sermon that convicted people of their sins, called them to repentance, and directed them to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation.  We are told that on that one day 3,000 people were drawn to the Savior, in whom they were moved to place their faith.

The next day, God, through Peter and John, healed a man who was lame from birth.  This drew a crowd and a strong witness was given to Jesus Christ.  On that day another 5,000 people were drawn to the Savior in whom they placed their faith.

Another miracle ascribed to the Holy Spirit is the inspiration of Scripture.  God drew Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to Jesus, and then they were moved to write about Him.  All of them wrote to different segments of the population or to an individual like Theophilus.  God used those four Gospel accounts to draw more people to Jesus.

Another miracle that God performed was the conversion of Saul, whom we now know as St. Paul. He had hated Christ and His Church and was persecuting Christians.  We are told Paul held the coat of the first Christian martyr, Stephen.  The Lord Jesus appeared to Saul as he was traveling on the road to Damascus with the intent of arresting Christians and bringing them back to Jerusalem in chains.  On that road, Jesus changed Saul.  He was drawn to the living Christ, and through him Christ drew many others during his lifetime.

As the months and years went by, God drew others to Christ.  There were those who began to formulate statements of faith, which eventually led to those statements we know as the Creeds.  The Apostles’ Creed, which we use on Sundays in Lent, can be traced back to the first century and to the baptismal formula found in Christ’s Great Commission to His disciples.  It is thought that it was originally used by early Christians to teach people who had been drawn to Christ and who were interested in becoming a part of Christ’s Church prior to their Baptism.  In its present form, the Apostles’ Creed can be traced back to the sixth century.  Think of how many people the Holy Spirit drew to Christ through the Apostles’ Creed.  Think of how many people the Holy Spirit helped to keep them in Christ through the regular profession of their faith through the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.

Dr. Martin Luther was one who was drawn to Christ and then was used by God to draw others to Christ.  I try to always have a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism on hand to give away to those who are being drawn to Jesus Christ as well as to the Lutheran Church.  Luther’s Explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed is superb. It reads:

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who 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 with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.

The Holy Spirit over the years has also drawn to Christ people who were gifted in music or

gifted in writing just the right words to fit the melodies.  In our Lutheran Service Book there are hundreds of such examples—to say nothing of former hymnals such as Lutheran Worship or The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941. The following hymns are only a few:

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

“In the Cross of Christ I Glory”

“We Sing the Praise of Him Who Died”

“Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain”

“Go to Dark Gethsemane”

“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed ”

“A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”

“Drawn to the Cross, Which Thou Hast Blessed”

We, like the witnesses of the earthquake, find that our plans and hopes turn out differently than we anticipate.  God displayed His power in the earthquake.  God displayed His mercy, love, and forgiveness in the crucifixion of His Son, Jesus Christ.  The God of power, mercy, love, and forgiveness cares for you.  Pray that the Holy Spirit grant you the necessary faith and confidence through Word and Sacrament to continue to spread the message of Christ Crucified and Risen.  Amen.


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