Author: pastormjc

Sermon for April 17, 2022, The Resurrection of Our Lord–Easter Day

Luke 24:1-12 (The Resurrection of Our Lord—Series C)

“The Living One”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 17, 2022

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

Our text for this Easter Day is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 24:

1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they went to tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. 2And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4And it happened that while they were at a loss concerning this, behold, two men stood near them in gleaming apparel. 5And as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the ground, they said to them, “Why are you seeking the Living One in the company of the dead ones? 6He is not here, but He has risen. Remember as He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be given over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to rise.” 8And they remembered His words. 9And after they returned from the tomb, they announced all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10And these were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, and the rest with them. They told these things to the apostles, 11but these words seemed to them like pure nonsense, and they did not believe them. 12And Peter rose and ran to the tomb and, stooping down to take a look, saw the linen cloths only, and he went away by himself marveling at what had happened.

          Paul calls the Gospel-writer Luke “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14). I think Luke should also be called “the beloved historian.” In the two volumes that God the Holy Spirit gave to Luke by divine inspiration, Luke presents the history of the Church from the birth of Jesus in the Gospel through the death of the apostle Paul in the Book of Acts. He opens the Gospel that bears his name, saying, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us,just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us,it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4 ESV).

          It should come, then, as no surprise that the account of the morning on the third day after Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried should concentrate on the event itself without any attempt to unlock the meaning of what took place. There is no attempt by Luke to wow his readers with a vivid eyewitness account of the process of life returning to a corpse. No, Luke’s account reflects all the doubts, fears, confusion, and surprise of average human beings in the presence of the incredible reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. It’s a very real account of the very real event that really took place very early in the morning on the first day of the week.

          The story builds from the concluding words from last Sunday’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ Passion. “Then [Joseph of Arimathea] took [Jesus’ body] down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning.The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:53–56 ESV). We move from sundown on Friday to the wee hours of the morning on Sunday. “On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they went to tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.”

          The “they” is the women, the same ladies who had come with Jesus from Galilee who saw where the tomb was and how his body was laid. They went home, prepared their spices and ointments for the burial customs, rested on the Sabbath day, and returned to the tomb to complete their loving work for Jesus’ body. But there is suddenly a different reality facing the women. What did they find? The stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb. What did they not find? The body of the Lord Jesus. This is not what was expected at all. And yet, it seems that this should have been expected.

          It’s not everyday that two angels in dazzling white, lightning-like, gleaming apparel show up to help explain things. But, as the angels appeared to shepherds over the fields near Bethlehem to announce the Savior’s birth among His own creation, so now two angles (who might have been there at Bethlehem!) stood near the women and asked the all-important question. “Why are you seeking the Living One in the company of the dead ones?”

          Wait! What? Jesus was crucified. He died; He breathed His last. The Roman soldier pierced His side to make sure that He was actually deceased, and He was. Where else would you look for the body of your dead loved-one but in the cemetery? That’s all well and good if indeed you were looking for the Dead One. But the angels announce to the women that they are no longer to be looking for the One who had died on Calvary’s cross because He is no longer dead but alive. He has risen and so He is not here, dead in the grave, but alive again—the Living One! So, surprise of all surprises, stop looking for the Living One in the place where dead bodies rest until the Last Day!

          For Jesus to now be the Living One is not the reality that the women expected on that early morning. And yet, it should have been expected. Listen to what the angels said. “Remember as He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, that it is necessary for the Son of Man to be given over into the hands of sinful men and to be crucified and on the third day to rise.” Then St. Luke reports, “And they remembered His words.” And this remembering is surely more than simply a “light-bulb” or “ah-ha” moment like when you remember where you put your car keys last night. They remembered Jesus’ words foretelling His death and resurrection. Yes, they had seen Jesus’ crucified. They saw Him die. They saw His body laid in the tomb. With the help of the angel’s message, they looked now at the evidence of the empty tomb as they begin to understand the miracle before them. “He is not here, but He has risen.”

          Like thousands of Christians around the world on this first day of the week, we too, as we do in fact ever Sunday, celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. It is the living Jesus—crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised again from the dead for our salvation from sin and death—whom we meet in this place as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments. It is precisely to the Living Jesus who meets with us here that we bring all our doubts and fears, sins and guilt.

“Can God really love me after I cheated on my spouse? Could God ever forgive me for having an abortion? Is there any way God could ever really love a person like me, filled with anxiety, a person who is depressed, a person who feels lonely and worthless?”

          “There’s so much in this world that I’m afraid of. Just look at what’s been going on for the past two years? Look at all the hate and distrust in society. Society itself seems to be in constant change and turmoil. What was wrong is now right and right is now wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any standard, anything solid to hold on to. I’m so afraid of life in this world. It’s too confusing. I don’t understand how things could be this way.”

          To our Living Savior, we bring our doubts, fears, and confusion about life here in this world and our doubts and fears about our fallen relationship with God because of our sins and failures to be the people He calls us to be. To the Risen Lord Jesus we ultimately bring our guilt and our sins, our worries and our troubles. Here, by Means of the Gospel Word and Sacrament of the Altar, the Living One, Jesus Christ, meets you and He takes away from you all your guilt and sin and pronounces His blood-bought forgiveness upon you in the Absolution, in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the eating and drinking of Christ’s own body and blood given and shed for you precisely for the forgiveness of all your sins.

          Jesus died the death of the cross for you in order to purchase and win your forgiveness. He suffered the punishment for your sins on the cross so that He might remove your guilt from you by completely forgiving your sins, thereby restoring you to a right relationship with God your heavenly Father. The guarantee of your forgiveness and new relationship to God is found in the marks of the nails that the Living One, Jesus Christ, still bears in His risen and glorified body. In this place and at this altar, the risen Jesus says to you through His Gospel Word, “With the eyes of Baptismal faith, see My hands and My feet. Know that it is for you that I died and rose again. Know that I now am the Living One who is with you always until the end of the age. I will not leave you abandoned in this crazy, messed up world. Believe in Me, come to Me, and I will give you rest and peace like that world cannot give. Hear My Word preached. Receive the forgiveness of your sins through the Gospel. Eat and drink My Body and Blood, once given and shed on the cross, for you, now provided to you with bread and wine for forgiveness, eternal life, salvation, and the strengthening of your most holy faith so that you might endure this life and so be faithful unto death, for I will give you the crown of life.”

          Christ’s death and resurrection are recorded by St. Luke not only as history, or His story. They are our story as well. Sin, death, and the devil no longer have ultimate power over us because we have been raised with Jesus through faith. We are no longer slaves to sin and Satan since the penalty for our sin—the penalty of eternal death—has been paid by Jesus. Therefore, you, as members of Christ’s body, His Church, are united with Christ the Living One in His conquest over sin, Satan, and death. When Jesus conquered the forces of darkness and left them disarmed and paralyzed, you were participants in that victory. Bring your sins and guilt, your fears and troubles to the Living One, Jesus Christ, and receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and peace with God through His Holy Word and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. Amen.

Sermon for April 15, 2022, Good Friday (Witnesses to Christ series)

John 19:25–37 (Good Friday—Witnesses to Christ Series)

“John, the Gospel Writer”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 15, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). Blood. It’s a major theme in John’s Gospel. Already in John 1:29, the evangelist writes, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Lamb, Jesus, will shed His blood. John 1:36 reiterates this central idea in the Fourth Gospel, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” In John 6:54, Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” In John’s Gospel, blood serves one purpose: to wash away sin.

Sin is always at the door, standing at the door of our lives. That’s because we never measure up. We never do enough. We all fall short of the glory of God. But just because sin keeps knocking at the door, it doesn’t mean we have to let him in.

But we do! We let him in! And when we do, sin trashes our living room and basement. He makes a mess out of our kitchen and bathrooms. And the backyard? Don’t get me started! Then, after making a terrible mess, sin wants to stay with us for the rest of our lives. And what do we say? “Sure! Great idea, sin! Come on in!” What? And so we spend the rest of our lives trying to get rid of sin and all of its ugly consequences.

Projection. That’s one way we try to kick sin out of the house. Project sin onto someone else. Blame someone. Blame anyone. Blame your husband. Blame your wife. Blame your parents. Blame your teachers. And while you’re at it, blame the government and the system.

Rationalization is another way we try to conquer sin. “What I did is no big deal!” “It didn’t really hurt anybody.” “It’s just this once. Besides, no one will ever know.”

When projection and rationalization don’t work, we try comparison. “If you think I’m bad, you should see my boss!” “At least I’m not as bad as my sister!” “Well, remember what he did?” “Ha! I’m a saint compared to that sinner!”

Another way to get rid of sin is repression. Stuff it down. Stuff it way down. Live in denial. “I know it was wrong, but I’m just not going to think about it!”

Another way to say adios to sin is through distraction. Rush around from one event to the next so that at night you collapse. Run yourself ragged so that when you hit the pillow, sin doesn’t haunt your heart and muddle your mind.

Another strategy is evasion. Pop a pill, have a drink, smoke a joint. Get addicted to TV, sports, money—you name it. Anything to evade the all-consuming consequences of sin!

Do you see the problem with all of this? It doesn’t work! None of this works! We wake up the next day, and sin is still there, trashing our house, making life miserable and sometimes absolutely unbearable!

There’s only one solution to sin. Stand with John under Christ’s cross. “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:35). John was there, at the cross. He saw it all happen. John gives his testimony. And his testimony is true. What would that be? Christ’s blood alone washes away sin. All sin. Everyone’s sin. Yours. Mine. His. Hers. Theirs. For everyone who believes, all sin is forgiven!

 Sin is forgiven—that’s free for us. Good Friday, though, calls us to remember what it cost Jesus. His crucifixion at Golgotha was an act of utter brutality and barbarism. Jesus is first stripped before Herod’s soldiers. He’s stripped again at the command of Pilate. And then He is stripped once more at the cross when the soldiers divide His garments by casting lots.

When Jesus was flogged by the Romans, lacerations tore into His underlying skeletal muscles and produced quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.

Roman soldiers used a whip of braided leather thongs with spikes woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh, spikes would cause deep bruises and lacerations. The whipping would have gone all the way from the shoulders down the back and the back of the legs. The Romans threw Jesus on the wood and drove tapered spikes through His wrists and feet—all the while mocking Him and spitting on Him.

On the cross, Christ’s arms were stretched six inches upward so His shoulders were dislocated. The stress of His diaphragm forced His chest into an inhaling position. In order to exhale, Christ had to push up, using His feet to relieve pressure on His diaphragm, and temporarily exhale. In doing so, the nail would tear through His feet, eventually locking up against his tarsal bones.

For six hours, this breathing motion went on and on and on, with Christ scraping His shredded back against the coarse wood until He became completely exhausted and unable to push up and breathe.

As Jesus slowed down His breathing, He went into respiratory acidosis—leading to an irregular heartbeat. In fact, with His heart beating erratically, Jesus would have known that death was near. He died of cardiac arrest.

 “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe” (John 19:34–35). Peter Paul Rubens, a famous artist in the seventeenth century, depicts these events in John’s Gospel. Rubens’s masterpiece is called The Descent from the Cross. A copy is included in your worship folder.

In the background of the painting, billows of black clouds linger after the three hours of darkness. In the foreground is Jesus. Rubens paints a sweeping diagonal line made by Christ’s shining white shroud. Christ’s head dangles to one side, and His body hangs limp. Sections of His skin bear the greenish-yellow color of death.

In the left corner of the painting is Mary, Christ’s mother, who appears in blue. Mary is reaching up to her Son. Her grieving face is lit by the whiteness of the cloth and reflects her broken heart. Mary’s skin matches the ashen pastiness of Christ’s, and we remember Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart. We can scarcely imagine Mary’s profound sense of loss and grief.

Another woman supports Christ’s foot as it rests on her shoulder. Christ’s foot is an important clue to her identity. It’s Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. As a disciple, she once sat at Christ’s feet. And, shortly before His death, she took expensive perfume and anointed Christ’s feet.

Next to her is another woman. The tears help identify her. It’s Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is crushed—utterly. So much so that on Easter morning she runs frantically, searching for Jesus.

We know that the man standing on the ladder to the left is Joseph of Arimathea. His rich clothing comports with the fact that Joseph of Arimathea had enough money to buy burial spices, and he had a new tomb—all for Jesus. Joseph is looking at the man in black. It is Nicodemus, painted in black, because, as you recall, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. We’ll learn more about him tomorrow night at the Easter Vigil.

The person under Nicodemus is dressed in red. It’s John, the Gospel writer. It’s John, the beloved disciple. It’s John, the son of Zebedee and the brother of James. John’s eyes are fixed on Mary, Jesus’ mother. From the cross, Jesus said to Mary and John. “Woman, behold, your son! . . . Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27). John is already caring for Mary in her deep sorrow.

But why is John dressed in red? That’s the driving question Peter Paul Rubens wants us to ask. Why is John dressed in red? Christ’s blood drips from His head, His hands, and His side. Christ’s blood continues downward until it pours directly onto John.

John is dressed in red because John is covered in blood. John is saturated in blood. John is washed in Christ’s blood! And John says that same blood is for you! This is John’s testimony, and John’s testimony is true!

At the bottom-right corner of the painting is a piece of paper with the Latin inscription INRI with a rock on top of it. These letters stand for Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum—Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Next to the inscription and rock lies an offering plate that holds the crown of thorns and more blood. Blood is in the offering plate. Why? It’s Christ’s offering. It’s Christ’s gift, for you. More cleansing blood.

Peter Paul Rubens invites us to stand at the cross, like John. To hold on to Jesus, like John. To allow the Savior’s blood to wash us, like John. Why? Because Christ’s blood is the only solution for all of our sin.

So we stand at the foot of the cross, like John, clothed in red, forever forgiven! Amen.

Sermon for April 14, 2022, Holy Thursday (Witnesses to Christ series)

John 13:21–30 (Holy Thursday—Witnesses to Christ Series)

“Judas Iscariot”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 14, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our sermon text is recorded in John 13:

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

It took three years to complete. It’s one of the most recognized paintings in the world—with its image found on items such as carpets, carvings, and canvases. With lifelike facial expressions unable to be captured by anyone else at the time, the 15 x 29-foot painting became an instant masterpiece. I’m talking about The Last Supper by the great master Leonardo da Vinci. A copy of that famous painting is included in your worship folder.

When Leonardo da Vinci was forty-three years old, the Duke of Milan asked him to paint this dramatic scene. Da Vinci worked for three years on the assignment (1495–98, though not constantly), grouping the disciples into threes—two groups on either side of the central figure of Jesus.

When the masterpiece was finished, da Vinci said to a friend, “Look at it and give me your honest opinion.” “It’s wonderful!” exclaimed the friend. “Christ’s chalice is so real I can’t take my eyes off it!” Immediately, da Vinci took a brush and painted over the chalice, exclaiming, “Nothing shall detract from Jesus!”

Nothing shall detract from Jesus! And why is that? Because Jesus was betrayed. Let that soak in. Jesus was betrayed. The Words of Institution for the Holy Supper begin, “On the night when He was betrayed.” We hear these words so often that we don’t really hear them.

During the Season of Lent, we have been in a series called Witnesses to Christ. Today, we meet Judas—Judas Iscariot. And we meet him in the Upper Room the night Jesus was betrayed. “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me” (John 13:21).

Betrayed by Judas, one of His twelve disciples. Betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver. Betrayed by Judas with a kiss! Betrayed by Judas in a garden east of Jerusalem called Gethsemane. Betrayed! That’s why da Vinci exclaimed, “Nothing shall detract from Jesus!” Jesus was betrayed for us.

According to Matthew 26:25, Judas was seated close to Jesus—close enough for the two of them to carry on a private conversation. It may be that the Savior singles out Judas as an important guest. Then Jesus gives Judas a morsel of bread, even while still holding on to his plan to betray Jesus. “Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him” (John 13:27). The term Satan is only used to tell this story in John’s Gospel. This accents the absolute seriousness of the situation. John 6:70 calls Judas a devil, while Mark 5:13 and Luke 8:30 employ the same vocabulary to describe evil spirits entering the Gerasene demoniac.

Da Vinci paints the spilled saltshaker next to the elbow of Judas Iscariot. What for? In Matthew 5:13, Jesus tells His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” Judas lost his salt because of greed. We lose our salt because of our greed—our constant lust for more.

The painting depicts the disciples eating herring. In da Vinci’s northern Italian dialect, the word for herring is renga. Renga—in that dialect—also describes someone who denies religion. Whoa! Judas isn’t the only sinner present at the Supper. Peter denied Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard. The disciples denied Jesus in Gethsemane. Renga! All of them! Renga! All of us!

John writes, “After receiving the morsel of bread, he [Judas] immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30). It is dark. The whole scene is dark. Jesus warned that night is coming (John 9:4). Night and darkness now come with a vengeance.

Why did Jesus allow all of this to happen? It was for you. “For you” are powerful Gospel words! For. God is not against you or in opposition to you. God is not your enemy. God is for you. Not just for her and him, for those and them. God’s love is intensely personal. It is for you!

When we go to a restaurant, the hostess wants to know how many are in our party. Can you imagine going to a restaurant and not knowing how many people are with you? Hostess: “How many are in your party?” Me: “I’m not sure.” Hostess: “How many will be joining you for dinner?” Me: “I don’t know.” When it comes to the Lord’s Supper, how many are in your party? Do you know? Two. Holy Communion is a table for two! Real body and real blood are given for you!

Martin Luther writes, “This is something more than the sermon; for although the same thing is present in the sermon as in the sacrament, here there is the advantage that it is directed at definite individuals.” That’s because Jesus never gives up on you. You may give up on you, but Jesus will never give up on you. When soldiers spit in His face, Jesus didn’t give up. When a whip ripped open His back, Jesus didn’t give up. When nails crushed His nerves, Jesus didn’t give up. Come what may, even when we betray and deny Him, Jesus doesn’t give up. Jesus will never give up on you.

Did you know that since its completion in 1498, The Last Supper has been falling apart? Leonardo da Vinci—always the inventor—tried using new materials for this painting. Instead of using the customary wet plaster, he used dry plaster. The dry plaster worked well artistically, but not well for sustainability. Experts have been working on restoring the original ever since.

How fitting! The Lord’s Supper is for people whose lives, like the painting, are always falling apart. In this life, we never get it right! Thank God we have the Gospel words “for you”!

In the Lord’s Supper, God acts for you—right now. God delivers Christ’s true body and true blood here and now. Holy Communion is the opposite of remembering a dead man. Holy Communion is a meal with a man who lives!

How so? Is in “Take, eat; this is My body” and “Take, drink; this is My blood” means “is.” Is doesn’t mean “signifies,” “represents,” or “symbolizes.” This view didn’t arise until the eleventh century. It was promoted by a French theologian named Berengar of Tours, whose watchwords were “flee to reason.” No. Flee to Scripture! “This is for you!”

A middle-age and slightly overweight Scottish woman walked out from behind a theater curtain. Her hair was going in all different directions, and she was wearing a dress that wasn’t very flattering. People in the audience rolled their eyes and let out a collective sigh of disappointment. No one expected anything from this woman. That was the way it was on April 11, 2009, when Susan Boyle began to sing.

After her song, though, people exploded with applause! The video clip of Susan Boyle became the most-watched YouTube video at the time. Her first recording broke all sales records. Susan Boyle wasn’t what people expected. Susan Boyle was much more!

Here’s the point. What may look ordinary can be completely extraordinary. The Lord’s Supper is like that. When Christ’s words—“Take, eat; this is My body; and take, drink; this is My blood”—are spoken over bread and wine, it’s not what we expect. It’s so much more! The bread participates with Christ’s body! The wine participates with Christ’s blood! What may look ordinary is completely extraordinary.

But there’s more! There’s always more in the Gospel. Da Vinci’s The Last Supper includes a view of heaven. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the feast to come. Jesus is coming to restore all things. At the heavenly banquet, we will no longer have to look at our sin. We will be perfect, wearing white robes washed in the blood of Jesus. At the heavenly banquet, we will no longer be sad because of broken hearts and broken lives. In heaven, we will be gathered together with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. At the heavenly banquet, we will no longer need Jesus to come to us in the Sacrament. We will see Jesus face-to-face, and He will fill us with unspeakable joy that will never end!

People use a lot of words when they speak about Holy Communion. Words such as Sacrament and Eucharist. But some of the most important words about Communion are two short words, with three letters each—“for you.”

For you—in the past, Christ died. For you—right now, Christ is present. For you—in the future, you will partake of the marriage feast of the Lamb that will have no end! Amen.

Sermon for April 10, 2022, Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion,

Philippians 2:5-11 (Palm / Passion Sunday—Series C)

“Christ the Servant-Lord”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 10, 2022

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

Our text is Epistle lesson recorded in Philippians 2.

5Have this mind among you, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who although He really existed in the nature of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7but He emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave, being born in the likeness of people; and being found in form as a man, 8He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9And therefore God exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, 10so that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

          Christians throughout the centuries have confessed the faith into which they are baptized saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty. And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Central to the Christian faith is the Second Article of the Creed—that Jesus Christ is, at the same time, both true God and true Man. It is this Jesus alone who is Lord.

          But what does it mean that Jesus Christ is Lord? Martin Luther helps us to understand that it means that Jesus “has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. For before I did not have a Lord or King, but was captive under the devil’s power, condemned to death, stuck in sin and blindness. For when we had been created by God the Father and had received from Him all kinds of good, the devil came and led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil. So we fell under God’s wrath and displeasure and were doomed to eternal damnation, just as we had merited and deserved. There was no counsel, help, or comfort until this only and eternal Son of God—in His immeasurable goodness—had compassion upon our misery and wretchedness. He came from heaven to help us. So those tyrants and jailers are all expelled now. In their place has come Jesus Christ, Lord of life, righteousness, every blessing, and salvation. He has delivered us poor, lost people from hell’s jaws, has won us, has made us free, and has brought us again into the Father’s favor and grace. He has taken us as His own property under His shelter and protection so that He may govern us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness. Let this, then, be the sum of this article: the little word Lord means simply the same as redeemer. It means the One who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same.” [1]

          We, who by faith confess Jesus as Lord, acknowledge that He rules over all things as our Creator and Redeemer who has given us eternal life and taken us under His eternal care and protection because Jesus is the Lord God Himself (Yahweh) in our human flesh. This is what Paul says by the power of the Holy Spirit in verse 5 of our Epistle text, that Jesus, “who although He really existed in the nature of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.” That’s what it means when you read the English Standard translation that “He was in the form of God.” Jesus didn’t just pretend to be God. He has the very nature of God because Jesus isGod the Son who has existed eternally with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever One true God in three distinct Persons.

          And what did the eternal Son of God do in order to become our Lord? He took upon Himself the nature of a servant, or as the Greek text says, the nature of a slave. “He emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave, being born in the likeness of people; and being found in form as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This “humbling” means to lose prestige or status. It is what was often done to slaves in the days of the Roman empire. Slaves were humbled, humiliated, and demeaned.

          Jesus, the eternal Son of God, took to Himself a real human body and soul in His incarnation—in His conception by the Holy Spirit and birth by the virgin Mary. C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, said it this way. “The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.” Certainly does not sound very “Lord-like,” does it? Jesus entered our history then, not as “Lord,” but as “slave,” a person without advantages, with no rights or privileges, but in servanthood to all.[2]

In order to become our Lord, Jesus had to made like us in every way, except without sin. Fully human, God the Son came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus had to be true Man, our Brother, in order to perfectly serve us in order to redeem us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

           Sharing our humanity as our Brother, Jesus fulfilled our obligation to keep God’s Law, which, in our fallen, sinful condition, we are not able to do. Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19 ESV). And from Galatians 4 we read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5 ESV).

          It was not enough, however, for Jesus simply to keep the Law on our behalf so that we would have the credit of His righteousness. You and I are guilty of breaking God’s Law and are under God’s condemnation of death and hell. As our Brother, Jesus, true God and true Man, also assumed our place under that condemnation. He served humanity by becoming the sin-bearer for us and for the whole world. He was obedient to God’s Law not only with His perfect life, but He was also obedient to God’s Law that called for the death of the sinner and the punishment of hell. Even though Jesus had done no sin, He became sin for us, bearing our sins in His body on the tree of the cross “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24 ESV).

          Jesus, true God and true Man, is our Servant-Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. Jesus did this so that He might pay what you and I owe “not with silver or gold, but with His own precious blood. And He did all this in order to become [our] Lord. He did none of these things for Himself, nor did He have any need for redemption. After that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death, and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father’s right hand. He did these things so that the devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie at His feet until finally, at the Last Day, He will completely divide and separate us from the wicked world, the devil, death, [and] sin.”[3]

          As we enter into this Holy Week, we especially contemplate and meditate upon that which our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, did for us and for our salvation with His perfect life and with His sacrificial death on a cross to pay for our sins. Because of Christ’s blood shed for you on the cross, because He suffered the punishment of sin for you, you stand forgiven before God. You, by faith in Christ, are now children of God. We have this mind among us as we think on these things, namely that “Christ Jesus,who although He really existed in the nature of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave, being born in the likeness of people; and being found in form as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” For you. For your forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.

          Let us pray. Lord Jesus Christ, our Brother and Savior, we praise You for rescuing us from sin, death, and the devil’s power by Your innocent suffering and death. Thank you for your great love and underserved sacrifice that won us, lost and condemned creatures, to be Yours. Give us faith to trust your reconciling work and live in the knowledge of Your salvation; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.[4]

     [1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 401–402.

     [2] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 212–213.

     [3] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia, 2005), 402.

     [4] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 187.

Midweek Lent 5 Sermon, Witnesses of Christ Series, April 6, 2022

John 19:1–16 (Midweek 5—Witnesses to Christ Series)

“Pontius Pilate”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

April 6, 2022

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“I saw a woman today who finally became hard as wood all over.” A French doctor named Guy Patin wrote these words in 1692. This is the first clinical description of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP, a disease that slowly and irreversibly turns people into solid bone. The disease imprisons the entire body—back to front, top to bottom. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles solidify as the body becomes as hard as cement. The rogue gene of FOP has one goal—slowly harden the body until it’s dead.

We’re in a sermon series called Witnesses to Christ. Today, we meet Pontus Pilate. Pontius Pilate is one of the most notorious people in history. He’s right up there with Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Osama bin Laden. If Pilate’s name was announced at a baseball game, the crowd would begin booing and throwing beer cans. The Apostles’ Creed includes these words: “born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

Pontius Pilate had an acute case of spiritual FOP. Only in Pilate’s case, the gene went straight to his heart—back to front, top to bottom. Spiritual FOP has one goal—slowly harden our hearts until we’re spiritually dead.

But we don’t notice it at first, do we? At first, our priorities are just a little mixed up. But then, very slowly, and before we know it, we stop praying, we stop repenting, and we stop trusting Jesus. Then the day comes when words such as Jesus, Holy Communion, Bible study, Baptism, worship, Easter, and salvation have no impact upon us whatsoever. That’s because spiritual FOP has one goal—slowly harden our hearts until we’re spiritually dead. Pilate knows.

According to a Latin inscription found in 1961 on the Mediterranean coast, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea for ten years—from AD 26 to 36. Pilate was from a middle-class family. Don’t forget that, it’s huge. Pilate was from a middle-class family. Pontius Pilate served the Roman army in Germany. One year, while on leave in Rome, he married an upper-class Roman woman named Claudia Procula. Claudia was the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus—the Roman emporor. The granddaughter of Caesar Augustus the Roman emporor? Pilate was in! Because of this connection, Pontius Pilate got a position he would never have gotten in any other way. What position did Pilate get? Governor of Judea. That’s Pilate’s past.

The posse—led by Judas Iscariot—arrests Jesus on Thursday night. Jesus then stands trial before Annas, Caiaphas, and finally before the Sanhedrin—the Jewish Supreme Court. They accuse Jesus of blasphemy because blasphemy was punishable by death. There’s one problem, though. The Jews can condemn a man to death, but they can’t carry it out. Before Jesus can be executed, the Jews must get whose consent? Pilate’s. That’s his part. Famously and for the ages, that’s Pilate’s part!

That’s what John says. “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning” (John 18:28). They brought Jesus to the Roman fortress Antonia. It’s about 6:00 a.m. And they’re all there. The chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, all of them. And they have Jesus right where they want Him. Soon they will have Pilate right where they want him.

Pilate asks a few routine questions—such as “What’s this man done wrong?” The Jews don’t answer directly. Why? Because there’s no Roman law against blasphemy. The Jews can’t say, “This man claims to be the Messiah,” because Pilate would just wave his hand and that would be that. After all, Roman history tells us that Pilate didn’t like the Jews. Pilate didn’t understand the Jews. And Pilate didn’t waste his time in religious debates with the Jews! Pilate’s heart was becoming harder by the minute.

Pilate questions Jesus. He asks, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33). The all-important word here is king. King means one thing to the Jews—Messiah. It means something else to the Romans—military ruler. Jesus answers Pilate, “You say that I am a king” (John 18:37). This means “Yes, I’m a king, but not the kind of king you’re thinking of.”

The chief priests want to confuse Pilate into thinking that Jesus is a revolutionary leader, and thus a threat to Rome. It doesn’t work, because Jesus tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Then He tells Pilate, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:37). Pilate cynically says, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate’s heart is becoming as hard as cement.

Pilate has Jesus scourged, just short of death. But the crowd wants more. They want Christ killed. And so the Jews play their trump card.

They say to Pilate, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (John 19:12). Pilate knows exactly what they mean. The Caesar, the king, named Tiberius at the time, was sick. He was always suspicious and often violent. Suetonius—a Roman historian—tells us that Tiberius could turn on his underlings and be a savage. Tiberius wouldn’t like getting news about a riot in Judea, especially when Judea’s governor was appointed only because of family connections. And Pilate was, after all, just middle class.

The Jews blackmail Pilate, pure and simple. And it works. If the choice had been between Jesus and the Jews, Pilate would let Jesus go. But that’s not how the Jewish leaders frame the issue. Their blackmail makes it a choice between Jesus and Rome. This is Pilate’s predicament. The Jewish blackmail makes it a choice between Jesus and Rome. Peoplewill do many things to save their job, their status, their reputation. People will do many things to save their skin. They will even crucify an innocent man.

Pilate asks, “Shall I crucify your King?” (John 19:15). This King isn’t the military type—looking for a battle. No. This King is the suffering and bleeding type—looking for us. He is the King who cleanses sin-stained hearts. The King who heals deep brokenness. The King who calls us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. The King who triumphs over death. The King who knows the exact place and time of His execution and still goes there anyway—all for us.

The chief priests answer Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Things are getting out of hand. A Jewish riot would end Pilate’s political career. So he caves in. Pilate has Jesus executed. Nailed to a cross by His hands and feet, lifted up to hang, suspended between heaven and earth. Why did Pilate do it? His heart had become as hard as Mount Rushmore.

Do you see Pilate’s pattern? “What’s in it for me?” That’s what we see throughout John 18–19. “What’s in it for me?” That’s Pilate’s pattern. Pilate is climbing the ladder of success. Pilate cares only for himself and is trashing everyone who gets in his way.

That’s a pattern we follow more often than we care to admit. We’re all, finally, not that much different from Pilate. “What’s in it for me?” It’s a recipe for a hard heart. And a hard heart is like a wrecking ball. It mangles marriages, it kills kids, and it finishes off families and friends. Spiritual FOP is killing us.

Is your heart hard? Is it callous? insensitive? indifferent? dead? It’s not too late! Your heavenly Father will create in you a clean heart, a new heart, a heart that is spiritually alive. He’ll mold your stony heart back into life. This is His promise for you in Christ Jesus. Ezekiel 11:19: “I will give them one heart. . . . I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” God will take away our stony, stubborn heart and give us a tender, responsive heart. What’s it mean? It means our heart will beat again! Amen.