Joy

Third Sunday after Easter
John 16:16-22
April 22, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

There is a significant disconnect with Easter, that only becomes apparent after the luster of the holiday celebration wears off. After living a life of temptations and troubles that are common to the human experience, after enduring persecution for teaching about His Father, after suffering humiliation and insults and physical beatings, and after dying a criminal’s death, and after defeating them all in a victorious resurrection, Jesus rises to life again in the old, dying world, a world of troubles, persecutions, and sufferings.

Certainly Jesus was a singular presence in the world prior to His death and resurrection—an uncomprehended Light shining in the darkness—but after His resurrection, He is a strange visitor indeed. We know that Christ, risen from the dead, will not die again, writes St. Paul. Death has no hold on Him anymore. When He died, He died to sin once, never to die again, and the life He lives He lives for God (Rom 6:9-10). Yet here He stands among mortals, who will all die.

Of course, Jesus’ visit post-resurrection is short—He only lingers for a little over a month before being removed into heaven. But the glory of His resurrection could have been so much more. But the disconnect is only heightened by the fact that the greatest new the world has ever heard—the news that Christ is risen indeed—is everywhere met with resistance and persecution. The book of Acts records dozens of episodes of the preaching of the resurrection of Christ, and it is always, without exception, met with resistance—and often with persecution.

Shouldn’t the resurrection of Jesus change things? Shouldn’t the world now be rid of its enmity, of its cruelty, of its hate? Shouldn’t peace reign? But even in the Church, that’s not the case. Even among those who claim to be followers of the One who defeated death and now lives for God, even they live as if nothing’s changed at all. St. Peter even finds it necessary to remind Christians to act like Christians. Dear friends, I urge you, as guests and strangers in this world: Stay away from the desires of your body, because its appetites fight against the soul. Live a noble life among the people of the world, so that instead of accusing you of doing wrong, they may see the good you do and glorify God when He visits them (1 Pet 2:11-12). But how many people would never set foot inside Trinity Lutheran Church because you have not lived a noble life? How many of them accuse you of doing wrong? How many of them are right?

So it seems that the greatest news the world has ever heard wears off pretty fast. The glory fades and the light dims. Things go back to the way they were. And whenever the Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus sounds out, there hostility and persecution arise to meet it. This is most certainly true outside the Church, but tragically, also inside the Church. Jesus’ own followers tire of the Gospel, or distrust it to accomplish what it promises. And they seek another religion, a religion of the Law, a religion that persecutes the true religion, because the son of the Law always persecutes the son of the promise.

So, have we found some fatal flaw in God’s plan of salvation? Is the resurrection a marvel that effects nothing? Is the Gospel only a blip in human history, but everything really just stays the same? We answer an emphatic, “No!” Because Christ is risen, the more things stay the same, the more they change.

1.

It was the night before He endured His most intense trials and suffering that Jesus spoke of the trials and sufferings that would meet His followers. First He explains that it was time for Him to leave the men who had followed Him every day for the better part of three years. First, for a short time in His passion, and then for an extended time after resurrection and ascension.

Jesus said, “A little while and you’ll not see Me anymore; and again a little while and you’ll see Me.” Then some of His disciples asked one another, “What does He mean when He tells us, ‘a little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me,’ and ‘I’m going to the Father’?” So they were asking, “What does He mean when He says, ‘A little while’? We don’t know what He means.”

As John the evangelist is writing these words, he is most likely writing late in the apostolic era, perhaps even the last book of the New Testament to be written. By that time, several decades have passed since Jesus was no longer present in a natural way. Many of the first believers had died (including many of the Apostles) and people were wondering if Jesus really would come back. This is John’s way of telling the story of Jesus so that we disciples who follow Jesus a long while after His departure for God’s right hand would be prepared for Him to return after a little while.

But it’s the interim that’s our concern. What about this little while, that feels so long? What about when it looks like the resurrection of Jesus made no difference, when things keep on as they always have, and when troubles and persecutions rise to meet the faithful? This is the concern of Jesus with the words that follow.

Jesus knew they wanted to ask Him something. “Are you trying to find out from one another,” He asked them, “what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you’ll not see Me; and again a little while and you’ll see Me?’ I tell you the truth, you will cry and mourn, but the world will be glad. You will have sorrow, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is going to have a child, she has pains because her time has come. But after the child is born, she’s so happy a child was brought into the world she doesn’t remember her pains any more. You, too, are sad now; but I’ll see you again, and then you’ll be filled with joy, and no one will take your joy away from you. Then you won’t ask Me any questions. I tell you the truth, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.

The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. Because Christ is risen, the enemies of God don’t automatically lay down their arms. And furthermore, because Christ is risen doesn’t mean that His followers are any less sinners. You will cry and mourn. You will have sorrow. There will be troubles and persecutions and crosses and trials. But why should they grieve me? They are only a little while.

Your sorrow will turn to joy. You are sad now, but I will see you again, Jesus says. And no one will be able to take that joy away from you, because it will be eternal joy.

So the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t remove troubles from the world or our own lives. It doesn’t remove the sinful nature. It forgives sins and gives us hope to endure every trial and tribulation that is on the horizon. The Gospel of Jesus Christ drives us through suffering to find joy on the other end.

Until this little while is ended, though, and Jesus returns in a natural way, there is a weekly return to the resurrection of Jesus. That’s why we worship on Sunday—it’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead. And each and every week, Jesus punctuates this little while with a visit—though supernaturally, and sacramentally hidden. The Sacrament gives us the strength to endure this life of cross and trial because it is the Word of God, given and shed for that very reason. The forgiveness of sins propels us through every season of suffering to find joy in the resurrection of Jesus. And,

The Resurrection of Jesus Turns Sorrow into Joy

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Image by flickr user John Taylor.

One Flock, One Shepherd

Second Sunday after Easter
April 15, 2018
John 10:10-16
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

There are churches everywhere you look. Lutheran churches, Catholic churches, Baptist churches, congregational churches, nondenominational churches. There are big churches, small churches, medium churches, old churches, brand-spankin-new churches. There are contemporary churches and traditional churches. In America, there is an ecclesial smorgasbord to choose from. In fact, just the other day I saw what can only be described as a gas station converted into a church. So, one thing that our American situation allows us to do is to choose a church to our liking, like going to a cafeteria. If this church doesn’t suit your needs, then I can find another one.

But this is not the vision of the Church that Jesus gives to us this second Sunday after Easter. “I am the Good Shepherd,” He says, “The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. When a hired man, who isn’t a shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf carries them off and scatters them — because he works for money and doesn’t care about the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I give My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this fold. I must lead those, too, and they will listen to My voice, and so they will become one flock with one Shepherd.”

Jesus makes a distinction here between the Church as hiring and the Church as shepherding. The critical moment comes though, with the introduction of the wolf. Only the shepherd will do the sheep any good when adversity comes. So, you do not need a hired hand; you need a shepherd. And that’s what you have in the Church, where

There Is One Flock and One Shepherd

I.

The rampant consumerism in our present American culture exacerbates the image of the Church as a hiring relationship. Everything around us is about economics. This week Mark Zuckerburg, the founder of Facebook (if you’re listening, hi Mark!), testified in Congress about his social media platform that has made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. One senator asked him how he can make money if he doesn’t charge anything to use Facebook. He replied, “We run ads.” It’s as simple as that. There is an axiom that is especially true in the new online economy—if the product is free, then you’re the product. And that means that just about every nook and cranny of life is about being sold to, or being sold. And this mindset has infected the Church, too. Not that it wasn’t there before. It’s just more pervasive now. But to turn the Church into a hiring relationship is to turn the Church on its head.

There is one mindset that thinks that the Church is only useful so far as it gives you a return on your investment. This isn’t just money (but often it is about money). It’s also about your time, which in our day is a more precious commodity than cash. Consumerism tells you that if you’re not pleased with they way something’s done in the Church, then it’s the church or the minister that’s in the wrong, because the customer is always right. And if it’s not right, you can take your money and your time elsewhere.

Have you ever gone into a church and gotten the feeling that you’re being sold to? Have you ever seen a ridiculous gimmick in the sermon that was a thinly-veiled attempt to get you to buy into the preacher’s schtick? I’ve had it happen more times than I’d like to count. But as I reflect back, I think that the problem is less being sold to than it is being sold. See, that’s the thing. The flock—that’s youse guys—can never hire their own workers. That’s as ridiculous as sheep getting together to hire their own shepherd. Doesn’t work that way. And even if it did, the sheep would never follow the man they hired. No, sheep are the commodity. They are the ones who get bought and sold in herd economics.

But there’s also another possibility. There could be a wolf sneaking around. Someone who dispenses with the economics of it altogether, and snatches and scatters the sheep. This is when the reward will never outweigh the risk.

To survive such a threat, we need an entirely new economics. We need to turn this relationship around. We need a Shepherd.

II.

Jesus identifies Himself not only as a shepherd, but the Shepherd. What’s more, He identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. What distinguishes Him as the Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep. This is not possible in a hiring relationship. There is never enough money for someone to give up his life for someone else. For that you need a higher calling. By laying down His life, Jesus establishes the Church as a shepherding relationship. It’s not about trying to provide the best return on investment to His people. Rather, Jesus is the One who makes the investment.

The hired hand does not own the sheep, Jesus says. The hired hand is not invested in the sheep. His only interest is how much the sheep can provide for him, and there’s always a point when they can’t provide him enough to stick around. Jesus, however, introduces a new currency in the herd economics. He owns the sheep, but not as products or commodities. This is because Jesus has invested much more than money or time into His flock. He 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. Jesus paid the price of blood to be your Shepherd, and that’s what makes Him Good. No wolf can scare off the One who had His hands pierced for the sake of His sheep.

Therefore, the Church is the holy believers and the lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd (SA XII 2). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, makes Himself known by His voice. He calls out to His own and they hear His voice. How do you know His voice? Sheep know their shepherd’s voice. It’s just as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. When you hear the voice of the One who lays down His life, you know you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd.

So in spite of all the different churches with all their different shepherds, there still remains One who alone is Good, One who alone laid down His life and took it up again. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, whose goodness is in His death and resurrection for the sake of His sheep, is the One who calls His flock into existence. There is one flock, one Shepherd.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

There Is One Flock and One Shepherd

  1. The Church is not a hiring relationship.
  2. The Church is a shepherding relationship.

 

Seeing Is (Not) Believing

First Sunday after Easter
John 20:19-31
April 8, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

About 400 years ago, there was an intellectual movement in Britain called empiricism. Empiricism is the belief that nothing can be known apart from what registers in the senses. It’s like in science class where you have to take measurements and collect hard, observable evidence. In fact, empiricism underlies the scientific method.

This, of course, has implications for the knowledge of God. In its milder forms, empiricism would allow for some intuitive knowledge, such as a “gut feeling” that God exists, even if you can’t see Him personally. But it its stricter forms, God’s existence is squeezed out because God is above the basic senses. You can observe a majestic mountain or a beautiful sunset and conclude that God exists, but the empiricist will say that you’ve only observed a mountain and a sunset, not God.

But the empiricists of 400 years ago weren’t on to something new. In fact, the desire to “see for yourself” is something that’s engrained in human nature. Our state motto isn’t particularly religious, but reflects a common desire of human nature—“Show me!” And so, when Thomas is absent for Jesus’ first appearance following His resurrection, and the other disciples tell him about their encounter, he responds like a good Missourian: “Show me!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nail and put my finger into the imprint of the nail, and put my hand into His side, I will most certainly not believe.”

Apparently Thomas hadn’t gotten the lesson on faith yet. The writer to the Hebrews teaches, Faith is the substance of that which is hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith doesn’t say, “Show me,” Thomas. Faith doesn’t need to see—or feel or taste or smell or touch or hear—right? Furthermore, Jesus reprimands Thomas: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” So if you insist on seeing, if you say, “Show me,” you are not believing, but disbelieving, right?

2.

But that doesn’t account for why Jesus shows up for the second week in a row and deliberately shows Thomas His hands and side. Then He said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and see My hands, and bring your hand and place it into My side, and be not unbelieving, but believing.” And what’s more, Jesus does the same thing for the rest of the disciples on His first visit. Then during the evening of that day, the first of the week, the doors having been shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace to you.” And after saying this, He showed His hands and side to them. Then the disciples were glad because they were beholding the Lord.

The other disciples got a good eyeful of the nail imprints and observed Jesus standing, breathing, speaking. Their faith wasn’t the assurance of things unseen. They saw Jesus! They had empirical evidence.

This was the problem for one of those British empiricists named David Hume. Hume thought that it was quite possible that Jesus actually rose from the dead. His problem is that he didn’t witness it himself, nor had he ever witnessed anyone rise from the dead. In order to believe it, he had to see it for himself.

And so Christians would respond to someone like David Hume, saying, “You just need to have faith!” Faith is the assurance of things not seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

But this would miss what both Jesus and the writer to the Hebrews want you to know about faith. Faith isn’t some nebulous, floating thing that accepts any old proposition without any evidence. Faith isn’t some feeling of conviction that arises out of thin air. Faith is nothing like a conspiracy theory.

This disciples’ faith had something to hang on to—not only Thomas, but all of them. Their faith had a foundation apart from their own opinions. The same goes for you. Even though you were not there to see Jesus in that room, or to witness His resurrection, or even to put your finger in the nail marks, your faith has just as much to hold on to. And if we take a closer look at the Thomas incident, we’ll see what it is.

1.

Thomas sees Jesus and believes that He is risen, but there’s something more to his confession. When the rest of the disciples see the Lord with the marks of His crucifixion, they are understandably glad. But Thomas goes a step beyond the rest of the disciples. Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God.” Listen to that one more time. Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God.”

Notice that the text never tells us if Thomas actually pressed his finger into the nail mark or not. He doesn’t say anything about the nail marks in his response. In fact, he doesn’t say anything about anything that can be seen at all. He calls Jesus his Lord and his God. This is remarkable, because even the risen and glorified Jesus still has the appearance of a man who eats, sleeps, walks, and talks like any other man. The nail marks are all that set Him apart—and a lot of people have scars.

Jesus’ response to him is quite telling. Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who do not see and believe.” The question is rhetorical. Thomas certainly believes. But was it because he saw with his own two eyes? The implied answer is that Thomas didn’t believe because he saw.

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham tells the rich man at the end of the sequence that if his brothers didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, they also wouldn’t believe if someone rose from the dead. Even if David Hume could have been an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection, and had all the empirical evidence in the world, he still would not have believed it. People find reasons not to believe the truth all the time. Likewise, neither Thomas nor any of the disciples believed because they saw Jesus.

In the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism, we learn that I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

Faith is not something that arises in us spontaneously when we see something that has enough hard evidence. Faith is a gift of the Spirit. And that’s precisely what Jesus gave to His disciples on that first Easter evening. Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And after saying this He breathed and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It is this Spirit who gives faith, not by sight, but by hearing—faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ. The Spirit calls me by the Gospel, and He gives the faith necessary to believe.

But still, even with the Word of the Gospel that Jesus speaks—the peace of the Lord, and the word of forgiveness—He still shows the disciples the evidence of His resurrection and even invites Thomas to engage his sense of touch. Could we not have some kind of tangible evidence as well?

Yes! Not only does the Spirit call us by the Gospel, but He also creates and bestows faith when He enlightens us with His gifts. He gives us something tangible for faith to hold on to. As the Large Catechism teaches, Faith must have something that it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. So faith clings to the water and believes that in Baptism, there is pure salvation and life. This is not through the water (as we have stated well enough), but through the fact that it is embodied in God’s Word and institution, and that God’s name abides in it (LC IV 29).

Just as Thomas had the Lord’s hands to touch, we have Baptism. It’s the sense of touch, connected to the Gospel, in which the Holy Spirit gives us faith by the forgiveness of sins. And just as Thomas was by this faith, able to see His Lord and His God in the appearance of Jesus, we are able to see by the same faith, a washing of new birth by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. It’s the sign of resurrection. Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are you for not seeing, but believing, because

Faith Holds on to the Hidden Promise

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

See Where They Laid Him

Resurrection of Our Lord
Mark 16:1-8
April 16, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

When the Sabbath was over, Mary from Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices to go and anoint Jesus. On Sunday they were coming to the grave very early when the sun was up. “Who is going to roll away the stone for us from the door of the grave?” they asked one another; it was very large. But when they looked up, they saw the stone had been rolled back. As they went into the grave, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting at the right. And they were amazed. “Don’t be amazed,” he told them. “You’re looking for Jesus from Nazareth, Who was crucified. He has risen. He is not here. See the place where He was laid. But go and tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see Him, as He told you.’” They went out and hurried away from the grave, because they were trembling and bewildered. They were so frightened they didn’t tell anyone anything.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

2.

The stone in front of the tomb of Jesus is a problem for the skeptic. Although Mark earlier reports that Joseph of Arimathea “took the body down, wrapped it in the linen, and laid it in a grave that had been cut in the rock, and rolled a stone against the door of the grave,” we shouldn’t get the impression that poor Joseph was left to heave a giant stone over the tomb all by himself. Often, the Bible will use a figure of speech by saying that a person did something, when he actually caused it to be done. So Joseph made arrangements for, or oversaw the placing of this large stone in front of Jesus’ grave.

The women were witnesses to this impromptu burial, and wanted to come back and do it properly, but they were concerned about this stone. “Who is going to roll away the stone for us from the door of the grave?” they asked one another; it was very large. What’s more, they were probably unaware of the additional security measures put in place because of the fear that the disciples might try to fake a resurrection. Matthew records this in his Gospel:

The next day — the day after the day of preparation — the ruling priests and Pharisees met with Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember how that deceiver said while he was still alive, ‘On the third day I will rise.’ Now, order the grave to be made secure until the third day, or his disciples may come and steal him and tell the people, ‘He rose from the dead.’ Then the last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate told them; “go and make it as secure as you know how.” So they went and secured the grave by sealing the stone and setting the guard (Mt 27:62-66).

So it wasn’t just that the women were too dainty to handle a big rock—there was some serious security at the tomb of Jesus. Mark, with his characteristic brevity, doesn’t include all the details; it’s like he can’t wait to get to the point. But Matthew records how this monolithic obstacle became a none-issue. After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the grave. There was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, went and rolled the stone away, and sat on it. He was as bright as lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him they shook and became like dead men (Mt 28:1-4).

But the remarkable thing is that Jesus is already gone by the time that all of this happens. The angel rolls back the stone on an empty grave. “See the place where they laid Him,” he says. The risen and glorified Jesus had no need of an emergency exit. He simply left. The stone was rolled back so that the women could go in and see that the place was empty. Not only was it empty, but it was arranged neatly with the burial linens folded up. Like they were expecting guests.

And not just the women—the stone was rolled back to let the world in. Every denier of the resurrection of Jesus is forced to admit that the tomb is empty. But more importantly, the empty tomb is forever a testimony for believers that Jesus is risen. Some people claim that the empty cross is a symbol of the resurrection; no it’s the empty tomb. See the place where they laid him.

1.

The tomb is still vacant today. Of course, every so often a B-list cable company will run some special on finding the bones of Jesus or some such thing. Their scholarship is so full of holes it’s not even worth me spending time on them. They hardly even rise to the level of a hoax.

The tomb is still vacant today. In fact, there is a Church that was built on what is supposedly the grave of Jesus. That one is still empty. Whether people have identified the correct grave or not, we have something more sure than the physical evidence of an empty grave. We have the evidence of testimony from eyewitnesses, who not only saw the empty grave, but also encountered the now living former occupant of that grave.

If you get a chance to go to Jerusalem and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you may perhaps get a chance to duck your head into the empty tomb they have there, and it’s possible that you might even see for yourself the place where they laid Him. But that’s not really necessary.

The word of the apostolic testimony doesn’t just give you a glimpse into the empty tomb, but it makes you a partaker of it. St. Peter testified of the resurrection of Jesus in the first sermon of the Christian Church on Pentecost: God has raised this Jesus — we’re all witnesses of that (Acts 2:32). When the people asked what this means for them, Peter said, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will be given the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Baptism, as St. Paul writes to the Romans, is your connection to the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Now when we were baptized into His death, we were buried with Him so that as the Father’s glory raised Christ from the dead we, too, will live a new life. If we were united with Him in this likeness of His death, then we will be united with Him also in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom 6:3-5).

This vision is an even greater vision that that of the women early in the morning, because it doesn’t conclude with fear and trembling. In fact, it doesn’t end at all. It’s an eternal vision that even your own death cannot destroy. Because you are joined to the empty tomb of Jesus, your tomb will also be an empty tomb. That’s the vision given in the font, and it’s a sight to behold.

See the Place Where They Laid Him

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Third Day

Resurrection of Our Lord—Easter Sunrise
Hosea 6:1-3
April 1, 2018
Camp Trinity—New Haven, MO

“Come, let us go back to the LORD.
      He has torn us but He will heal us.
      He has struck us but He will bandage our wounds.
After two days He will revive us.
      On the third day He will raise us to have us live before Him.
Let us earnestly seek to know the LORD.
      He will come out as surely as the dawn.
      He will come to us like the rain,
      like the spring rains that water the ground.”

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

Theologians make a distinction between two works of God: His alien work and His proper work. God’s alien work is the work He performs that is foreign to Himself, work that does not align with His nature. God’s proper work, on the other hand, is the work He does that is most true to Himself and completely aligns with His nature. These two works are not equal. His alien work is subordinate to His proper work, it is in service to it. God performs His alien work for the sake of His proper work.

The first verse of Hosea’s sixth chapter is just such a distinction. Come, let us go back to the LORD. He has torn us but He will heal us. He has struck us but He will bandage our wounds. On the one hand, God injures and strikes His people with afflictions. These are works that are not proper to God’s nature; they are alien works. God’s nature is not to injure, harm, or kill. And so when He performs these works, He is not acting within Himself.

On the other hand, God also heals and bandages our wounds. Love and tender care completely align with His nature. His greatest joy is to return His people to health and wholeness. This is His proper work. Notice which comes first. God’s alien work precedes His proper work. Injury precedes healing; striking precedes bandaging. The first is for the sake of the second.

Often people ask the difficult question, why God would allow a terrible tragedy to happen. Whether it’s something on a more national or social level—like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting—or things of a more personal or private nature—the hidden afflictions that you don’t want to share with anyone else. But asking that question puts God’s proper work before His alien work. If God’s works are good, how do we account for this affliction? The answer to that question is not good. To be honest, we don’t know why God allows injury when He does, or why He allows afflictions the way He does. But we know that this work is not proper to who He is, and when injury and affliction come, God’s proper work is to heal and to bind up. And so He is the one who brings us back to Himself for restoration

2.

But making this distinction doesn’t tell us why this distinction must be made in the first place. Is God sitting on His throne, arbitrarily deciding who and when to afflict, and who and when to heal? If that were any other person, we’d rightly be concerned that he’s psychotic. Why not skip the injury altogether?

Perhaps an illustration might help. Is this good or evil? A man slices open a woman’s stomach. It would be evil if it were in the context of a domestic assault. But in the case of a doctor operating to remove a cancerous mass, then he causes injury for the sake of healing.

Like cancer, our affliction precedes God’s alien work. The need for healing isn’t because God has made us ill, but because we are ill by nature. It’s a sin-sickness. God’s alien work is often to make us feel our sins more acutely, so that we would turn to Him for healing and restoration.

But there is yet more to His alien work. He applies it to Himself. Jesus, the Son of God, undergoes every injury and affliction common to man. Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, we sing. Just like us, Jesus feels the full force of sins (even though they are not His own). But where the alien work of God has never been applied to us in its fullest—we have never been forsaken by God—while He hangs on the cross, Jesus becomes a complete alien to God.

It would seem there is no worse situation for a person to be in. Stricken by God, abandoned by God, left for dead by God. But the story doesn’t end there. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us to have us live before Him. The affliction is only a short time. Three days later, God revives. New life. But it’s not even three whole days, not even 72 hours.

In the Jewish reckoning of a day, it’s evening and morning that make a day. We’d already be halfway through this day at sunrise. Jesus dies a bit before sundown on Good Friday, and by the time the women appear at the tomb early in the morning before the sun rises, He’s already risen. So the third day is only slightly longer than 24 hours.

Likewise, God follows the same pattern of these three days for you: affliction – rest – revival. When you go through your worst, know there is rest and new life that follows. This is God’s proper work.

1.

If you are still unsure of God’s nature, take a look at nature. Spring has only just sprung, and the dead world around use is showing signs of new life. The sun is shining longer, and the rains have been saturating the earth. Certainly creation bears some mark of its Creator. Let us earnestly seek to know the LORD. He will come out as surely as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rains that water the ground.

Like the spring sun and rain that fall on the dead ground, God’s third-day grace descends in order to raise up new life. It’s the pattern of our lives, patterned after the One who died and rose again on the third day. Death and resurrection. The pattern continues until God’s alien work puts us in a grave of our own, so that He can do for us the same thing that He did for Jesus. After two days He will revive us. On the third He will raise us to have us live before Him.

In the name of + Jesus.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA

  1. God’s alien work is for the sake of His proper work.
  2. God raised Christ on the third day; all of our afflictions have their three days.
  3. Like the spring sun and rain that fall on the dead ground, God’s third day grace raises up new life.

[Seek to Know the Lord as the One Who Revives the Dead]

The King Is Dead; Long Live the King

Good Friday
John 19:19
March 30, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

In the name of + Jesus.

4.

For centuries, only the pagans had kings. Apart from the enigmatic Melchizedek, God’s people were a free people under the kingship of the Lord. From time to time, God sent prophets and judges to preach repentance, but His people were not ruled like other people. “The kings of the Gentiles rule over them, and those in authority are called workers of good, but not so with you,” says Jesus to His disciples on the night in which He is betrayed. The kingdom of God is ruled in a way quite different from other kingdoms.

Yet, the people of God clamored for a king of their own. God resisted for a time, because a king who rules with an iron fist is antithetical to His kingdom. But eventually, God will turn people over to their sins if the insist. He gave them a king. But that did not work out so well. King Saul, the first king of Israel, was everything you’d ask for in a king—tall, strong, a military man. But he lacked faith in God. A summary in 1 Chronicles says, So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse (1 Chron 10:13-14 NKJV).

Even before Saul met his demise, David was anointed as the succeeding king. In David, Israel now had a king close to the heart of God. That doesn’t mean that he was without his troubles—David’s claim to fame is that he was a murderous adulterer. But what set him apart is his repentance, precisely what King Saul lacked. Psalm 51, the Psalm that concluded tonight’s Psalmody, is David’s song of repentance, which we take up for ourselves each week in the Offertory.

But David’s reign was not eternal. Even though he was a forgiven sinner, he was still a forgiven sinner, and the wages of sin is death. The corrupted flesh he inherited brought him to an end. So David rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David. The period that David reigned over Israel was forty years; seven years he reigned in Hebron, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years. Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established (2 Kings 2:10-12).

The king is dead; long live the king.

3.

David’s son was also a king after God’s heart. And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places (2 Kings 3:3). King Solomon was known, though, not for his repentance, but for his wisdom. During one of those sacrifices, the Lord offered to grant him a gift, Solomon requested wisdom—which was itself a wise request.

But even though Solomon walked in the statutes of his father David, he also contracted the same corruption of his father. Like his father, Solomon’s weakness was women. His wisdom waned, and he took 1,000 wives—which is the Bible’s way of saying that he took many women as wife or mistress. This introduced another complication: For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David (1 Kings 11:4). After a long and troubled life, Solomon has no explicit record of repentance like his father, King David. Yet, the book of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon reveal contrition for a rebellious life, and imply faith in the promise of God. Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years. Then Solomon rested with his fathers, and was buried in the City of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place (2 Chron 9:30-31).

The king is dead; long live the king.

2.

If the reign of David and the reign of Solomon were troubled, what followed was a downright failure of rule. The kingdom was split, and many kings succeeded their fathers. Most were evil and some spectacularly so. Only a half of half of the remaining kings were good kings, and of them, they only are considered good because they repented of sins and unbelief.

The reign of kings in Israel and Judah became progressively worse until God sent a foreign power to take Israel captive. The last kings were either imprisoned or put to death.

The king is dead; long live…well…there were no more kings.

1.

For four centuries there was no king in Israel. Even after the return of the exiles in Babylon, there wasn’t a true king like David or Solomon, or even one of the later kings. Some took the name of “king” like Herod and his son, but they weren’t truly kings. By that time, Rome was running the show, and Caesar ruled Rome. The “kings” of Israel were more local rulers with limited power.

And this is what made Palm Sunday so exciting. Zechariah had prophesied that Israel’s King would come riding on a donkey. And sure enough, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People shouted, Hosanna!—exactly what you would say when a king enters the city.

But this is what got Jesus killed. The religious rulers wanted Jesus dead because of His blasphemy (which wasn’t blasphemy; He was upsetting their entire religious order). But Caesar really didn’t care about religious squabbles. The accusation that could stick with the people who had authority to put Jesus to death was that He had designs on being a King. This is the charge made to Pontius Pilate, and the line of questioning he pursues when Jesus is before him.

It’s interesting that when Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, Jesus doesn’t come right out and say yes. “You are saying it,” responds Jesus. He doesn’t take crown for Himself. At least not the way that Pilate is thinking of it. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here. Then Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king? Jesus answered, “You are saying that I am a king” (Jn 18:36-37).

So, having committed no other crime, this is the charge for which Jesus is crucified. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Of all the troubles of the kings of old, none of them had ever been crucified by their own people for the simple fact of being their king. But there hangs Jesus, the Crucified King—crowned with thorns, robed in purple, enthroned on a cross.

The king is dead…

The long history of Israel’s kings comes to a close. The very thing they begged for, they now put to death. There is no son of the king to take over, no heir apparent to the throne.

But this King is different from all the other kings who came before. Even David, the prototype of Israel’s kings, rested with his fathers—and still does so to this day. But the rest of the Crucified King is much shorter. He needs only a Sabbath day, and very early on the first day of the week, is the return of the King.

The King Is Dead; Long Live the King

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Sorrow that Gives Birth to Joy

Good Friday Tre Ore
John 19:25-27
March 30, 2018
Blessed Savior Lutheran Church—Florissant, MO

III

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,

“Woman, here is your son,”

and to the disciple,

“Here is your mother.”

From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:25-27).

In the name of + Jesus.

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16). This is the curse that God announces following the woman’s sin. The blessing that God first gave to be fruitful and multiply is now tarnished by rebellion and disobedience. Childbirth means pain. Not just physical pain, but a kind of sorrow, as well. In order to bring new life into the world, woman must have a small taste of death.

But Jesus also reminds us that the sorrow of childbirth is soon overwhelmed by the joy of a new life born into the world. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world (Jn 16:21). Yet that joy is tempered by the fact that the child is born into a fallen world, and must suffer many things. The sorrows of childbirth extend into the days, weeks, and years that follow.

Jesus was not the only One who suffered on that Good Friday. His mother, who had borne Him in her belly, who had nursed Him at her breast, who had clothed Him, fed Him, nurtured Him, loved Him. Who sang of the Lord’s great and majestic work to Him. She knew this day would come, yet it couldn’t numb the sting she felt in her own heart. Old Simeon prophesied to Mary as she held the baby Jesus in her arms: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The soul that once magnified the Lord is now pierced every bit as much as the hands of her Son. It’s not right for a mother to watch her son die.

Even in His greatest pain and agony, Jesus cared for His mother. He kept the Fourth Commandment for all of us rebellious children. Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, took Mary into his home as his own mother that day. Tradition is that John settled with Mary in the city of Ephesus, where she fell asleep in Jesus. And she who received and bore the eternal Word was received by her Son into His eternal kingdom on account of His Word to her.

Jesus gave His mother the gift of adoption, even as He hung dying on the cross. But He doesn’t reserve such love only for her. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Gal 4:4-5). The death of Jesus means a new household for you. Not of flesh and blood or shared genetic materials. The new household is a household established by His Word, just as His third Word from the cross established a new household for John and Mary. Such a household is one of faith.

Even as darkness descended during those three hours, the promise of John’s prologue comes to pass: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:9-13).

The death of Jesus reverses the curse of Eden. His desire is only for the salvation of those whom He loves; He is enthroned on His cross to rule over them in grace. Jesus labors in pain for all women who give birth to children in painful labor. And by His obedience and honor of not only His mother on earth, but His Father in heaven. Jesus sets the rebellion right. In three days, the sorrow of His death will give birth to new life.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

Often

Holy Thursday
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
March 29, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

In the name of + Jesus.

3.

On the night in which Jesus is betrayed, the disciples join together in taking a last Passover Supper. This was the meal that commemorated God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt, and on the evening before their release, they took a special meal, which consisted of a sacrificed lamb, unleavened bread, and a salad of bitter herbs. The meal was commanded by God, and it was to be eaten in haste while dressed for the upcoming journey.

When God established the first Passover, which was the night the Angel of the Lord struck down the firstborn in Egypt, but passed over the Israelites, who were marked with the blood of the lamb, He also decreed that it would be a repeated meal to commemorate this event. “Remember that day and keep it as the LORD’s festival,” says the Lord, “You and your descendants in the coming generations are to celebrate it forever” (Ex 12:14).

The Passover had a definite time. Once a year on the 14th of Nisan (the first month of the Jewish calendar), the Passover lamb would be sacrificed and the meal set before every practicing Jewish family. The Passover was then followed by a week-long Festival of Unleavened Bread, with definite times and ceremonies connected to it.

But Jesus does something new at this supper. During the meal, He takes bread and says, “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” And after supper He takes a chalice of wine and says, “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” The Passover was a meal of the Old Testament, but Jesus establishes a New Testament. Not the flesh and blood of a lamb, but the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God. The old meal gives way to the new, and with the new comes something else that’s new.

“This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Jesus adds one little word in there with a ton of significance. ὁσάκις in Greek. “As often as.” For emphasis, He repeats it. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup…” The Passover was once a year; what does Jesus mean by “as often as”?

Martin Luther teaches in the Large Catechism: However, you may say, “But the words are added, ‘As often as you drink it’; there He compels no one, but leaves it to our free choice.” I answer, “That is true, yet it is not written so that we should never do so. Yes, since He speaks the words ‘As often as you drink it,’ it is still implied that we should do it often. This is added because He wants to have the Sacrament free. He does not limit it to special times, like the Jewish Passover, which they were obliged to eat only once a year. They could only have it on the fourteenth day of the first full moon in the evening. They still must not change a day.” It is as if He would say by these words, “I institute a Passover or Supper for you. You shall enjoy it not only once a year, just upon this evening, but often, when and where you will, according to everyone’s opportunity and necessity, bound to no place or appointed time.” But the pope later perverted this and again made the Sacrament into a Jewish feast.

So you see, it is not left free in the sense that we may despise it. I call that despising the Sacrament if one allows a long time to elapse—with nothing to hinder him—yet never feels a desire for it. If you want such freedom, you may just as well have the freedom to not be a Christian and not have to believe or pray. One is just as much commanded by Christ as the other. But if you want to be a Christian, you must from time to time fulfill and obey this commandment. For this commandment ought always to move you to examine yourself and to think, “See, what sort of a Christian I am! If I were one, I would certainly have some small longing for what my Lord has commanded me to do (LC V 46-50).

2.

As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death. The main thing in the Sacrament is the reception of the Lord’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. But there’s a secondary benefit. It’s the congregation’s sermon. You are kind enough to let this preacher get up each week and speak God’s Word (there’s no such thing as a non-sermon Sunday), but the congregation also has a sermon to preach. By eating the bread and drinking the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.

Body given. Blood shed. Our Lord didn’t die in hospice care of old age. He didn’t contract some unfortunate disease. He didn’t meet His end in a freak accident. He willingly gave Himself over to violent men who pierced Him with whip, thorns, nails, and spear. They shed His blood. The first Supper foretold His suffering, but every Supper ever since recalls the way He died. Your eating and drinking preaches Christ crucified. Do not let it become a stumbling block, as it is to Jews, or foolishness, as it is to Greeks. The Supper is the power of God and the wisdom of God because it proclaims the Lord’s death.

1.

As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. This Supper is not a one and done deal. It is given to be eaten and drunk often. Until He comes. This meal is the sustenance for walking the way of Jesus. If you run a race, it will do you no good to starve yourself. I’m not a runner, and I know that. You need to eat, and you need to eat right. The idea of food alone will not sustain you. Remembering a meal that someone else ate won’t give you the strength to make it to the end. The Supper is your sustenance to run the race, and thus win the crown.

But there is a promise embedded in these final words. The Lord will come again. This meal isn’t a memorial meal (although it does recall the Lord’s death), it’s a now and not yet meal. We partake of a nibble of bread and a sip of wine—not enough to fill even the smallest belly. But this little Supper is a foretaste of the feast to come, even as Maundy Thursday is a foretaste of Easter joy.

On this mountain the LORD of armies will prepare for all people a banquet of rich foods, a festival with wines kept on their sediment, rich foods full of marrow, wines kept on their sediment and filtered. On this mountain He will remove the veil of grief covering all people and the web covering all nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces.

The Last Supper of Jesus with His Disciples Is the First Of Many Suppers of Jesus with His Disciples, Propelling Us to the Eternal Supper of the Lamb

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

Your King Is Coming


Palm Sunday
John 12:14-15
March 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Zechariah prophesied during the exile of the Israelites when there were no kings in Israel. Even when Israel had kings, less than a half of a half of them were any good—most chased after the false gods of other nations. But Zechariah looks to the future. Be very happy, people of Zion! Shout aloud, people of Jerusalem. You see, your King will come to you, He is righteous and victorious, poor, and riding on a donkey, on a young burro, the colt of a donkey (Zech 9:9). Zechariah’s vision is fulfilled when Jesus goes into Jerusalem. Jesus found a donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”

But Zechariah doesn’t see the first Palm Sunday only. He sees every Palm Sunday that follows—indeed every Sunday that follows. Because your King still comes to you, though no longer on the donkey. He comes to you in the ministry of the Church. And He comes for a very specific reason. At the end of His Palm Sunday journey lies His throne—the cross.

Look, Your King Is Coming

I.

It was a sight to behold, to be sure. People energized with the thought of a king, and with the king the return of the kingdom. Just like the days of old, when David ruled in power, and Solomon in wisdom, and, well, after those two it gets a little sketchier. Some of the kings were good, but most turned away from God. A couple of them repented, but overall, the age of the kings in Israel was not one of its shining moments. But memories are short, and selective. Look, your king is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.

This was maybe unexpected, although it shouldn’t have been for any student of the Old Testament. It was maybe a striking counter-point to the crowds waving their palm branches and laying their coats on the street and singing a Psalm of ascent, which just so happened to coincide with the cries that one would give for a king—Hosanna! Salve! Hail! Save us! But the King that comes comes on a donkey.

The, donkey is an entire book about this King. But let’s highlight just two things revealed by the King’s choice of vehicle. First, the donkey is low and humble. It’s not a majestic destrier that the King rides, armor flashing in the sunlight, chariots and army in His train. The donkey isn’t known for running down the enemy. They’re known more for their difficulty and refusal to obey. But it’s with this humble mount that the King comes with power greater than those who ride war horses and chariots, who wield the most advanced armor and weaponry.

The second thing the donkey teaches about this King is that He bears a burden. The donkey most often is utilized not in war but in work. He carries things that are too heavy or too inconvenient for his master to carry. This donkey carries a Man who Himself bears a burden—the donkey bears the One who bears the sins of the world.

The donkey tells us that the reign of this King will be far different from any other king on earth, far different even from the kings of Israel. His reign is not power, but weakness; not strength, but humility. His reign is to bear the burden to His own throne, to wear it upon His own head, draped over His own shoulders. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.

II.

I’m sure somewhere, someone has brought a live donkey into their church for Palm Sunday. I’m not one to tempt fate like that, especially given the reputation donkey’s have. Although, perhaps it would take away our romanticized view of the triumphal entry that we see depicted in paintings. Rather, we might realize what a comedy it would have been, what a halting, meandering path the donkey probably took. But whatever it looked like in person, that’s not what it means for us. The donkey is gone. But that doesn’t mean that the King doesn’t still come to you. He just chooses different vehicles (though for the same reasons). Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on the word and the water, the bread and the wine.

Perhaps it’s even more unexpected than a donkey. How should our Lord and King come to His people? In great power and majesty and might, in a mode suited to a king? He certainly could—all of His enemies are now under His feet. But to come in great power and majesty and might, as the conquering King, would mean that He comes as a judge. That’s bad news for us.

Let us examine ourselves according to the donkey. How’s your humility? I think Muhammad Ali sums it up for us: “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” No, a donkey wouldn’t do for us. That part of God’s kingdom is a bit distasteful. What about bearing your burden? No, we pile offense upon offense, and then we try to pass the guilt off on anyone but ourselves. That’s the Adam and Eve blame game.

It is a blessing to us that our King still comes mounted on humble vehicles, though not on the donkey. The vehicles our King chooses now are the Word, water, bread and wine. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (AC V). The instruments of the Holy Spirit are also the vehicles of our King, because the Spirit’s job is simply to bring us Christ. That’s what Jesus promises.

These vehicles are humble—nothing flashy, and nothing threatening about words, or water, or bread and wine. These are fundamental to human existence. But the more gracious nature of these vehicles is that Christ comes in them to bear the burden of your sins. Today, Jesus came to Graham in the water to make Himself Graham’s King, and He did so by taking the burden that Graham cannot bear on his own. That’s the Word that’s added to the water—the promise of forgiveness.

Your King also comes to you today, mounted on bread and wine, to give you His body and blood. Why? Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is why we sing again, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! during the communion liturgy. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding the word and the water, the bread and the wine.

III.

But we mustn’t yet turn our attention away from the first Palm Sunday, because there was a purpose to the King’s entry into Jerusalem. There was a definite end to the journey on the donkey. Because a King needs a coronation and to sit on His throne. But just as the donkey is an unexpected vehicle for a king, so is this King’s coronation and throne unexpected. Look, your King is coming—and He’s going to the cross.

Just as His mount was a donkey and not a destrier, the King’s crown is not gold and jewels, but thorns. His robe is a blood-soaked piece of purple. His throne is a couple of pieces of lumber, fixed with nails. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, read the sign above His head. And while it looked like anything but a king, the sign couldn’t have been more right. Jesus is the Crucified King.

And that means something for you. Jesus still comes to you as the Crucified King. Graham’s baptism (and yours) crucifies you with Christ. The Supper you eat proclaims the King’s death. The purpose of His coming to you is to bring you the cross, rather, the benefits of His cross. But in one week, that death will give way to resurrection. Look, your King is coming—and He’s bringing the cross.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA

 

 

Of Faith and Sacrifice

Lent 5
Genesis 22:1-14
March 18, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

1.

What kind of faith does it take to slaughter your own son? Not only that, but your one and only son, the son for whom you waited and hoped, the one who finally came in your old age. What kind of faith does it take to lay a knife at his throat? The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, in his mediation on the story of Abraham and Isaac, Fear and Trembling, contemplated what it must have been like for Abraham to make that journey to the mountain at God’s behest, knowing all the while it meant his son’s death at his own hands. What kind of faith is that? I don’t know if anyone here has that kind of faith. In fact, if someone today would commit such a horrendous crime in service to God, we’d rightly prosecute him to the furthest extent of the law.

2.

The Genesis narrative doesn’t tell us about what was going through Abraham’s head between, “Then he started out for the place God told him about,” and, “On the third day Abraham looked and saw the place in the distance.” But those three days must have been excruciating. How many times did Abraham think about turning back, about finding a new god who didn’t demand such horrible things? How often was he given the choice to take Isaac and flee to another country, one far, far away from this God who demands blood?

At its must subjective, faith is a crisis that demands a decision. Do I stay, do I go; do I obey, do I rebel; do I believe, do I doubt? Abraham was faced with decisions of faith when he saddled his donkey, when he cut the wood for the offering, when he took the knife in his hands, but he was also faced with a crisis of faith every step of his journey.

We are likewise faced with crises nearly every day of our lives. We don’t often call them crises; we tend to reserve that word for really big decisions. But there are little decisions we have to make day in and day out, like Abraham’s thousands of footsteps on his way to Mt. Moriah. A crisis of faith isn’t just whether to try out a new cancer drug that might end up killing you—a crisis of faith is when you make a decision to spread gossip, or to tell a half-truth to make somebody look bad, or to entertain a married coworker’s flirtations, or to “borrow” some money from your work’s petty cash.

But the decisions of faith are not always so clear-cut. Not everything has an identifiably God-pleasing decision. Abraham’s experience was even more muddy. If he would have chosen to do what was God’s will—that is, choosing not to kill his son—he would have been disobeying God and would have failed the test of faith. This is why Kierkegaard calls Abraham a knight of faith: after resigning himself to losing everything, including his son, he’s willing to do the unthinkable in faith.

If, then, faith is a crisis—an either-or decision—what happens if you’re wrong?

Our problem so far has been defining faith as a matter of making decisions. Faith isn’t about making decisions; making decisions is a matter of the Law. The Law commands this or that, and you had better do this or that. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, that’s Law if I’ve ever heard it. The Law also commands you not to spread gossip and to speak kindly about your neighbors, the Law commands you not to hide part of the truth, the Law commands you to honor your and your coworker’s marriages and to live a chaste life.

The Law is what makes the crisis. The Law is what puts a choice in front of you. But the Law is not always as clean-cut as we would like. There are often times when we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, when either decision would be to disobey God. Like Abraham. To sacrifice his son is murder. But to refuse is to disobey God’s direct command.

This is in fact, the reason why God gives His Law. The Law was given to increase the trespass. This is part of God’s test of Abraham. Either decision that he makes, he’s forced into a reckoning with God. Every step he takes toward that mountain is a step toward that reckoning. I wonder what would have happened had the voice of the angel not stopped Abraham—would he have gone through with it? We’ll never know. And that’s the point. Abraham’s faith wasn’t based on his choice. The Law demands a choice, but the choice is never satisfactory. We need a better definition of faith. We need to sift something else from this story that tells us what faith is.

3.

We will, of course, never know what was going on inside of Abraham’s head, or what stirred in his heart. The only thing we can know is his confession. God leads Abraham along that journey in order to get him to confess his faith. Then Isaac said to his father, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “We have the fire and the wood,” said Isaac, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” “God will provide Himself with a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. Now Abraham has come to the point where every other choice is removed. That’s faith in God. God has the choice; He will provide Himself with a sacrifice. Actually, let’s make that a little more pointed:

God Provides Himself as a Sacrifice

Now we have come to faith: faith is belief in the promise that God Himself makes and keeps.

4.

As Abraham reached for the knife and took it in his hand to sacrifice his son, the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes,” he answered. “Don’t lay your hands on the boy,” He said, “and don’t do anything to him. Now I know you fear God: you didn’t refuse to give Me your only son.” When Abraham looked around, he saw behind him a ram caught by his horns in a bush. So Abraham went and got the ram and sacrificed him as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham called that place The-LORD-Will-Provide. Today we still say, “On the mount of the LORD it will be provided.”

So where is this lamb? It’s not Isaac. It’s not on the altar. It’s not caught in a thicket (that’s a ram, not a lamb). In fact, the story closes without the lamb being sacrificed. But He is present. The Lamb is the One who speaks from heaven. The Angel of the Lord, Genesis names Him. God told Abraham to sacrifice His son Isaac, but it was really one of the sons that Isaac would produce.

The story goes on: Again the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven: “I swear by Myself, says the LORD, because you did this and didn’t refuse to give up your only son, I will bless you richly and give you many descendants, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, and your  descendants will capture the city of their enemies. In your Descendant all the nations on earth will be blessed, because you did what I told you.” Actually, Moses didn’t write that Abraham did what God told Him—that’s a bad translation. Moses wrote that Abraham heard what God said. Abraham’s faith—and thus his blessing—wasn’t because of what he did. It was because of what God said. It was God’s gracious Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ, writes St. Paul.

Tradition is that that same mountain would be where the sacrifices were offered in the temple. That’s why it was still said in that day, “On the mount of the Lord it will be provided.” Year after year, lambs were brought in to be sacrificed, but none of them were the Lamb that God provided. Until the Angel of the Lord—the Son of God—stands in the temple. He is set apart as the Sacrifice once and for all. God makes good on His promise and He does what Abraham confesses—He provides Himself as the Sacrifice.

5.

So that means that faith for you is not a crisis of decision. It doesn’t mean absolute resignation and being willing lose that which is most near and dear. For you, faith is rest in the promise that the Lamb of God became the Sacrifice also for you. The Law demands your choice, but God has made the choice you could never make. He gives you the promise—the same promise given to Abraham—that in his Descendent, you are blessed.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA