From Hosanna! to Crucify Him!

Sermon based on Mark 14:1-15:47 for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion

Dear crowd crying Hosanna: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What a stark contrast between Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and His death on Good Friday. The shouts of “Hosanna!” are replaced with shouts of “Crucify Him!” Praise is replaced with mockery. The shouts of blessing to the King of Israel are replaced with a mocking inscription on the cross, “The King of the Jews”, indicating the charge against Him.

But don’t get this wrong – Jesus chose the mocking over the praise. He chose the shouts of “Crucify!” over the shouts of “Hosanna!” He chose death over life. Jesus chose to be forsaken by the crowds, His disciples, and even God the Father. He did this for us.

Because if we examine our lives, we will find and recognize that they are entirely vain and profane. Vain and useless are our many actions. Even more vain are our words. Still even more vain than these are our thoughts.

Our lives are not only vain, but also profane and immoral. We can find nothing good in them. Even if something in our lives appears good, it is certainly not good and perfect, because our lives are corrupted by the infection of original sin and the sinful nature. The prophet Isaiah writes, “All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). If our righteous deeds are such, of what kind, may I ask, are our unrighteous deeds?

The Saviour says, “If you have done everything that has been commanded you, you are to say, ‘We are unworthy servants’” (Luke 17:10). If we are worthless when we obey, we will certainly be abominable when we disobey. If we owe a debt to the holy Lord God when we do something that is not a sin, what will we be able to offer Him as payment when we do sin?

Even more, we pray with the Psalmist, “What man can even recognize all of his offenses? Cleanse me from my secret sins, Lord” (Psalm 19:13). We do not dare to lift up our eyes to heaven because we have offended Him who lives there (Luke 18:13). Nor can we find refuge on earth. How indeed have we dared to hope for favour from creation when we have offended the Lord of creation?

And our adversary, the devil, accuses us (Revelation 12:10). “Most fair judge,” he says to God, “declare these despicable ones to be mine on account of their sin and guilt—these ones who have been unwilling to be yours through grace. They belong to me because of their sins. They are disobedient to You; to me they are obedient. They don’t follow Your ways; they follow my ways. Declare these deplorable sinners to be mine and damn them along with me.”

So our consciences accuse us. The devil accuses us. But that’s not all. The very voice of God Himself, namely, the divine Law, accuses us. Either the divine Law must be fulfilled or we are going to perish. However, since it is impossible for us to fulfil this, we deserve to perish in an unbearable eternity. God, whom we are unable to deceive, the most severe judge and the most powerful executioner of his own eternal Law, accuses us. He is wisdom itself. From Him we are unable to flee. He certainly powerfully reigns everywhere. To where then can we flee (Psalm 139:7)?

To Christ, our sole Redeemer and Saviour, we can flee. Great are our debts, but greater is His payment. Great is our unrighteousness, but greater is His righteousness. In us there is nothing except damnable sin. In Jesus there is nothing except saving merit. We have committed many things on account of which we are most rightly deserving of damnation. Jesus, however, has not left anything undone by which He may mercifully save us.

Our sins cry to heaven, but Jesus’ blood shed for our sins cries louder (Hebrews 12:24). Our sins are persuasive so that our hearts ought to be accused by God, but Jesus’ passion in our stead is more persuasive, so that we will be defended. Our unrighteous life is powerful enough that we ought to be damned, but Jesus’ righteous life is more powerful, so that we will be saved. We appeal to the throne of mercy, in order that we may not come into the condemnation that we justly deserve. This is on account of Jesus’ most holy merit, which has been placed between us and condemnation.

Jesus covers our sin. He forgives our sin. Jesus is the payment for our sin. That’s why He chose mockery over praise and the shouts of “Crucify!” over the shouts of “Hosanna!” He chose His own death over our death. He was forsaken by God the Father so that we will never be. Jesus chose the agony of Good Friday so that we will have a triumphal entry into eternity when we die from this life.

All glory, laud, and honour to our Saviour who died so that we might live. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Portions of this sermon are modified from Johann Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations, I. Concerning true knowledge of sin translated by Wade Johnston.

The Grand Request

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent based on Mark 10:32 – 45

Dear believers with grand requests: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is easy to criticize James and John over their request to be seated, one at the right hand and one at the left hand of Christ in His glory. Their request sounds arrogant and prideful. Maybe we, like the other disciples, feel a little indignant with them since we would like one of those places for ourselves. But in making this request to Jesus, James and John showed that they had actually listened closely to what Jesus had taught them. Jesus had promised that when He sits on His glorious throne, they too would sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Mt. 19:28]. Jesus also taught them that if two of them agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by their Father in heaven [Mt. 18:19].

So James and John, keeping these promises in mind, came to Jesus, and asked that this might be done for them. This is exactly what a Christian is to do, to grab hold of the promises of God, and bring these promises before God when they pray to Him. Yes, this is a grand request, but so what? If the king of a great kingdom offers a poor wandering beggar anything that his heart desires, for what should he ask? Should he ask for a mere morsel of bread? When this poor beggar could ask for anything, if he requested a mere crumb of bread, would he not offend the king? Would not everyone hold this beggar to be audacious and thankless for asking for next to nothing when everything is offered him? Would he not be making a mockery of what the king offered him? So we also dishonour God and rob Him of glory if, instead of asking Him for the great treasures He has promised us, we ask for mere trifles. So James and John come to Jesus, and trusting His promises, make their request known to Him.

Notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for their request, nor does He say that their request is too great. He replies, “You do not know what you are asking.” They did not understand what Jesus kingdom is, or where it is. They did not comprehend that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world [Jn. 18:36]. They wanted to be in Jesus’ glory, but they did not understand what or where His glory is. They sought glory in this life. They wanted to rule over others in this life.

Now we see the lack of understanding of James and John. Jesus asks them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They respond, “We are able.” They neither understood for what they asked nor what they answered. They wanted to be rulers in Jesus’ earthly kingdom, drinking the cup of victory with Jesus in His kingdom. They wanted a baptism of initiation into their role as rulers over others. They were so ready to answer because they did not understand what Jesus was saying.

James and John suffered the same narrow-sightedness from which we often suffer. We also want to be great in this life. We also seek the glory of men. We often care more about what people think than what God thinks. We want to lord over others and exercise authority over them. We want others to serve us. But Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all [vv. 43-44].”

The question is not one of your actual position in life. The question is of your attitude and behaviour toward others. Those who are “great” and “leaders” among you, are to be humble and serve others, just as those who are “lesser,” or “younger,” or of lower status are also to serve others. This is a reversal of what the world holds to be true, where those who serve are considered inferior. Jesus says that the humble servant, the slave of all, is great and first.

Where does that put you? How willing are you to serve others? Or how often does your selfishness get the better of you and drive you to think of yourself first? How often are you willing to take advantage of others, so that you might benefit? How often do you want to be great so that you can lord it over others?

Jesus had just finished foretelling His disciples of His upcoming death, how He would be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes and be condemned to death. He told of how He would be mocked and spat on, flogged and killed [vv. 33-34]. James and John follow this by asking for positions of honour and glory in this life! They did not grasp what Jesus said or what He was about to do.

When you pray, do you ask God for glory and honour in this life? Do not fall into the same misunderstanding as James and John. Hear what Jesus says about glory to understand what James and John missed.

Jesus explains His glorification to the disciples at another time in connection with a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying [Jn. 12:23-24]. Jesus’ death and burial were a necessary part of His glorification, just as a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die in order to bear much fruit. The Son of Man was glorified when the ruler of this world was cast out, when Jesus was lifted up from the earth on the cross [Jn. 12:27-32]. The glory Jesus is talking about is His cross. The glory Jesus is talking about is not just His resurrection and ascension, but also His upcoming suffering and death.

But what glory is there in the cross? What glory is there in suffering and death? This Jesus answers in asking James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

In the Old Testament, the cup is often used as a figure of the wrath of God. Isaiah writes of the cup of the wrath of God poured out on Jerusalem resulting in devastation and destruction, famine and sword, and death in every street [Is. 51:17-20]. Jeremiah writes of the cup of the wine of wrath causing those drinking to stagger and become crazed because of the sword, as they are made a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, the cup being a punishment that will cause them to fall and rise no more [Jer. 25:22-29]. This is the cup that Jesus prays about in Gethsemane, praying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will [Mt. 26:39].”

And what of the baptism of which Jesus here speaks? He speaks of the baptism of the fire of God’s wrath. Jesus said, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished [Lk. 12:50]!” Jesus is speaking of His death at Golgotha, which was accomplished when He said, “It is finished.”

It might be said that James and John did drink of the cup of which Jesus drank and were baptized with the baptism He was baptized with, in that James was martyred [Act. 12:2], and John suffered tribulation and was exiled [Rev. 1:9]. But there is much more to this.

Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God. He drank the devastation and destruction, the famine and sword that we deserve for our sins. Jesus became a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse for our sins. In great distress, Jesus was baptized with the fire that we deserve to be thrown into. He was baptized by the eternal wrath of God.

In taking the wrath of God upon Himself, Jesus saved us from the wrath of God [Rom. 5:9], cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands [Col. 2:13-14]. He drank the cup of God’s wrath, so that now the cup for us is no longer a cup of wrath, but is the cup of the new testament in Jesus’ blood. Instead of being full of wrath, it is full of forgiveness, life and salvation. We receive the benefits of Jesus drinking the cup of wrath when we drink of the cup of life offered to us in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus was baptized with the fire of God’s wrath, so that now Baptism for us is a Baptism into Christ’s death, and we are united with Him in His death [Rom. 6:3-5]. We received the benefits of Christ’s life and death in our Baptism. In our Baptism, we received the benefits of Christ’s Baptism in the fire of the wrath of God.

This is the glory of the cross. The glory of God is seen in Christ on the cross, because this is where we see the true heart of God, where we see His love for mankind. This is the glory of Jesus. This is where Jesus took our place so that we could spend eternity with Him in His glory. He did not come to be served but to serve. He became the servant of all, serving us to the point of giving His life for us as a ransom, paying the price of our sins and buying us back for God.

James and John ended up receiving a much better answer to their request than they imagined. They did not get to sit at Christ’s right and left in an earthly reign, but they have received the special place Jesus prepared for them in His Father’s house in eternity [Jn. 14:2].

This promise is for you also. It was made to you in your Baptism. So repent of your selfishness, and let not your heart be troubled. Despite your selfish, misunderstood requests, Jesus will give you something far better than what you request. Jesus said, “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also [Jn. 14:2-3].” To this clear promise of Christ we can cling, knowing that He is referring to our eternal heavenly home, away from this world of selfishness and lording over others. There we will spend eternity in bliss with all believers in Christ. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Look and Live

Look and Live

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on Nu. 21:4-9, Eph. 2:1-10, and Jn. 3:14-21

Dear people looking to the cross: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Fiery serpents with poisonous fangs slithered among the people searching for victims. They bit the people and many died. The Israelites had once again grumbled against God. They complained about what God had done for them. They complained that God had saved them from slavery in Egypt. They complained that God provided them the food of angels (Ps. 78:25). They complained that God’s miraculous provision of manna was “worthless food.” They thought that God was a worthless god. So God sent fiery serpents to bite them. That’s what it took for the people to realize that they had sinned against God. That’s what it took for the people to confess to Moses, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.”

God instructed Moses to put a serpent on a pole and lift it up for all to see. “Look at the bronze serpent and live,” he told them. Anyone who was bit by a serpent, if he would look at the bronze serpent, then he would live.

Really? That’s it? Look at the serpent lifted up on the pole? That doesn’t seem like enough. How will looking upon a serpent that isn’t even real heal the poison of the real snake which has bitten? How can the poison pulsing through their veins be removed by merely looking at this raised serpent?

Of course it was not the looking that removed the poison. It was not the gazing that healed the bites of the fiery serpents. God’s promise removed the poison. God’s promise healed.

Despite the fact that His people had again sinned against Him, God had mercy on them. He gave them the promise of healing. He gave them the promise that He would remove their poisonous infection. God gave them this promise through the serpent lifted up on a pole.

In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” For God so loved the world. Not just part of the world. Not just some certain special people; the whole world. God loved the whole world, so that He sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for the sins of every single person. Jesus died for every single sin.

Jesus died for all of our impatience, for all of our complaining. Jesus died for our grumbling against God; for our complaints about what God has done for us. Jesus died for our longing to return to the slavery of sin; for our thoughts that God is a worthless god. We have all been bitten by the fiery serpents of sin. We are all infected with the poisonous curse of sin. The poison of sin pulses through our veins. Yet we confess our sins, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord.”

As the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole, so we look to Jesus lifted up on the cross. No one who looks upon Him will perish. All those who have a bad conscience or are tormented by sin and death can look to Jesus for eternal life.

Really? That’s it? Look to a body hung on a cross? That doesn’t seem like enough. How will looking upon a dead body heal the poison of the real sin which has bitten me? How can the poison of sin pulsing through my veins be removed by merely looking at a raised crucifix?

Of course it is not the looking that removes the poison. It is not the gazing that heals the bite of sin. God’s promise removes the poison. God’s promise heals. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Neither the poison of sin nor death will harm us. We will not perish but will live eternally. This promise is for the whole world.

But many love the darkness rather than the light. In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” They don’t want their evil deeds exposed, so they don’t come to Jesus, who is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12). They prefer the darkness of their sins.

This is the reason the world hates the true Church of God – because their deeds are evil. The world hates the Word of God shining light on their works of evil.

The world doesn’t hate false churches. Those churches that give approval to the world’s deeds of darkness are praised. The churches that cave to the pressures of society and give their blessing to every imaginable sin are not the true Church. They are not in the light but are in the darkness of sin. They’ve been bitten by the poison of sin but refuse to look at the cross because they won’t admit that their poisoned. They prefer the darkness to the light; the poison of sin to forgiveness.

But we are no better. We also hate the light of God’s Word shining onto our sins and exposing them. We also would rather hide our sins because our deeds are evil. We’ve also been bitten by the poison of sin which courses through our veins. But we have been blessed to have the light of God expose our deeds despite our best efforts to hide them. We have been brought out of darkness into the light despite our love for the darkness. In our Epistle reading we heard, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

It is God’s work that we are saved. It has nothing to do with our works. It is a gift of God. We cannot boast about anything. We cannot elevate ourselves above those who are in darkness, for we have been saved from that same darkness of sin as a gift. We have been brought out of darkness to His marvellous light. Now neither the poison of sin nor death will harm us. We will not perish but will live eternally. This is God’s promise to us.

God’s promise is why we look to the cross. Because where has the poison of your sins gone? There to the cross! Where are your sins? There on Jesus. Where is your death? There on the cross! Where is the punishment for your sins? There on the cross! Every single one of your sins is right there!

How can you be sure? Well, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Are you in the world? Then your sins are there on the cross, and His forgiveness is for you. It is not your own doing. It is a gift.

And God gives you this gift again today in His Word of promise, and in the body and blood of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper has been called the medicine or immortality because it gives eternal life. The Lord’s Supper is the cure for the bite of sin. The Lord’s Supper is the antidote to the poison of sin pulsing through our veins. Everything accomplished on the cross is given to you at the Lord’s Altar. This is God’s promise. God’s promise removes the poison of sin. God’s promise heals. So look to the cross, and come receive your gift. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Jesus Cleanses

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 2:13-22

Dear cleansed church of God: grace, mercy , and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Is what we do in this church building really that important? The little things that we do or don’t do; the events we allow to take place here; the hymns we sing here; the posters we put up in the narthex? Is it an overreaction if we refuse to advertise or host certain events? Is it an overreaction to say that we should not do certain things in this church building?

The meek and mild Jesus thinks such things are important. The sweet and tender-hearted Saviour who will not break a bruised reed or quench a faintly burning wick (Is. 42:3) made a whip of cords and thrashed people in the Temple! He kicked over tables and scattered their stacks of coins. Jesus cast out these traders with more fervour than He cast out demons. Clearly, some practice that was taking place in the Temple was serious enough to warrant such a strong reaction.

What was so wrong with what was going on in the Temple? Traders were there selling animals so that God’s people could offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of God. This way the people who made their pilgrimage to the Temple from far away wouldn’t need to make the long trek with animals in tow. The animals were necessary for the prescribed sacrifices.

The money-changers were also necessary. Every Israelite twenty years old and upward was to pay the Temple tax and it had to be paid in Jewish coins (Ex. 30:11-16; cf. Mt. 17:24-27). Money-changers exchanged Roman coins with the Jewish currency. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar and an inscription declaring him to be a god. The money-changers exchanged these idolatrous and blasphemous coins for Jewish coins, the local currency that was acceptable for the Temple tax.

The problem wasn’t the smell or mess of the animals either. The animals were supposed to be brought to the Temple for sacrifice. The problem wasn’t high prices or bad exchange rates. Jesus says nothing concerning false balances; only that His Father’s house is not to be made a house of trade. Despite the need to have animals for sacrifices and local coin for offerings, the Temple was not the place for such transactions. The Temple was not for commerce or trade; the Temple was not for buying or selling.

The Temple was the place of forgiveness. It was the place where the Ten Commandments were covered by the blood of sacrifice; the place where the sins of the people were covered by sacrificial blood. It was where the Ark of the Covenant was, where God was enthroned above the cherubim. The Temple was to be a sanctuary from the outside world; a sanctuary from buying and selling. The Temple was the house of God, not a house of trade; the place of forgiveness, not a place of defiling mammon.

This place of forgiveness had been turned into a house of trade. The place of prayer had been turned into a place of commerce. The sanctuary from the outside world had the world invading inside of it. The sanctuary of forgiveness had become a place for raising money.

The purpose of the Temple was forgiveness. Anything that interferes with forgiveness cannot be tolerated – even if that something is a necessity. Yes, it was necessary to have animals for sacrifices and money-changers for offerings. But these did not belong in the Temple. These things interfered with the forgiveness of sins that God distributed in the Temple.

Today, the purpose of the church is forgiveness. Anything that interferes with forgiveness cannot be tolerated. This means that we also need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Are we doing things that interfere with or obscure the Gospel? Anything that obscures the Gospel – whether a bazaar, a tea and bake sale, or a poor hymn – cannot be tolerated. Nothing can interfere with the free forgiveness of sins distributed here.

There are not always easy answers to these questions. What we must ask is what are we saying by what we do? If a visitor comes to an event, what impression are we giving to them about the church? That it is just another place to buy and sell or have a cup of coffee? That we are just another institution looking for their money? That any money given to the church earns them some kind of brownie points with God? We have become convinced that just because the cause is good, the event belongs in the church.

Churches have become places of trade. If you are hungry, you can buy some baked goods. Looking to invest money? Invest in the Church Extension Fund. Want entertainment? Come watch a play, attend the bazaar, or listen to a concert.

Like I said, there are not always easy answers to these questions. But we must always ask ourselves what the purpose is of any event or anything we do. Are these things making us appear to be just another place to buy and sell; another place looking for money? Then we must not tolerate them. Are these things interfering with the forgiveness of sins given here freely? Then by all means we must cast such things out. Do we not have enough places of buying and selling without invading the place that should be sacred because it is dedicated to God?

However, when opportunities arise to host events that serve the Gospel, this is a different matter altogether. When we can invite others here to tell them about the forgiveness of sins earned for them by Jesus; when we can host a cantata that isn’t just entertainment but proclaims the death and resurrection of our Lord; when we can serve others in Christians love and hospitality – then such events belong in the church.

In discussing all of this, we must keep in mind why Jesus cleansed the Temple. In casting out the traders and money-changers, Jesus does not reveal anger, but jealous love. Anger would have consumed the traders and money-changers, but Jesus doesn’t consume them, He simply casts them out of the Temple. Jesus is jealous for those He cast out and for all the people coming to the Temple. He wants to give them forgiveness and doesn’t want anything to interfere with that forgiveness. Instead of consuming them, Jesus Himself was consumed.

The disciples remembered the Psalm which prophesies concerning Jesus, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Ps. 69:9) This zeal of cleansing God’s house of anything that gets in the way of forgiveness did indeed consume Jesus. He was consumed completely. Jesus was consumed by the wrath of God on the cross for our uncleanness. The Lord laid on him the iniquity and uncleanness of us all (Is. 53:6).

Jesus died to cleanse the church. His casting out of the traders and money-changers didn’t cleanse His Father’s house even though He did it a second time during Holy Week. It took His blood to cover their sins. It took His blood to cover our sins. It too Jesus’ death to cleanse the church.

The church is the place of forgiveness. It is the place where the Ten Commandments are covered by the blood of sacrifice; the place where our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus. It is the place where Jesus is with us and gives us His forgiveness. Jesus cleansed the Temple by being consumed by the wrath of God. Jesus cleansed the church by being consumed by the wrath of God. And we receive that cleansing when we consume Jesus.

Sacrifices from the Temple were eaten for the forgiveness of sins. In the New Testament era, Jesus gives us His very body and blood which was sacrificed for us to eat and drink. By consuming His body and blood, we are cleansed. We receive forgiveness in this sanctuary from the outside world. It cannot be bought or sold. It is given freely.

Jesus is consumed with zeal to cleanse us. He doesn’t want anything interfering with His forgiveness to us. His forgiveness is free, without any merit or worthiness in us. His forgiveness is never ending, and He gives this forgiveness in His Church, the sanctuary from the outside world. He gives us forgiveness in this, His Father’s house, which He has cleansed with His own blood. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.