Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday in Lent 5 and March 25

I preached this sermon in 2005, when Good Friday occurred on March 25, the Annunciation of the Lord (Luke 1:26-38). Fits well with today's reading from Mark 15.

How do you consider this? How do you find the words to describe this day? What is today? It is March 25. In nine months it will be Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Nine months. The amount of time God ordinarily takes to form a child in the womb.

How many parents were uncertain about their child’s future and wondered, “Do I really want to bring a child into this cruel world, filled with such heartache and suffering?” How many husbands and wives considered that question, and decided No? Whatever worries and uncertainties your parents had before your birth, God overcame them.

It is March 25. Nine months before Christmas – and Good Friday. God was not uncertain about what would happen to His Son. The Lord knew the torment His Son would face when He brought the Son of God into the world. He knew the mockery and the rejection. Yet He still sent the Angel Gabriel to announce to the Virgin Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. The child born to her “will be called holy – the Son of God.”

It is seldom that we talk about the nine months before the birth of Jesus in the same breath as we talk about His death. Not often, but it does happen when the Church teaches us to confess that Jesus Christ “was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.” The Apostles’ Creed moves straight from the Lord’s conception, to His birth and then to His suffering and death.

Some people have criticized the Creed for not mentioning even a word about Christ’s life of merciful works and His word of truth. Yet in moving directly from Jesus’ birth to His Crucifixion, the Creed makes an important point. The Son of God became man to suffer.

The eyes of the man without faith see a tragic ending. They see a man born to a poor mother and father hung on a tree of death for no good reason. They see a sorrow-filled conclusion to an otherwise triumphant and well-lived life. The Suffering Servant Jesus Christ makes no sense for those who think that the goal of life is to avoid all pain.

O believer, it is not so with you. For you know this is at the very heart of what Jesus has come to do in order to reconcile the world to God. He comes to save us from our sins – our actual sins of thought, word and deed that reject God and mock His Holiness. But the Son of God also comes to save us from our original sin that we inherited from Adam through our parents, for we were all sinful at birth, sinful from the time our mother’s conceived. And our hearts are naturally inclined to doubt God. Yet Jesus Christ saves us from our times of uncertainty – when we have thought that God has forsaken us and removed His protection from us.

The Son of God and “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom” for yours. He pays your debts to the Father. And that payment was a high price. The pain your Lord endures is real and raw. The death He dies is dark and cold.

Our eyes may be moved to tears, but He has told us not to weep for Him. Yes, His soul is troubled, but He refuses to ask His Father to save Him from this hour. It is for this purpose that He has come to this dark hour – so that the Father would save you from eternal darkness. Jesus endures it all for your sake.

“In perfect love He dies;

for me He dies, for me.

O all-atoning Sacrifice,

I cling by faith to Thee.”

His sacrificial death melts our cold hearts. And tears will appear in the life of faith – tears of sorrow over our sin and tears of joy that God would love us in this way. For it is no small matter that the Son of God “for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven” to be rejected and crucified for our salvation.

It is no small matter that the same God in the flesh who went the way of the Cross still comes to you today. But saying “Christ died for you” does not magically make all your problems disappear in a puff of smoke. This is not Hocus Pocus – but rather this is the body of Christ given into death for you. There will not only be tears of repentance and tears of overwhelming delight. There will also be tears of pain in the life of faith – for we are not yet at the Resurrection. Jesus has not shown us how get around suffering in this life or how to avoid it. Rather, He leads us through suffering, cross and death to Resurrection. Jesus says to His followers, “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16). Soon every tear from faithful eyes will be dried. Soon you will behold that He who died on Good Friday is now alive forevermore.

But until then, hold fast to your confession. With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4). Walk by faith, not by sight. When unbelievers and your old sinful nature tell you to cry out, “Where in the world is God?”, you can honestly reply that God is hidden. And yes, darkness does veil His lovely face. But even though God is hidden in lowly flesh, His Word lights the way for you to find Him. The Lord is in the womb of the Virgin Mary for nine months, in the manger at Bethlehem, in the darkness of the Cross of Calvary on Good Friday, in the water and the blood that streamed from His pierced side. God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5). Therefore God in the flesh today is present with you in His Word and in His Sacraments.

Today “your life is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” He will overcome all your worries and uncertainties. For Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake, forgives us all our sins.

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