Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. Just two days earlier the Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) detonated eight bombs. Five blew up hotels as families gathered for Easter brunch. Three exploded in churches while Christians worshipped their Risen Lord. Over 350 people died and another 500 lay wounded. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/world/asia/sri-lanka-bombing.html)
The bombings deliberately targeted the Christian celebration of Easter. ISIS made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes to stifle the Easter message and scare Christians into silence.
Attacking Easter does not diminish the Christian’s hope, nor does it scare Christians into fleeing the faith. In fact, the opposite happens: Christians cling ever more tightly to Jesus because of Easter. Yes, You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. You will be targeted. Yet, God remains determined to exalt his Prince--and no one can stop him. Because of Easter, you can Let Loose the Words of Life.
The book of Acts details the life of Jesus’ disciples after his victorious resurrection and triumphant ascension into heaven. Our selection this morning says. The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade… First, the Twelve disciples are the Twelve apostles. ‘Disciple’ means ‘follower’— and these twelve men shape their lives around Jesus’ teachings; they ‘follow’ what he says. ‘Apostle’ means ‘one sent out.’ Those twelve men who ‘followed’ Jesus’ teachings are now ‘sent out’ to share those teachings.
They stand in the entryway of the temple, tapping shoulders, grabbing attentions, probing hearts, preaching. These are the same men who, just a few months earlier, huddled behind locked doors terrified they might die for their connection to Jesus (John 20:19-31). Now, they stand in a public place, in plain sight, not worried what bystanders might think— and people do notice them.
[T]he high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They had killed Jesus once, hoping to kill his memory forever. Now, these men bring up Jesus again— and people are listening! As the Jews come to worship, they see supernatural miracles like those Jesus once performed. It draws them to the apostles, who then proclaim a living and triumphant Jesus. The Jews pay attention to Jesus once again! The high priest wants attention!
So, [t]hey arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail… If you watch your leaders punish the apostles, then maybe you would consider the apostles untrustworthy scoundrels. You could forget the Christian teaching. You could keep waiting for a better Messiah. You realize this is what you witnessed last Sunday. This arrest clearly says: ‘Stop talking about Jesus.’
The Bible makes clear: You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Sometimes that opposition comes from outside. Those entangled in what is wrong do not want to hear God’s instruction. You encourage a friend to worship, but he avoids you, she does not answer the phone, they do not respond to letters and cards. Your child responds to a gentle invite with a list of everything wrong with what you believe. That stings. You approach people with a heartfelt desire to share words for life and your kindness is repaid with sharp, vicious words. It leaves you feeling ashamed. Sometimes opposition to God’s Word comes from within. Your faith— what you believe— may not feel like a source of joy. It may feel more like a burden or a target. You almost feel embarrassed to say that Jesus came back to life; it sounds childish. You may feel crazy for saying the death of one person fixes you. You may wonder if you are stupid for talking about a six-day creation or a worldwide flood or unexplainable miracles. Your faith can cause tension within.
The devil uses opposition to shame you. He wants you (and me) to rank popularity as more important than the Word. He wants you to twist Bible teachings to sound more acceptable. He wants you to omit commands that the world considers offensive. He wants you to condone lifestyles God clearly calls ‘wrong.’ He wants you ashamed of what you believe so that (1) God’s truth does not get out and so that (2) you believe something false. This way, he destroys others and you.
You will face opposition as you Let Loose the Words of Life. Think about that. You will face opposition-- why? Because you Let Loose the Words of Life. You stand with the living Lord! That automatically pits you against his enemies!
God has raised you from spiritual death and has given you spiritual life. You are not entitled to this. It cost a very high price; it cost the life of God’s blameless Son. Jesus is stripped naked, stretched out, and hung publicly for all to gawk at. As he groans, people mock him. When taunted: ‘Come down from there!’ he chooses to remain on the cross. He endures lies, name-calling, and shame because his life is the only life that can save you. God strips away his life in order to raise you (and me) from the hell we deserve. He uses that life to pry out of our hearts any love we may have for this world. He uses that life to lift you out of eternal shame and into a spot next to him.
You have life because of Jesus. He has conquered opposition from unbelieving rulers. He has conquered opposition from our hearts. That is tremendous news. Let Loose the Words of Life! You will face opposition, but God remains determined to exalt his Prince
The disciples stand in prison, but not for long. [D]uring the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this
Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” You wonder if those leaders ever stop to think how this escape happened. No earthquake happened. No cell-doors clang open. No frenzied escape plan. The last sight of the apostles is in jail. Now, they stand outside (free!) in the temple, preaching and teaching. God did not (and would not) allow his message silenced.
The high priest tried. [T]he captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
That is the point! Peter says: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree… Yes! You killed God and you did that because you rejected his teaching. You rejected God!” They need to hear this!. They need to be confronted with the fact that they are waging war against the Almighty and they will lose!. The need to see God exalt his Prince as the triumphant Savior he is. So that they repent; so that they turn from rejecting Jesus to listening to Jesus. So that they have life. Opposition to God is a losing battle. God exalted [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Dear friends, you are witnesses of these things. You know answers a nonbelieving world will never unlock. Ever notice that? When you gather in this church with other Christians, you do not stand out so much. Because you all cling to the same faith! You hold to the same promise! You stand united in Jesus. That’s great! You encourage each other to keep standing on the promise of forgiveness and eternal life, to never let go! You may not see spectacular results. You may not feel different, but be sure, even your presence encourages me to cling to God’s exalted Prince.
When you step out of here, you will stand out. You have the Words of Life; you know what life is all about. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is the mantra for your Christian living. A nonbelieving does not have this hope. The world’s solution to death is to cope. Cope by (1) telling jokes, (2) seeing grief counselors, (3) speaking of a generic ‘good place.’ Understand, people may need counsel to rise out of grief. Yet, you know life does not end with death. Because Jesus lives, believers who die on earth live in heaven (John 11:25-26). The world’s solution to regret is to cope. Guilty parents attempt to buy the love of their neglected children. Others think alcohol will help them forget. Still others give money to churches in the hope of scrubbing away the past. Yet, you know Easter preaches sins forgiven. The world’s solution to evil is to cope. Ignore troubles. Call evil bad names on television or Twitter. Yet, you know the Risen Lord has delivered us from life in an evil hell. He still leads us through this evil world to that perfect life above.
Let Loose the Words of Life! Let Easter’s empty tomb only strengthen you in your fight against doubt and temptation. Let Easter’s empty tomb be seen in the way you live and in the words you speak. God remains determined to exalt his Prince—in you and through you.
Hundreds gathered around five wooden caskets— in a public place, in plain sight, as a Pastor led service. The Islamic State (also known as ‘ISIS’) deliberately targeted Easter. They made clear: Easter is not welcome. The resurrection is not tolerated. Jesus is not wanted. The explosive statement hopes scare Christians into silence. It failed. Those Christians gathered around the Easter truth that the dead in Christ will rise.
Easter has transformed your life. You may not notice. You may not feel it. Yet, because of Easter you live confident of a triumphant Jesus who reigns for your good. You will face opposition because of your connection to Jesus. The world may hate that, but the Almighty God remains determined to exalt his Prince— and no one can stop him. Christ lives—and lives for you! Let Loose the Words of Life.
The fate of the free world depended on one man. Yes, one man. Supreme Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, planned ferrying over 350,000 Allied troops across the English Channel and onto the heavily armed beaches of Normandy. He needed a day. So, chief meteorologist, Captain James Stagg had one job: get the weather forecast right.
The margin for error was zero. Stormy seas would sink ships, swallow tanks, and drown thousands. Postpone the invasion and you give communist Russia a chance to control all Europe. Pass on calm weather and Nazi Germany would discover the invasion. Yet, selecting a day was difficult. In Michigan, we gage weather as it moves across the country; we see what approaches. To the west of the English Channel is nothing but open, unpredictable Atlantic Ocean; you had no records. On top of that, Eisenhower had already selected a date: June 5, 1944. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, Eisenhower faced a decision: trust your meteorologist or trust your own instincts? Who do you trust? (https://www.usatoday.com/amp/9914207)
In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it feels impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It just seems best to rely on yourself.
So, who do you trust? Easter gives us the only answer. The events of this day have changed the course of life forever. Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
That is where you find cheer. Look again at our gospel reading. Verse 1 says: [O]n the first day of the week, at early dawn, the [women] went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. It is Easter, but you discover a cheerless scene. Yes, the first Easter morning is a funeral procession. How could it not be? This group of women watched Jesus die! They saw him buried here! Inside this tomb lies a dear Friend, a beloved Teacher, a trusted Preacher. That is an unwanted reality. They cannot restart the heart. They cannot force the brain to function. They cannot make lungs breathe. Jesus is gone and they cannot fix it. They stand absolutely powerless to create cheer in life.
When they reach the tomb, they found the stone rolled away[,] but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus… How much worse can it get? The body is missing! Again, this unwanted reality just crushes them! They were not there to stop the robbers. They did not install security systems. They cannot investigate and hunt down the criminals. These women not only lack the power to raise the dead, but they also cannot control the one thing they could control: make final preparations! They cannot fix it! They cannot do what they want! They are powerless to find cheer in life.
While they were perplexed about this, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. [T]hey were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground… Now this! Two men— two angels— who live in heaven, who stand beside the Holy God, now have a message from the Almighty. How can you not tremble? Because whatever comes out of the mouth comes from God. That message may not be good— and the women would be completely powerless to stop what God will do.
That first Easter is loaded with strange emotions. Those women stand mortified, they are stressed, they are anxious for the exact same reason I so often am: Because I rely on myself!
Why the self-reliance? Because I know ‘me’ better than anyone else knows ‘me.’ ‘I’ know my weaknesses. ‘I’ know my goals. ‘I’ know my needs. No one else knows my desires better than ‘I’ do. No one else thinks about them more than ‘I’ do. Yes, the police officer protects me, but he’s watching over thousands of others. He cannot be everywhere at once. Yes, the teacher cares for me, but she has other students in the classroom. Yes, I know my family is there for me, but each one cares for his own needs first. So, I take it upon myself to find cheer in this life. If I trust myself, then maybe I will be satisfied. Except, like the women, I confront many insurmountable obstacles. I want to prevent sickness, but I cannot stop cancer from entering my body— and I cannot wish it away. I want peace in my family, but I cannot stop my sibling from ruining my plans; I cannot control personalities. I want to reach my goals and dreams, but I fall into addiction again, I stumble into old habits, I foil my own plans. Trusting myself does not bring the peace I so desperately crave.
Studying these women only reminds me of the purpose for Easter. This day happens because of us. Those women think self-reliance will help them. In reality, self-reliance caused their sadness. That is why Jesus came in the first place: because each one of us consider ourselves more reliable than a reliable God. In short, self-reliance calls God a liar. Now where does that self-reliance leave the women? The women stare at death and cannot fix it. I stare at death and realize I cannot stop my own grief, I cannot stop my own death, I cannot stand before the throne of God and live! Nothing I can do will erase that awful truth. What good self-reliance does!
Thank God he sends angels. Yes, angels. Messengers. If God never did this, then I would still be scratching my head at the empty tomb.
Do you realize where the angels point the women? To a promise God made. The angels said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” “Well, what did you see? You witnessed sinful men beat him. You saw him suffer and die. You watched him buried. Since everything happened as he said, what do you think will happen next?”
Can you see the light turn on? And they remembered his words… People make promises and break them, change them, forget them. God is not another person. God intentionally made a promise and God deliberately kept his promise. Just like that, fear gives way to joy, assumptions crumble, self-reliance vanishes; trust in the promises of God swells!
God did what he said he would do. He hung your (and my) self-reliance on Jesus and crushed it. He leaves him to die by wicked men. Leaves him to be crucified. Leaves him dead. Then, he raised him— body and soul, alive from the grave.
Dear friends, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! Easter proves that God’s own Word does as promised. He not only makes promises, but keeps his Word—which means, God is completely reliable. Because of that, God’s Word gives you life.
Yes, life. The resurrection of Jesus is not just one single promise kept long ago. No, the resurrection carries some very long-term results. Imagine setting up a row of dominoes. Tap the first domino and it falls into another, which falls into another, and another and another, and so on. One domino causes many other dominoes to move.
Here, God raises Jesus to life. Sounds simple, except that centuries earlier God had promised to raise his Son (Psalm 16:10-11). On Easter, God reached down and raise this one Person to life. Therefore, this one Person is not just another man, but God’s promised Son! (Romans 1:4). One promise kept.
Remember, Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus hung on the cross— and God loaded him with my self-reliance and crushed him. He makes him pay my crime. Now, Jesus lives—again! The Bible says: Jesus died because of my sin and was raised to declare us ‘Not Guilty!” (Romans 4:25). That means God has accepted his payment on your behalf! That means Jesus removed condemnation. That means guilt no longer damns you. Another promise made and kept.
If Jesus wipes your spiritual record clean, it means God sees you as innocent— which means God kept another promise: Jesus destroyed the devil’s work (1 John 3:8). If the devil cannot convince God to lock you in hell, then it means you will not go to hell. Jesus keeps another promise! Because Jesus lives, you also will live (John 14:19). If you will live, then it means Jesus is keeping another promise: You will live in heaven! (John 14:2-3). Another promise falls complete: Because Jesus lives—no one holds authority over him, no one tells him what to do or how to behave (Exodus 15:1-11).
Do you see how Easter changes life? You live by the promises of God— because those promises are not empty wishes, but guarantees of what God will do next!
Those promises carry you through every situation. God promises life is not the end for the Christian; life continues in heaven! That means your loved one is not forever forgotten. No, she stands in the throne-room of God. He weeps and mourns no more! (Isaiah 65:19-20). Your body may not do the things it once did. You cannot build muscle, you cannot spark energy, you cannot stop cancer from spreading. Yet, your God promises: I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). Regret may relentlessly shame you. You feel so unworthy to be around friends, parents, children, God. Yet, God points to Jesus and promises: Because he suffered your penalty, your lawless acts I remember no more (Hebrews 10:17). Where do you find peace like that? Never in yourself, but in the only One who does as promised.
A new day dawns Easter. A new day that reveals God is absolutely serious about saving you …about loving you …about being your strength. That removes self-reliance. That lifts you from stressful anxiety. That puts your trust in a God who never fails you. Cheer Up! You have God’s Word! A Word that gives you life.
A word like Captain Staggs’. Eisenhower selected June 5, 1944 for D-Day. Captain Stagg advised against it. So, who do you trust: your meteorologist or trust your own instincts?
Eisenhower could not see the future, but he trusted the word of his meteorologist. Sure enough, June 5th proved stormy. Waves chopped. Rain pelted. Winds whipped. The mission would have failed. Yet, June 6, 1944, brought the calm weather predicted. The Allies invaded, stormed Europe, and destroyed Nazi resistance. That victory brought new life throughout the world.
Easter brings new life for you. In our day of redacted Mueller reports and exposed church abuse, it may feel impossible to trust anyone. So many promises lie broken— and with them lie shattered dreams, deflated hope, and painful heartache. It may feel best to rely on yourself.
Yet, Easter reveals life! Life in heaven! Life lived with God on earth! Because of Easter you find A Word that does as promised. A Word that gives life. Yes, the events of Easter have changed the course of life forever. So, Cheer Up! You have God’s Word!
Something happened during service that bothered him. So, after worship he pulled me aside and, with a puzzled look, asked, “Why do you baptize babies?” Simple question. Simple answer. “We baptize because baptism forgives sins and saves (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21). We baptize babies because Christ commands Christians to baptize all nations— and infants are included in ‘all nations.’” (Matthew 28:19; read also Psalm 51:5 [on infant’s sinfulness]; Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:17 [on infants and children having faith]; Acts 2:38-39 [on baptism for adults and children]).
I am not sure he expected that answer. “That’s not the way I see it,” he replied.
“Oh, okay. What do you think baptism is?”
“I see baptism as me pledging my life to God. It is me choosing to be a Christian.”
“So then, are you sure you are saved?”
His response? “I ask myself that question every day.”
That is a common response among Christians. Many are not sure, they are not certain they will enter heaven unless the heart burns with joy or the mind carries no burdensome regrets. In short, many Christians rely on emotions. They hope feelings can convince them that they are saved. This kind of response comes from human ‘reason.’
‘Reason’ takes in information, processes it, and determines how it impacts your life. We use ‘reason’ when determining what illness we have, what medicine to take, and how long to take it. We use ‘reason’ when balancing bank accounts, spending money, and saving money. ‘Reason’ helps us answer life’s questions. Yet, ‘reason’ also tries to answer things God chooses not to reveal to us. ‘Reason’ tries to process God’s behavior in ways we can comprehend. Which sounds acceptable— except, where do you turn when ‘reason’ cannot answer the simple question: “Are you saved?”
You turn somewhere else. Somewhere that does not rely on emotions. Somewhere that gives a plain, simple answer. You turn to Jesus. He speaks three words of truth to abolish opinions. To set aside ‘reason.’ To give you certainty. Three words of truth for faith to grasp. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.
In a way, God spoke those words long before Maundy Thursday. Old Testament Israel languished in slavery. Groaning from bone-crushing oppression. Strength sapped from relentless labor. Hope devastated because of a bleak future. God would do something about that; he would unlock their chains and set them free!
So, he commands Israel: Take a lamb [and] eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Take the blood and smear it over the doorframes of your house (Exodus 12:3-8). Understand, God did not set down the Lord’s Supper in Egypt. No. He set down the Passover. That night the Lord ‘passed over’ Egypt. Every household that rejected his command tasted death. Every household that smeared blood across the door he ‘passed over.’ That night God forced Egypt into submission and the next day Israel walked out free.
Did the blood save? No. The lamb was not a rare species. The blood was not magical. It was plain blood. What saved is trust that God would do what he said he would do. God said, ‘Put blood on the door and I will save you.’
Faith in the promise of God stood central in that Passover meal. Each year, Jewish families remembered how God kept his promise to rescue their ancestors. Yet, those same Jews looked ahead to God’s great Promise: The Lamb of God would rescue the world from eternal slavery (John 1:29).
Maundy Thursday is the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus and his disciples gather in the upper room to celebrate the final Passover meal. Yes, Jesus knows he is God’s Passover Lamb. He knows that in just a few hours his life would be used for your freedom. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) With those words, Jesus institutes (he establishes) the Lord’s Supper. No longer do you look to the Lamb who is to come, but to the Lamb who has come. Still, this is not a symbolic meal. Jesus never uses the word: ‘symbolize.’ He puts it quite plainly: “This bread is my body. This wine is my blood. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.” For what reason? For the forgiveness of sins.
Still, human ‘reason’ runs rampant. ‘Reason’ takes in information, processes it, and determines how it impacts your life. It looks at the Lord’s Supper, takes in the sight of bread and wine, ponders the Words, but cannot comprehend how this bread is Jesus’ body and how this wine is his blood. It does not make sense. That would be fine if ‘reason’ just stopped there, but it does not. Instead ‘reason’ keeps trying to make sense of Jesus’ word. In order to make sense of these words, ‘reason’ clings to opinion.
You know what ‘opinions’ are. Personal belief shaped by experience. Because you (and I) struggle to forgive, it seems impossible that God could forgive you. I mean, does God really forgive your drunkenness? Will God never bring up your arguments? Does God really wipe away self-trust? If you have difficulty forgiving that, then God must have trouble doing the same!
So, opinion takes the Lord’s Supper and makes it into what we think it should be! Something you do for God. You approach God. You eat and drink. You come often. If you do your part, then God sees your efforts, and God must let your past go because you try to right the wrong! Opinion changes the Lord’s Supper from something Jesus does for you into a memorial meal that you do for God!
Do you realize what just happened? ‘Opinion’ becomes ‘truth.’ More than that, ‘opinion’ overrides God’s truth. Human ‘reason’ tells God how he will act, what he has done, and what his Word means. Human ‘reason’ thinks it is God. The trouble is, ‘reason’ is not God, is it? Opinion cannot give the assurance that you stand forgiven. Relying on opinion will never give the peace Jesus brings.
So, Jesus uses Three words to abolish opinion. Three words he speaks— not me, not my heart— but he. Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Three words for faith to grasp.
Yes, faith. Faith that trusts what God says is true. Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Yes, plain unleavened bread. Not rare bread. Not magical bread. Yet, what does Jesus call it? ‘My body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) Again, plain wine. Not rare wine. Not magical wine. What does Jesus call it? ‘My blood.’ Understand that he does not say, ‘This symbolizes…’ or ‘This represents…’ If he wanted to say that, then he would have used those words. Instead, Jesus links the bread to his body and the wine to his blood. The rest of the Bible confirms this real presence. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16).
It does not make sense; it does not fit reason. Then again, Almighty God is not asking if you approve of his actions. Almighty God speaks and faith clings to those words as true.
Faith not only clings to those words, but it also clings to what Jesus gives. This is my blood of the covenant… A covenant is a contract, an agreement. In the Old Testament, God’s contract was clear: Obey the Ten Commandments and live (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Yet, no one obeys. Therefore, no one lives— except for one person.
Jesus takes the old contract and meets every condition. In him is life. Jesus uses his perfect life to write a new contract. He breaks his body so that your body will never be broken. He sheds his blood so that your life will never end. He gives his body and sheds his blood in order to rescue you. That is the new covenant Jesus sets up: Free forgiveness through him. Faith grasps this truth and considers it done.
Martin Luther put it well when he asked: ‘What makes us ready to receive the sacrament? Nothing but hearts that believe the words ‘for you.’ Yes, in the Lord’s Supper Jesus says: ‘You are forgiven.’ Yes, you hear that to begin service, in the lessons, in the sermon, and in the blessing. Yet, Jesus chooses to chase away doubts by putting proof on your lips that you are forgiven. Faith points to God’s promise and says: “God, you tell me that in this Supper I receive forgiveness. God, I trust I stand forgiven because you say so.” Point to God’s simple Word. Point to what you receive. Rejoice!
Faith grasps the simple promise: I am forgiven. Can you be sure? Yes— because God says you are. What if you do not feel forgiven? It does not change the reality that God declares you forgiven. Ultimately what matters most is not how you feel emotionally, but what God calls you. God calls you cleansed because the life of Jesus, your Passover Lamb, covers over you.
God has set you free from eternal slavery. Nothing will hold you (and me) down in the grave. Rather, we have life in heaven! Three splendid words proclaim this truth: Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Three words for faith to grasp.
This is something human ‘reason’ will never understand. That’s alright— if ‘reason’ simply lets God’s Word stand on its own. When ‘reason’ tries to comprehend God’s behavior, then you become fixated on what you do for God. Like that man who pulled me aside after service. To him, God’s promise in baptism sounded too good to be true. His conscience bothered him; his emotions did not feel joyful like a forgiven person would feel. So, his ‘reason’ told him: “You are not saved. Do something now.”
That ‘reason’ dumped Jesus’ promise. Our puny minds do not stand a chance against an all-powerful God. God knows that. So, he speaks three words of truth to abolish opinions. To set aside ‘reason.’ To give you certainty. Three words of truth for faith to grasp. Take and Eat, Take and Drink.
If you drive north from Alma and Shepherd on US-127, you reach an exit (on your left) for the south-side of Mount Pleasant. If you take this exit, you will drive past a semi-truck-trailer parked in a farm field. On the trailer’s side, in big letters is the sentence: ‘God thinks you are worth the death of his Son.’ Is that true?
To have ‘worth’ means you have ‘value.’ If you have ‘value,’ then you must have some desirable trait or wanted characteristic. I mean, this is how we judge restaurant food, right? For example, you eat out and determine if the burger is worth the price. You fix a dollar amount to quality, taste, and size; you attach value to this burger. If the burger and price-point meet your expectations, then you determine it worth your money. If the burger and price-point fall short of your expectations, then you determine it not worth your money. So, for God to think you are worth the death of his Son, it means he finds some desirable trait or wanted characteristic in you. It means he considers content of your life equal to the life of Jesus.
Let’s see what God finds. Philippians 2:5-6 says: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… What is that attitude, that way of thinking and conducting yourself? [Jesus] being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped… Jesus is God. He exists before time began. Together with the Father and Holy Spirit, he creates the entire universe. All things in heaven and earth belong to him; angels upon angels praise him. Yet, Jesus does not use his status as God for personal gain. He does not use his power to look more powerful than anyone else on earth. King Nebuchadnezzar did. He wanted his subjects to worship a golden statue towering 90-feet high; he constructed a statue to reap praise (Daniel 3:1-30). Crowds worship King Herod as god and Herod basks in this praise (Acts 12:21-23). Even in our small community, people name drop for personal advantage. “I’m related to the Dohertys.” “My family helped settle the city.” “I went to school with the shop-owner.” You say those things to receive attention, praise, or discounts. Yet, Jesus never flaunts his divine status. He does not dodge lepers because their ooey, gooey, pus-drippy skin disgusts him. He does not avoid prostitutes because their past is beyond fixing. He does not steer clear of tax collectors because he thinks those cheats would only despise his Word. Nor does Jesus want recognition by gathering philosophers and academics for disciples.
Although God, Jesus made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Born to low-income carpenter and his wife. Wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a cattle-feed trough. Raised in the backwoods town of Nazareth (like being raised in Temple). Just like a servant obeys a superior, Jesus puts himself under God’s commandments (Galatians 4:4). He respects the father and mother he knit together in the womb. He worships in the synagogue every week even though he is God. Hatred never burns in his heart— even though he would be completely justified to lash out against those who call him ‘liar!’ Here is the value of Jesus, the worth of his life: (1) Completely blameless. (2) Absolutely faultless. (3) Entirely self-giving. Are you worth the death of his Son?
Does God find some desirable trait or wanted characteristic in you that he must exchange Jesus in order to have you? Verse 5 details what God wants: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Is it? (1) Completely blameless? (2) Absolutely faultless? (3) Entirely self-giving?
What does God find? Do you wish to admit it? I don’t— because I know exactly what he would see. God finds a heart that wants to avoid worship for no other reason because ‘I’ want …to sleep …to play ball …to vacation somewhere. In short, ‘I’ miss worship because ‘I’ value personal pleasure more than God. God finds a heart that demands others conform to my expectations. ‘I’ want families in church to be quiet like me; ‘I’ want families in church to deal with my noisiness. ‘I’ want first-time worshippers to instantly embrace my style of worship. ‘I’ will not consider removing barriers to worship; the unchurched just need to be quiet and understand this is ‘my’ worship time. ‘I’ want people in church to sing the songs ‘I’ want, to behave the way ‘I’ want, to fit ‘my’ expectations. If they do not, they are wrong. God would find a heart that protects its pride and ego. If ‘I’ reach out to my child, my sibling, my friend and ask them: ‘Why do you not come to worship?’ they might hurt my feelings. In order to avoid that pain, ‘I’ will say nothing. God finds a selfish heart, one that is so self-absorbed!
I mean, even when we wake up in the morning, what is the first thought that comes to mind? It’s ‘me!’ ‘My’ busy day. ‘My’ aches, ‘my’ pains. ‘My’ pleasure, ‘my’ rest. What about your family? …your spouse? …your friend …your boss …neighbor? How long does it take before you consider their needs?
God has just finished explaining how Jesus only considers your needs …when he wakes up …when he speaks …when he acts. Is your attitude like that?
You (and I) are worth the death of Jesus? God would rather kill his obedient Son so that he can finally have self-centered, self-absorbed us? I mean, would you exchange your always-caring child for the brash, undisciplined brat? People who think it a chore to fit you into their schedule? People who care little for your needs? People who think so often about themselves? No, you would not! I would not! So, why would God be any different?
The awful truth is: You (and I) are not worth the death of his Son. There is no desirable trait in us that God must save us. There is no wanted characteristic that compels God to get up off his throne and rescue us. That’s what the saying implies; it implies that you did something for God to save you. Instead, it is God who gives you (and I) worth because of the death of his Son.
[B]eing found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! Jesus humbles himself! This is something he does— on his own accord. Not because God looked down from heaven and said, “Uh oh, I really need those people in heaven. Go die, Jesus.” No, Jesus chooses to lay aside the power and status he has as God.
The innocent Son of God rides into Jerusalem one last time. His creation shouts: “Blessed is the Son of David! Hosanna! Save us, Lord!’ In five days his same creation will shout: “Take him away! Crucify him!” Because their proud hearts do not want to hear their wrong. Even courtroom judges accept lies and corruption in order to execute Jesus. Those to whom Jesus is sent will spit him out of their city and inflict on him the most shameful of deaths: crucifixion.
The most shocking fact of all: God does not rescue him. Instead, he dumps on him. He sees your (and my) stubbornness on Jesus. He sees your (and my) cold-hearted service. He sees your (and my) always self-centered thinking. He turns his back, walks away, and leaves his Son to die like a criminal.
We are worth this? God dying for us? No. But this is what God freely does for you.
God makes you worthy. Your forgiveness is a gift, not something deserved or earned. That’s why these words are such a delight. Because God has freely set you on the side of victory! When all is quiet and locked up in the tomb, when it feels as though death finally swallowed Jesus, God exalted him to the highest place… No one outranks him. Anyone who approaches God stands under him. [God] gave him the name that is above every name… Remember what Jesus’ ‘Name’ mean? (Hint: It’s not his proper name: ‘Jesus. ‘God.’ ‘Christ.’) Jesus’ ‘Name’ is his reputation, his abilities, his characteristics. People may have the name ‘Jesus,’ but only One Person with that name has cleansed and purified our hearts of pride. Only One Person with that name is preparing your room in heaven. Only One Person with that name hears your prayers, answers your prayers, and rescues you. God freely promotes you into the rich inheritance that comes by faith in Jesus.
Does that feel a little unsettling? I mean, why would God do any of this? Many think Christianity is what you do for Jesus. That’s why you find that semi-truck-trailer south of Mount Pleasant. It implies there was some good spark inside of you that moved God to get off his hind-side and help you out. It wants you to point and say, “Yes, I am worth it!” Others feel a need to prove commitment to him. Still others search for certainty in their Christian behavior. We could put it this way: We feel this pull for instruction so that we feel confident that we are truly Christians.
That’s the proud heart acting up again! It wants to take credit! It wants some part doing something to be saved. Christianity centers on this one key point: ‘Done!’ Jesus rides into Jerusalem without your help for you. Next week, Jesus lives again without your help for you.
Dear friends, what do you get to do? You get to bask in the spoils! You get rejoice in what is coming! [A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. On the Last Day, the world will admit Jesus is King over all. The angels in heaven above, with our loved ones who already reign in heaven, will praise him. Even the devil and the demons below will admit Jesus is God. Every nonbeliever on earth will kneel before his majesty. Even we believers— whether on earth or in heaven— will acknowledge Jesus as our reigning King. That’s what we get to do.
Thank God! Because if you (and I) are worth the death of Jesus, then he would never come. He would never find in us the humble, selfless attitude he expects. We would only live terrified, stressed, anxious, frustrated because we can never be what God wants. Thank God he has given us worth! Literally. Thank him now. Thank him with your prayers, your praise, your confession of what you believe. See what he has done and thank him as you live as Imitators of Jesus Christ.