We are quick to walk away from things. Thomas isn’t so wacky when he says, “Unless I see the nail holes and put my finger into the holes and my hand into his side, I will never believe.” After all, there is a popular saying, “Seeing is believing.” Our nature dismisses the resurrection. Our sin keeps us from grasping the plain work of God in our midst, right in front of us. Like the father who seeks help from the Lord Jesus (Mark 9:24), we believe, but we need help with our unbelief. So through the walls we build around us and the locked doors for fear of being seen and known for the fraud that we are, through it all, Jesus comes with his Word and Spirit. He sends the Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel. The preaching of the Cross grips us and pulls us to Jesus. The gifts of God enlighten us (Sing: The people that in darkness sat, a glorious light have seen) and we are made holy. As quick as we are to walk away from things, our God is all the more determined to have you as his own. He is persistent and he is patient. Far more patient than we would ever be. He is merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love: Love for you, love that is dying on a cross to take away your sins. Let us believe with Thomas and declare in Easter joy: “My Lord and My God!” Jesus won’t leave you. He paid for you with his blood. He loves you. He has made you a new creation.
Our sin puts us on the ground with our noses in the dirt. “Depart from me!” we say to God. The sinner cannot stand in the presence of the living God. We may think it would be different for us, but time and time again the seemingly strong become weak in the presence of God Almighty: Adam, Isaiah, Peter, John, etc. It is, after all, our own sin that has destroyed us. But God will not let his crown be lost to our own works and wickedness. He sends Jesus to redeem us. Jesus redeems us by paying in blood. In the first chapter of Revelation, John is knelt down before Jesus as a dead man. This is the same God that John reclined with on Maundy Thursday. It is the disciple that believed at the tomb. Yet he kneels with his face to the ground. It matters not who he is. It takes Jesus to touch him (like on the mountain of transfiguration) and help him realize what has happened. Jesus says to him and he says to you, “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last; I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” Like on Easter day, “Peace be with you!” Death has been defeated. Death no longer has mastery over Christ and therefore no mastery over John or you either. You will live like Jesus for evermore. Wow. The firstborn of the dead has made the weak strong for evermore. Alleluia!
Praise the Lord, the King has returned to Zion. Your King is strong to save. He bares his holy arm and with it he has won the victory. Our faith is not in vain, dear Christian, for Christ has risen from the dead. He is victorious over all your enemies. Who are your enemies? Death, sin, and the devil…and the devil, the world, and your sinful nature. How beautiful are the feet of those that preach to you this good news: these enemies are defeated in the blood of Jesus. How beautiful it is that this victorious King sends his heralds out that you would hear and believe. How beautiful it is that in your hearing, God creates faith. So lift up your voices with the watchmen–together we sing for joy. Break forth into singing and know that the Lord has comforted his people (Isaiah 52).
We begin the study of John’s Gospel this Sunday in 4:12 Bible Class. The Word becomes flesh. The greatest event in the history of humanity is this moment. God becomes part of his creation to save you and redeem you. “We have beheld his glory,” John says. They were all eye witnesses. Their testimony would hold up in a court of law. There was no hearsay–their very own eyes saw these things take place. Indeed, the Son of God died on the cross and there he is glorified. He glorifies the Father. He dies and rises again to have dominion over death and the devil. This class should be pretty fun as we dive deep into John’s testimony. These things were written that you may believe and that by believing you might have life in his name. If you are in high school, join us for the 4:12 this Sunday at 10:45AM.
The servant of the Lord has acted wisely. He has taken on the sin of the world in order that he would free the world of sin and death and the power of the devil. It was the right time, the perfect time, that God sent forth his Son to the cross to die, to redeem you, and to restore life to humanity. To hang on a tree is a curse, but Jesus takes this on that he might become lowly and you would be exalted. So he bore our sorrows and griefs. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us. For our transgressions, he was wounded and crushed. God dies that the reign of sin would be over. The great reversal, the great exchange has taken place. You were low and Jesus exalted, but for your sake he becomes the lowest so that you would be raised up. How great is this love?! You have been showered in the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Now they call you children of God.
Today begins the Holy Triduum or the Holy Three Days. Sometimes we call today Maundy Thursday or Commandment Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word, “mandātum,” which means commandment. Jesus gives the command to love one another. He washes their feet, he gives them his very own body and blood to eat and to drink, and he teaches one last time. This commandment, “love one another,” isn’t really anything new at all. The summary of the commandments is love. You remember, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. What does this look like? Can we imitate? Can we live under the wings of one that does this perfect? Yes. Jesus says, “No greater love hath a man than that he lay down his life for his friends.” The only we know what it is to truly love is to have Jesus love us first. He does just that and dies on the cross that you and I would have life. He gives his body and blood from that cross to you and me to eat and drink. It is his testament. Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us and we rejoice in his love.
The word of the cross is just plain dumb to the world. In fact, the three great enemies of our God (the devil, the world, and our sinful nature) do all that they can to show off how dumb, how stupid, the cross is. It is pretty phenomenal. Human wisdom doesn’t create a god that becomes part of his own creation in order that he would be killed by it to save it. However, the true God does just this and thus He made foolish the wisdom of this world. It pleases our God to come down to us as one of us to save us. It pleases him to save us by preaching. So faith comes by hearing. I’ve always found this interesting. It doesn’t come by reading or doing, but instead, God sends preachers so that you may hear his Word and feel it with the water. That you would taste it in the bread and wine and see that the Lord has saved you and taken away your sins. The Word of the Cross is the power of God for us…for by it he saves us!
“Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.” –Isaiah 50:10
The old darkness tries to hem us in on every side. Sin likes the darkness. It has always liked a good game of hide and go seek. The war that darkness wages on you will only continue. The devil has no plans of letting up or backing down. He has come for you and he will trip you in the darkness. We are reminded of the Christmas Gospel, John 1, as we enter into Holy Week. The one who dies on the cross is the light of the world and the darkness can not comprehend it. (BTW, the last plague in Egypt before the death of the first born was darkness. And then the first born died. Right before the First Born of God the Father dies, there is darkness over all the earth and then the First Born dies.) The Holy Spirit has called us out of the dark tomb of our sin and into the marvelous light of Jesus. He dies that you can see. He dies that you would live. He dies and lives again to live with you. When the darkness gets deep and the weight of this life is heavy, trust in the name of the Lord for he is the light for your path. The darkness can never overcome it.
From the very beginning God has had a garden, speaking and teaching in gardening terms, he has used plants and trees and vines to illustrate and bring home the concepts of your faith. The smallest of seeds give way to the trees in which nests are built. The sower has no regard for the amount of seed he sows, but he throws it in abundance. No one gardens like your God.
The thing about a garden is that it must be kept. Not just watched, but a good garden must be worked. And so it is that your God comes to the fig tree looking for fruit. This is a marvelous thing. You have a God that comes to where you are, seeks you out, knows your sorrow and pain, hears your prayers, puts his fingers in the dirt of your life, and tends your needs of body and soul. He told Moses that he was this kind of God in burning bush. “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…and I have come down to deliver them…” Jesus says of him that he takes away every branch that does not bear fruit and throws it in the fire. He prunes the branches that they may bear more fruit. (Of all his scattered plenteousness One-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat, and bears a harvest hundredfold: “Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!”) The gardens of our God produce a hundredfold. But this God is pruning, fertilizing, and watering. This God is a cut it down and throw it into the fire —why must it use up the dirt—kind of gardener God. Your God, this gardener God is dangerous. He isn’t safe. Do not be fooled by the devil’s lies.
Left to our own devices, we become wily, unpredictable plants. We wander from our purpose and produce all kinds of sin and unrighteousness. Thus what seems like ordinary and innocuous duties of a gardener are actually painful and jarring activities for the plant. Pruning involves cutting and trimming. Fertilizing involves putting on manure. Plants must be cleaned of parasites—insects, worms, and larva. Unwanted leaves and sprouts must be cut out and removed. This is such a nice way of saying that the Law accuses, the Law kills, the Law lays waste. God will not abide with our sin. He is a merciful God, but he is also a righteous and just God. Our sin angers him and the ax is laid at your roots.
Promises of prosperity, good health, a lack of sorrow and pain are not promises of the Christian life. That’s the devil’s doctrine. Instead, expect to be pruned, to be disciplined, to have sorrow and a cross to carry. Yet we are angry with the Gardener. We grumble against him for his pruning and his trimming. We buy into the lie that God couldn’t possibly discipline anyone. In our sins, we are at war with God and it isn’t good for you. You are outnumbered and out gunned. It isn’t a safe place for you to be. The war is against you. Sin will not win, wily, unpredictable plants will be pruned or uprooted. Repent.
As he directs your life for you, follow meek and lowly. In every need, He knows well how he will shield you.
In his mercy, your God has allowed the fig tree a space in his vineyard and he has come to it year after year looking for its fruit. For a tree is known by its fruit. No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. The good trees bear fruit with patience. The main characteristic of your God is mercy. This is the God that will not play along with our worldly desires, but neither will he leave well-enough alone. He interferes and he intervenes in his creation. He becomes part of his creation. The merciful One intercedes with the merciful One on your behalf. “Let it alone another year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but, if not, you can cut it down.” Jesus gave his life, endured the punishment of your debt, was forsaken of the Father, for you. The God that prunes and fertilizes, the God that sends rain (and floods and hurricanes), the God that pushes over towers and spills blood, endured death for you…went to the cross for you. Remember that this is the cut it down and throw it into the fire—why should it use up the ground, God…thus Christ endures the cut it down and the throw it into the fire of hell for you and then is victorious over death and hell and Satan for you so he can be the God of life that has his fingers in the dirt of your life. He digs and prunes and waters and gives growth. Jesus is not done with you.
This is how your God gardens. He washes you in the Water of your baptism. He sends his Word into your ears. He puts his own body on your lips and pours on his own blood. He protects you against the winds of sin and death by his own constant forgiveness. His fruit comes forth in you. Christ makes good trees and good trees bear good fruit. He does all things well. His mercy endures forever. No one gardens like your God.
In the name of +Jesus. Amen.
A good and gracious shepherd, and it doesn’t matter what kind of sheep. The Shepherd has come to tend his flock… and so it does matter what kind of flock! Skinny, injured, weak sheep – even ones that have strayed – YES! But the fat ones, the strong ones, they will just not do. He’ll leave the 99 and search for the one, but all the hearty, righteous sheep… forget it, they will eat justice. I guess there could be wolves in sheep’s clothing or at least mean, nasty, down and dirty sheep – sheep that sin, sheep full of doubt and lies, those are the sheep that have wondering, lustful eyes – the ones that aren’t so sure about this whole thing at all.
Is this Jesus a good Shepherd? Am I one of his sheep? Have I done enough? Have I tried hard enough? Can he really shepherd me? Is his love enough for my sin? And not just me – what about this flock?? Are we weak sheep? Strong sheep? Fat and strong sheep he will destroy. He only comes for the lowly and weak. Every sheep, even every little lamb, comes with doubt. The devil only encourages it, cultivates it. You are the ones that think this whole thing could just be a bit over rated!
Sheep in the world. To say it is a bit easier than to live it, to do it, but you really have not understood. You have not been in the world and not of it. You have engaged in a tug of war with the world, with your surroundings, with doubt and fear, because the world is real and you live in it. Your enemies (the devil, the world, the sinful nature) pull you along. They pull at your desires and squeeze your emotions. They promise you what you want.
Who is it that keeps at arms length the thick darkness and the day of clouds? The evil temptation and the evil desires and pleasures of your heart? WHO?? Not you – no not one of you! You had thought maybe you were a strong sheep! There is no temptation that has seized you that is not common to man.
The Good Shepherd did not come to save the righteous – but to lay down his life for you. A person who is well has no need of a physician, but you, God perfects his glory in your weakness. Everything out there is real. Repeat: EVERYTHING OUT THERE IS REAL. Satan would use it all to water your doubt and despair – just waiting for the crop to come to harvest. You are stuck in the world with all its dark clouds, but Jesus seeks you out so that you are not “of the world” any longer. Sorry to break it to you, but there isn’t a strong or fat sheep, not even a chubby lamb, reading this post. Jesus is your shepherd (the shepherd of the weak and sinful) and on this day of clouds and the thick darkness of sin and trouble, Jesus has come in search of you.
So, to find you, he became a scronny and weak little lamb. He laid down his life to pay the ransom for you. The whole weight of the darkness and even every sin slaughtered him. Like the lambs, so many lambs sacrificed before, Jesus was sacrificed. But UNLIKE any other time before, this time God became part of his creation and not just a something of creation. God became a man – the Man: the Son of Mary. So Mary had a little Lamb and he had come to the world, entered in it, to die the cross of sacrifice and shame in order that he would be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world – your sin. IN order to be the Good Shepherd that crushes the wolf’s head and lays down his life for the flock – for the ONE, even for you.
He has sought you, brought you to the inn of his church, bound up your wounds, washed your sins away, strengthened your weaknesses and beckons you lie down in green pastures and beside still waters.
Even as the storms rage and spite out there, Jesus leads you, calls you by name, and calls you his own. You know him: A good and gracious Shepherd… and it doesn’t matter who you are! Jesus has come as your Good Shepherd. The Lamb who died and now lives again has done a good work this day. Your soul is restored and even now he blesses you, forgives your sins, and goes forth this day into the world with you. The Good Shepherd isn’t a hired hand, and even now you know him for he has rescued you.