A Day Like No Other

Image result for Jesus' deathGood Friday is the day we remember that God who became man died by crucifixion. Jesus of Nazareth was not just some prophet or preacher in first century Palestine. He was born of a woman – Mary – but was conceived by the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. He is “God Incarnate” – True and Fully God while at the same time True and Fully Man.

I cannot prove this “empirically” or “scientifically.”  I can only point to what I believe to be overwhelming evidence: The Bible; the history of first, second and third century followers of Jesus who staked their very lives on the fact that Jesus Christ was both God and Man who died on the cross; and the billions of followers who live lives of faith in Jesus Christ today and have been for nearly 2000 years.

Good Friday was the day that Jesus – the God-Man – died by crucifixion. On the face of it, it would appear to be a mistake added to a political vendetta by religious leaders of the day added to the cowardice or ineffectiveness of the Roman governor.

But it was not. This day that changed the world forever was something else entirely.

As Jesus hung on the cross – at the end of six hours of agony – we are told this, from John’s Gospel:

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  – John 19:30

What, exactly, was “finished”? “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). All that was needed to forgive our sins was finished by Jesus on Good Friday.

St. Paul put it this way, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

On Good Friday, on this day that changed the world, your sins were forgiven.

All of them.

Do you believe it?

Many people have a hard time believing this. They want to believe that their sins are forgiven, but they just can’t get past the seemingly lack of any evidence that their sins actually are forgiven. The seemingly lack of evidence that Jesus Christ actually died for their sins and rose from the dead.

It fact, it seems to make more sense to not believe it.

Certainly there is more evidence that Good Friday and all that Jesus did on that day, didn’t happen, right?

May I remind you that there was more evidence that the world was flat – until Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus and many others did not sail off the end of the world.

 

There was also more evidence that the sun moved in the sky – from east to west – than there was that the earth actually orbited the sun – that is until Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo proved otherwise.

Yet, in the 2000 years since the first Good Friday, there has never been any credible evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ did not die for the sins of the world. If fact, the evidence still powerfully suggests that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God who died and rose again to reconcile the world to God.

The most powerful evidence, to me, is the fact that this day that changed the world still changes people – billions of people today.

The death of Jesus changes us. Remember, Jesus’ death was not an accident or an act of vengeance or cowardice. It was an act of love. God’s love for you and for me.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8

This instrument of execution was forever changed on the day that changed the world into a symbol of the greatest love there has ever been or will ever be.

This day that changed the world is the day to remember:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

But why? And what is the big deal with changing the world, anyway? I think you will all agree with me that something in this world needs to change.

The truth is that the world is changing every day. Most of the time, not for the better either. In fact, the only unchanging constant is that there is change!

This world was once perfect. But sin changed all that, as you well know. Death got a death-grip on us and will not let us go unless something changes.

But that change will not come from within ourselves. That change will not come from a world leader. That change will not come from a court-ruling.

No, the only thing that will change death’s grip on us is the death of death itself. When Jesus died on the cross, our very lives were changed. The death of Jesus has freed us from the bondage of sin, death, and the power of the devil.

The death of Jesus on the cross made the most powerful change this world has ever seen. His death bought your heart back from death. His death gives you new life.

Now, what are you going to do with that life? Look to the cross to see how far God went to give you a new heart, a new life!

Jesus Christ died for you. Jesus Christ gave up His life to give you your life.

Don’t waste His death! Live the life Jesus died to give you!

Love others as God loves! Serve others as Jesus serves!

Reach out to the person who is hurting. Lift up the person who is downtrodden. Guide the person who is lost.

Image result for Saving Private Ryan Earn This
“Earn this.”

At the end of the very powerful movie “Saving Private Ryan” Tom Hanks’ character, Captain Miller, tells Private Ryan – after so many men died in order to return him home safely to his family, “Earn this.”

Robert Rodat – the writer of the screenplay – meant, I think, “Ryan, don’t waste these men’s efforts and lives in order to save you. Live a life worthy of being saved. Make it your life’s goal and purpose to make a difference in the lives of everyone you meet.” But, of course, that’s too wordy! “Earn this!” sounds so much better!

Of course you can’t earn what happened on the cross. You can’t earn salvation. Like Captain Miller and all the other men who died to save Private Ryan, Jesus died before you could do anything to earn it.

St. Paul says it best, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

This is the day – Good Friday – to remember to live a life with the goal and purpose of making a difference in the lives of everyone you meet!

Jesus said, in the Gospel reading from last night (Maundy Thursday), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13: 34).

That’s what Good Friday is for. That’s what we remember of this day that changed the world.

May God’s love for you in Christ Jesus, who died for you on Good Friday, change you forever to love and live for Him. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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The Empty Cross

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

20170107_205621The symbol of the cross is strange, when I think about it.

In a holy place like a sanctuary of a church, why is the most prominent symbol in it a heinous mode of execution?

Can you imagine going into a church and up in front on or above the altar is a hangman’s noose, or a guillotine, or an electric chair?

But that is what you see in churches that display a cross!

Some churches have a corpus on the cross and these are called crucifixes, as I wrote about in “Crucifix.”

But most protestant churches – including Lutheran ones like the church I serve in – have empty crosses.

An empty cross is a powerful symbol.

The cross represents death. More specifically, the death of death.

Jesus Christ was not the first person to die by crucifixion on a cross. But his death on the cross was different from any that came before or after.

Jesus’ death on a cross brought about the death of death itself.

His death on the cross means life for the world!

And so the “word of the cross” in 1 Corinthians 1 is the Gospel! It is good news.

Jesus’ death on the cross was the sacrifice that brought salvation to the world.

I sometimes wonder, “Why a cross?”

I suppose it didn’t have to be a cross. But because it is, we have a symbol that is very simple. It takes just two pieces of material to construct. It is a symbol that can be made with your fingers, hands outstretched, or arms.

But at the same time, it is the most profound of symbols!

The cross tells us of the brutality of the death of Jesus. Which, when coupled with the proclamation of both Law and Gospel from Holy Scripture, tells us of the power of God’s justice and the depth of God’s love.

The empty cross tells us of the finality of death. Its emptiness tells us that Jesus did die but did not stay dead!

He was taken off the cross, put into a tomb, but three days later rose victoriously from the grave!

The cross also tells us of the transient nature of both the pain and the death of Jesus. It happened in a specific time period where crucifixion was prominent. His crucifixion happened for a specific period of time – six hours.

Yet while the symbol remains, its emptiness shouts to all that death is no longer here!

We can look to the cross and hear echoes of pain and death, but it also shouts to us that it is finished!

While the cross was once something to be feared two thousand years ago, today we can now sing with the hymn writer:

In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.
“In the Cross of Christ I Glory” by John Bowring, 1792-1872

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Crucifix

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Galatians 3:1

I grew up Lutheran. When I was five and moved to Illinois with my family, we joined St. Paul’s Lutheran Church & School in Round Lake.

When I started confirmation, we transferred to Good Shepherd Lutheran in Lake Villa, where I remained a member all through high school and college.

Both churches had crosses in the sanctuary. But like most Lutheran – and protestant – churches, these crosses were empty.

Interior photograph of Chapel of Christ Triumphant at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, Wis., on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.  LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford
Interior photograph of Chapel of Christ Triumphant at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, Wis., on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. LCMS Communications/Erik M. Lunsford

When I transferred as a sophomore to Concordia College (now University) Wisconsin I was kind of surprised by the cross in the sanctuary of the chapel on the campus.

The cross was not empty!

Concordia Wisconsin in Mequon is on the former campus of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. So it’s not surprising that the cross in the chapel has a corpus on it!

The corpus is a representation of the crucified body of Jesus Christ.

A cross with a corpus on it is called a crucifix.

In the church that I serve now as an associate pastor there are both an empty cross (which we’ll explore in a future devotion) and a crucifix that serves as one of our processional crosses (we have another one, which will be the topic of still another future devotion).

in-the-church-4-crucifixThe crucifix, particularly the corpus, can be uncomfortable to look at. The level of uncomfortable-ness can vary in degree.

The crucifix in the Chapel of Christ Triumphant at Concordia University Wisconsin is in a modern art style. It is clear that it is an artists’ rendition.

The crucifix at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and School is more realistic-looking.

There are others that show the crucifixion in all its gory glory.

The crucified Christ himself can cause discomfort.

People usually don’t have a problem with Jesus as he’s presented at Christmas – as a little baby in a manger.

They usually don’t have a problem with him as an adolescent teaching in the Temple.

And they usually don’t have a problem with the pictures of him walking and talking the highways and byways of Israel.

But strip him naked, beat him to a bloody-pulp, stretch him out on an old rugged cross and nail his hands and feet to the beams –that can cause heads and stomachs to turn.

But the discomfort the sight of the crucified Christ causes can be nothing to the agony and disgust of knowing that Jesus was crucified because of your sin and my sin!

The whole point of Jesus – his birth and his life – was to go to the cross. Jesus was born to take our place under God’s Law. He kept God’s Law perfectly his whole life.

But then Jesus took our sin – all the things we do when we don’t keep God’s Law perfectly – and paid the penalty for it on the cross!

Coming face to face with a picture of that death can be hard.

Coming face to face with the reality of that kind of love can also be uncomfortable! Because that is how much Jesus loves you and me. He willingly died on a cross to save you and me from all our sin, from death itself, and from the devil!

But when the Holy Spirit works on your heart through the Means of Grace (God’s Word and Sacraments) discomfort turns to joy!

Joy, because Jesus died for you but didn’t stay dead! He rose from the dead three days after dying!

Which is why there is also an empty cross in most sanctuaries.

Yes, Jesus died. But the cross is now empty of its corpus.

But it is NOT empty of its power!

For the cross – empty or otherwise – continues to point us to the one who died on it to save us from our sin!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Is Christmas Over?

Manger and CrossChristmas Day in 1999 was on a Saturday. I preached at the three Christmas Services on Christmas Eve, then at the two Christmas morning services. Then I preached at the two Sunday morning services on December 26. I was pretty tired by Sunday afternoon – and a little glad that at least that part of Christmas was over.

That Sunday morning was the first time I noticed something. As I was driving into town to get to the church, I went past about a half dozen houses that had their Christmas trees lying at the curb of the streets.

It struck me as more than a little sad that people were throwing out their Christmas trees so soon after the presents were opened and the dinner was digested.

As the years have gone by, however, I feel a little more empathy to this idea. There is a sense of “being done” with Christmas – especially after such an early Thanksgiving. Our tree had to come down this weekend. Not because we wanted to be over and done with Christmas, but out of necessity. We cut down our tree at Richardson’s tree farm in Spring Grove the day after Thanksgiving. That was back on November 23! This past week –even though we’ve been diligent in watering the tree – it was dropping needles like crazy.

After the gifts have been unwrapped, after the visits are over with, after the leftovers are slim pickings, there is a sense of completion with Christmas by this weekend.

But even though we are mostly done with Christmas, something feels left undone.

This is the First Sunday of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is more than a day. It is a season. It is a short season – only 12 Days (hence the song) – that comes to a close with the Celebration of Epiphany on January 6.

In reality, we are only half-way through Christmas. Yet, the trees are coming down. Extended family is going home. All the movies have been watched – It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas. Most of the radio stations that have been playing Christmas music have gone back to regular programming.

I was sitting up last night reading in the glow of the Christmas tree lights and I felt that even though – for all intents and purposes –Christmas was over, I felt something has been left undone.

The Christmas story is glorious while at the same time familiar. Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Angels, Shepherds, and Gloria in Excelsis!

But that isn’t all there is to Jesus’ story. If all we do is listen to the Christmas story, by the time we get to the Shepherds returning to their fields and making plans to tell others about what they have seen, we really have only the beginning of the story.

It isn’t over, people. Christmas is just the beginning. If all we hear is the Christmas story, then we are left with a sense of “is that all there is?”

The answer is, “no, there is more!”

After Christmas comes Epiphany – the time we remember the presentations of Jesus. A better, more liturgical word would be “manifestations.” These manifestations are how Jesus was revealed as the Messiah, as the true Son of God who came to take away the sins of the world.

This short season of Christmas quickly turns to Epiphany.

And this year, Epiphany quickly turns to Lent.

Epiphany will begin with the Wise Men seeking Jesus, then quickly move to the Baptism of the adult Jesus and then, just as quickly, finish with the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Yes, there is more, much more, to this story of Jesus than just His birth that we celebrate at Christmas. After the Christmas story, about a month and a half after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought Him to the Temple and there met an old man named Simeon.

He was an old man by the time Jesus was born. He had been waiting for Christmas His whole life. That’s something to think about when we get impatient with the coming of Christmas in early December – as I remember being when I was a little boy! I couldn’t wait for Christmas to get here when I was young, feeling that the last two or three weeks were an eternity.

But Simeon had been waiting for possibly 70 years for Christmas to come.

He knew that it must be soon as he was getting up in years. He had the Lord’s promise that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26).

After waiting so long, his story was nearing its end.

Finally, finally! It comes to completion for Simeon. The Spirit moved Simeon to be in the Temple the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus in 40 days after His birth – to fulfill Mosaic Law.

Simeon’s response is glorious! It is a song the Church has been singing for centuries – usually after receiving the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. The song is titled “The Nunc Dimittus” – and we will sing it as most of us remember it being sung at the end of this worship service.

But let’s take a look at what Simeon says to Mary after this glorious song.

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

Simeon celebrates his first Christmas! But already he understands that there is more to the story!

Simeon is talking about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Simeon is fulfilling his role as a prophet – foretelling that this child will grow up in order to fulfill God’s plan.

The wording is interesting. I think that the usual way of saying this phrase would be “rising and falling” – because you can’t fall until you rise. But Simeon – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – reverses this. He starts with falling and concludes with rising.

This tells us that Jesus will “make all things new.” He will tear down the established religions of men – all the false religions and traditions of people that only lead away from God. He will cause these to fall. He will bring it all down to the foundation and build anew.

As Jesus rises from the dead, He will raise us up as well. Yes, on the last day all will be raised – some to everlasting life and some to everlasting condemnation. But even now, Jesus is raising up a new people for Himself.

This is the Church, built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles – which is to say on God’s Word.

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection – His own “falling and rising” – we, too, will be made anew.

We make a lot of new things out of old. We call it recycling. This Christmas that quickly turns into Epiphany which will quickly turn into Lent, let’s recycle the wood we have used.

The manger that Mary used as a first crib for Jesus is no longer needed. Just like our Christmas trees that held the promise and hope of gifts and light and a glorious season are no longer need.

Let us recycle them, using the wood that once held the Promise into something – also wooden – that will hold the Promise again.

The manger – and our trees – can be recycled into a cross. For this Baby, whose birth we have celebrated, was born to be our substitute under the Law – fulfilling what was demanded of us but what we couldn’t do. He grew up to live the perfect life demanded. Then Jesus suffered and died on a cross – again, fulfilling the promise made “in the beginning” to Adam and Eve.

The cross – like the manger before it – held the Promised Messiah.

But the wood of the cross is also no longer needed. Jesus died “once, for all.”

So let’s recycle that wood yet again. We can use it build a vessel. An ark, if you will.

The Church is now being built – in each generation – on the foundation of the prophets and apostles. The manger once held the Promise. Then, too, the cross. Now the Church holds the promise of Jesus. But we also share the promise of Jesus with others.

Parts of Christmas may be over – the gift-giving, the trees, the leftovers, the visits. But the story is not yet complete.

And we still have a part to play in this story of Jesus – we are called to share the Good News of Jesus through our lives. Let’s do just that, in Jesus’ name. Amen.