Monday, April 30, 2012

Sermon - John 10:11-18 - Easter 4

John 10:11-18
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A blessed Good Shepherd Sunday to you, as it's often called. Today our lectionary sets before us this grand metaphor of shepherd and sheep - which begins in the Old Testament and culminates in Jesus.

Most of us are familiar with sheep and shepherds not first hand, but beginning in Sunday School. And while you may have been to a farm or a petting zoo here or there, sheep and shepherds aren't as much a part of our daily life as they were for people in Jesus' day. Still, it's a universal relationship that we can easily understand – caretaker and care receiver. Him, and us, respectively.

In fact Jesus contrasts himself with a mere hired hand. An employee who is only a temporary caretaker, but really doesn't care. Jesus cares. He cares for his sheep A LOT. He cares so much that he lays down his life for the sheep, as he says over and over in the passage. Who is the hired hand?

Here Jesus is speaking to both his own disciples and his opponents, including the pharisees. The “hired hand”, who doesn't sacrifice for the sheep rather sacrifices the sheep for his own sake – let the wolf have them while I run away – is the false teacher and false messiah of any age. Anyone who's not pointing you to the Good Shepherd, and speaking the words of the Good Shepherd, leads you only to danger and destruction.

And there is danger in this field. There's a wolf out there. Sometimes he comes in sheep's clothing, sometimes as a serpent, sometimes a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is our ancient enemy – that's what “devil” means, “adversary”. He wants to snatch the sheep and scatter the flock. He wants to destroy your faith, and isolate you from each other.

Do you feel the danger? Sheep often can't. Sheep need the guidance of the shepherd. They need the staff to direct us. We need that curbing law, but also to be shown our wandering ways. God's law judges us rightly as lost sheep. People so lost and hopeless in our sins that we have no future but death.

And sheep are needy – incapable of caring for themselves. Sinners, too, are incapable of solving our own spiritual dilemma. We will always, only wander away into danger and death – were it not for our Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd's way to rescue the sheep is not to simply lead the way. It's not that he simply calls us to follow, or worse, brutally herds us into a pen.
Our Good Shepherd is a good, kind, loving shepherd. He comes to rescue us. Here's how:

First, he knows us. Yes, a good shepherd knows each and every one of his sheep. He knows you. Jesus doesn't forget you or ignore you. He isn't your part-time savior, only there when you need him. Unless you realize you need him all the time! He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows the number of hairs on your head. He knows your weakness. He knows your temptation. He knows your suffering. “I know my sheep” he says. Believe it.

Second, he cares for us. It may not always seem so. It may seem he's making your life miserable, or at least allowing it to be. It may seem like words, words, words, and that he is as distant and absent as the Devil wants us to believe. But his promise stands, “I am with you always”. And if you ever doubt his love and caring you need only look to the cross. There he shows us his love in the biggest and best way.

For finally, and most importantly, the Good Shepherd rescues the sheep by laying down his life. This is so important Jesus says it three times in the passage – beginning, middle and end. He dies... for you. And what a strange and wonderful thing it is that a shepherd would die for a sheep. But greater love has no one than that he lay down his life for his friends. And greater still that he lays it down for us when we are his enemies. And as helpless and hopeless as the poor lost sheep are, dirty, injured, bleating out our woes in the ditch of our own making.... Jesus lays down his life for ours.

The Good Shepherd is also the perfect lamb. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb seen in the foreshadowing of passover, a perfect male lamb, whose blood marked the doors of Israelite homes and chased away the destroyer. So too, the blood of Christ routs the enemy of his sheep, that howling wolf who would have us. Death destroyed by his death. Victimhood averted by the perfect Victim.

The blood of the Lamb covers the sins that would deny us entry into the pastures of paradise. The blood of the Lamb sustains us, along with his body given for us. The blood of the Lamb forgives our sins, gives us life, and salvation.

And then there's the flock. Comprised of many sheep from many folds. But all with one great, good shepherd. All whom he knows, and who know him. All who hear his voice, and listen to him. The church. The people who are known by Christ. The people who belong to him, claimed as his own in Holy Baptism. The people who gather around his voice, his word, and listen to it. The people for whom he has laid down his life, and who believe and trust in him. You and I are of that one flock of sheep, for whom the shepherd died. You and I are known and cared for by the Good Shepherd. In his holy name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sermon - Luke 24:36-49 - Easter 3

Luke 24:36-49
Third Sunday of Easter

The joy of Easter echoes today in our Gospel reading with yet another appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples. Jesus continues to give convincing proofs of his resurrection. He stands before them in the flesh. He shows his wounded hands and feet and side. He lets them see, and even touch him. And he even eats with them – something no ghost or spirit would do. He's real, and he's alive. Not a figment of their imagination, but a fulfillment of his promise to die and rise again.

Why did the disciples need to see Jesus again and again? Why wasn't it enough to see the empty tomb? Or to hear the women's report of the angels, and of the risen Christ himself? Why were they startled when he stood among them, since they'd already been “talking about these things”, that is, his appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus? And even as he stood there, speaking to them, he says they are troubled, and there are doubts in their hearts!

Why do you doubt? Why do you not believe, with your whole heart, his words, his promises, his resurrection? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We want to be faithful followers, to do his will. We want to keep the commandments. But then again, we don't, really. This is the condition of all sanctified sinners, all lost and found sheep. We are the disciples. Even when we are raised from birth to hear the word and believe it, we doubt it. Even when we are taught right and wrong, from God's clear word, we muddy it up with our own custom morality. And even when Jesus makes clear and convincing promises – well, why don't we fully and completely trust him? Do you think your problems are bigger than God's ability to handle them? Do you think your sins are too great for the blood of Jesus to cover? Do you think God's too weak to carry you through even this dark, fearful hour?

Why? Jesus gently chides them, but not so much in a scolding manner as in consolation. Their faith is weak and their minds are confused. They had been through so much, and were still wrestling with fears. But they are still his disciples. And he is still their Christ. All that he did, he has done for them and for us. But he won't just walk away, or ascend into the clouds and be forgotten. He continues to speak, to comfort, and to strengthen his frail followers. Even you, even now.

He comes in peace. He says, “peace to you!” And it's more than a feeling. It's not just a sense of peace. It's a real peace – a cessation of hostility. The warfare has ended. God's not going to smite us any more. For Jesus was stricken, smitten, and afflicted. God is not our enemy any more, for Jesus is our champion - victorious over sin and death. The peace that he brings is himself – and all that he has done, including his resurrection, for us.

But it's much more than that. These are not only his words, but they are the words of Scripture. All of which has been written for our instruction, encouragement, reproof, correction, hope and comfort. The law in all its demands and accusations, but also the Gospel in all its sweet promise. All of it, all of God's word is about Christ, and it is for us. All of the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. And we could add the Gospels and Epistles and even Revelation. These are the words that point us to Christ. These are the things written, for us, about him.

So many today would make the Holy Bible into a rulebook for living, or a guideline for goodness. To others, it's perhaps a bunch of quaint stories that are probably myths and fables. Still others find only symbolism and metaphor. And for some it's simply outdated and useless. But these are not open, but closed minds. Closed to the truth. Jesus opens his disciples minds to see, to understand, to find in all of scripture the testimony about the Christ.

We believe, and we confess, that these written words are the very word of God, and they are life! John tells us, at the end of his Gospel, that these things are written that you may believe and, believing, have life in Jesus' name.

Then he opened their minds to see it. He showed them what they couldn't see on their own, in their confusion and doubt and fear. Jesus summarizes it all for us here. This is the point of all of God's word: “that the Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations...”

In other words, that Jesus died and rose for you – and that his Law and Gospel should be preached to everyone, including you.

So, sinner, repent! Turn from your sins, again, today. Confess your sins. Plan to do better. Whatever that sin is, turn away, and look to Jesus who has conquered it. Forgiveness of sins is yours, in him. Find it in his nail scarred, outstretched, but very much alive hands. Receive it in his body and blood, given and shed for you. Hear it in the words of the liturgy, the readings, the hymns, the sermon. Your sins are forgiven, in Christ, who lives!

And where there is forgiveness, there is life. They go together. Just as Jesus who rose from the dead comes to bring forgiveness, so does his forgiveness bring life to you. Death and sin go together, and they are no more. They are done. It is finished. You are made alive in baptism, renewed and reborn. You are made alive in the waters of baptism, a daily washing and regeneration. You are kept alive in the life of Christ, by his lifeblood and his living body.

The disciples were witnesses. They saw and heard. And so they were sent. We haven't seen, but we've believed. We haven't seen, but we have heard. And we too are sent, the holy apostolic church. We are sent to serve our neighbor. We are called to show mercy to the least of these. And we are called to give answer to the hope within us. And that hope is the risen Christ.

Whatever door you've locked up for fear of whomever or whatever. Whatever question you struggle with, or doubt that plagues your mind. If the cold breath of death is on your neck, or the weight of a sin is bearing down on you. Jesus says, “Peace”. For Jesus is alive. And Jesus brings forgiveness and life. Believe in him, and be blessed. Amen.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Sermon - Easter Sunrise Service

Easter Sunday (Sunrise Service)
April 8th, 2012
John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia, Amen.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

I will never forget one Grace member, 93 year old Esther. Like many of our members who can’t make it to church, Pastor and I would visit Esther monthly in her home. And as is so often the case, I would get as much out of our visits as she did. She was a long time Sunday School Teacher, a life-long Lutheran, and even at this age, an avid student of the Bible.

It must have been sometime in the Easter season that we had one particular visit in which we started talking about Jesus’ resurrection. And as we did, she brought up this very passage from John 20 where the risen Jesus meets Mary Magdelene, who is weeping in the garden. Mysteriously, she didn’t even recognize him, and we aren’t told why. But then he says her name. I remember Esther saying, “I just think it’s so profound, so tender, how he calls her by name. Mary.” And as she said it, a tear came to her eyes.

It’s always stuck with me, that Esther would be so touched by this small detail of the Easter account. Jesus says Mary’s name. But it’s not just Mary that he knows by name. It’s you, and me too.

Jesus had died a horrible death that his followers were powerless to stop. Their grief was fresh and deep and bitter. They loved him. The believed in him. For these women who had cared for him during the years of his public ministry, it must have been especially heart-wrenching to have front row seats to his execution. To see his hasty burial on that Friday evening before the feast. And now, Sunday, still in great sorrow, they return to his tomb to pay final respects, and finish a proper burial. And now to rub salt into all the wounds, to find his body had been stolen! Or so it appeared…

Grief can overwhelm. It happens to us, too. We are just like Mary. We forget what God says. We forget who he is. Life's troubles pile up on us and like weeds seek to choke out God's word planted in our hearts. What about Jesus' many promises that he would rise? Why didn't they find comfort in those words?

Or, our own sins weigh us down with regret – what could I have done differently, or better? If only I had said this... If only I was stronger. And so we live in the past sins, rather than the present forgiveness and future hope that he brings. Surely Mary felt some of this, too.

But Jesus doesn't live in the past – in fact your sins are of no concern to him. They were left behind at the cross. And Jesus isn't overwhelmed by the world, he's already taken it on – even death – and now stands victorious. And Jesus doesn't forget his promises to you, but repeats them softly and faithfully. And Jesus knows who you are, even when you forget him.

“Mary.” he said. He called her by name. It's the little moments that are so poignant in the Easter account. The details that come only with a tru account like this. John beating Peter as they run to the tomb. The burial cloths being neatly folded. Mary thinking Jesus was the gardener. Like the moments in the stories we tell about our loved ones – the little memories that stick with us. “Mary.” he says.

He calls you by name, too. First, in your baptism. There you became a partaker of his resurrection. When your old sinful nature drowned and died, and the new creation was born of water and the spirit. We were buried with him, in baptism, and raised from the dead in his resurrection.

Jesus lives. He lives and stands and speaks – Mary – he says. And simply by mentioning her name, he says so much. He says, for one, that he's here, and everything is ok. I'm alive, just like I said I would be. He says, I know you. I love you. You're not dead to me, either. He says put away your sorrow, and rejoice with me in the victory that stands before you. Victory over sin. Victory over death. Eternal life that death cannot contain. And where I have gone, you too will follow.

Surely, Mary would remember that day forever. When her weeping turned to joy on a dime. And it all happened by one little word, her name. When the Lord of Life spoke it to her, from his own living lips. Now, Mary would still, one day, die. But even then she would rest secure in the care of the one who knew her name. The one who lives, and reigns to all eternity, with his Father and our Father, his God and our God.

Not long after our visit, Esther went into a nursing home. Her health was declining, but her faith never wavered. I'd see her a few more times, and after that, she too, died. I was called to the nursing home and I stood next to her husband as we watched the funeral directors respectfully take her body away. But even in death, I knew she was with Christ, her Lord. And I couldn't help but think that Jesus welcomed her with one tender, loving word – Esther.

May the risen Christ, who knows your name, keep you in his care, strengthen your faith, and bring you also at last to himself. For even death is not the end of us. And when we, too, rise from death in our bodies, we will rejoice all the more in the victory of this day. A blessed Easter to you, in Christ our Lord, Amen.

Sermon - Good Friday Tre Ore

Good Friday Tre Ore Service
Racine Lutheran High School
April 6, 2012
John 19:25-27
“How Could Jesus Find Time to Think About His Mother?”

The wages of sin is death. And death is a bitter paycheck. All the more bitter for those you know and love, especially your family. While we don't cheer at the death of an acquaintance or associate, we are struck deeply at the death of a loved one. Not only when it happens, but as we see it coming. At the diagnosis. Through the course of the disease. Even at the deathbed.

That's where Mary and John stand, now. At the deathbed, or the death-cross of their loved one. And a bitter death it is. No one could say, “well at least he died peacefully” or “thank God he didn't have to suffer much.” On that dark day it was hard to find any silver lining in this cloud of death. Creation, too, witnessed in agony at the impending death of its creator. Even the sun itself mourned and dressed in black. But his mother, Mary, would perhaps feel it most deeply. A sword would pierce her soul.

Sin and death are bitter, and ugly. The lenten hymn says it well, “ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the error great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate”. That's your sin that made him suffer so. It's your guilt and shame he bears. And mine. And John's too. And Mary's. The whole world's. And it is ugly and bitter and wretched.

Well, how could Jesus find that time to think about his mother? Here at the cross, everything seems to matter more. Like most people, his last words are some of his most important. But a cross wasn't a place for long conversations. Each word was a struggle. Every breath a painful labor. So Jesus chooses his words carefully. There is intent and meaning in them all.

And this is more than just a bitter farewell of a loving son to his mother. It's more than just showing that Jesus cares about his family. To be sure, Mary, a widow, would be more vulnerable now without Jesus to care for her. So on one level, Jesus si simply providing for her needs. John, you take care of her now.

While it seems Jesus did have other brothers and sisters to care for Mary, it also appears none of them believed in him like his mother did. But Mary had faith in her son. In John's Gospel, she appears only twice. Here, at the foot of the cross, and earlier at a happier occasion, a wedding, in Cana. At Jesus' first miracle, it was Mary who placed faith in her son saying, “do whatever he tells you”. And they did. And Jesus saved the day, turning water in to wine and the wedding feast could go on.

Here at the cross, there is much more going on than meets the eye. Here Jesus is doing more than just suffering and dying. He is sacrificing himself, the lamb of God, for the sins of the wortld. He is laying down his life, of his own accord. He is the true Son of God, forsaken by his Father. He is making all things new. And... he is establishing his church.

There's a hint of it in the relationship of loving care that he establishes between beloved mother Mary and beloved disciple, John. Love one another as I have loved you, he might have said to them. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. And we love, of course, because he first loved us. And he loves us most perfectly in his death on this day.

But there's more. He is the true bridegroom, and we are his bride, the church. Remember how marriage is established according to Scripture? “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother.... and is united to his wife.” Yes, Jesus is leaving his mother even as he is united to his bride, the church.

Very soon Jesus would be dead. A sword would pierce Mary's heart. And a spear would pierce his side. Blood and water will flow forth. The Gospel of John is full of these sacramental notes, pointing us again to Baptism and Communion. From Jesus' side flow blood and water – from Jesus' sacrifice flow Holy Baptism and his Holy Supper. And these mysteries and promise, these holy things, these sacraments – establish his church. Just like Eve was taken from the side of Adam, so the bride of Christ is born from his side, at the cross. And just as Adam said of his bride, “this is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”, so too are we, the church, the body of Christ – and he is our blessed head.

Mary knew from Jesus' infancy, even before, that this Son of hers was also the Son of the Most High. She knew from Simeon, that a sword would pierce her own soul – and now, a mother's worst nightmare, watching her son suffer and die.

But she also once sang at his conception,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Yes, Mary is blessed. John is blessed. The whole Christian Church, the bride of Christ, is blessed. You are blessed. For God our Savior has done great things for you. And the greatest was on this day when he died your death, paid your price, and made you his forever.

May his suffering and dying love be not bitter to you, but a blessing. And may you show that same love your your mother, father, sister, brother, friend and neighbor, even your enemy... and especially to your family in Christ. For in Christ we are untied with each other and with our Bridegroom forever. Amen.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday
April 6, 2012
“The Perfect Day”
Hebrews 9:11-12, 15, 27-28; John 19:30

If you got to design your own perfect day, what would it look like? Maybe it would start by finding out you won the Mega Millions lottery. Then you’d spend the day at Disney World having fun with your family, and finish it all off with your favorite meal and favorite dessert. There would be no pain, sadness or stress. It would be the best of all your fondest memories all rolled up into one, right? The perfect day. A fantasy, but something most of us have day dreamed about once or twice.

Some may think it strange that we Christians call this day, “Good Friday”. For it would appear to be anything but good. In fact, the account we hear from the Gospels paints a picture of the very worst day one could imagine. Betrayal, insult, dishonor. Bitter blows that come one after the other, as Jesus is run through the mill of shame trials, public humiliations, physical and emotional torture, and an unjust sentence of death. The sour wine that he tasted at the last moment was part and parcel of this whole bitter day.

But we do not see as the world sees. We Christians see it all through the eyes of faith – faith in his words – which paint a far different picture. And through such a lens, we can say that today is not only a good day, but a perfect day. Let us meditate on our Lord’s death, this Good Friday, this Perfect Friday.

It was a good day when God created Adam. All of creation was good, but with Adam God declared it, “very good”. But then with Eve, Adam sinned. And what was once very good became very broken. The image of God in which Adam was created – no longer a perfect image, but marred by sin. The creation which God had placed under Adam’s care, no longer a paradise but a patch of thorns and a place of pain. Not nearly as good as it was. Sin made things and people go terribly wrong, and decay and even die.

Since then, death has reigned. Pain in childbirth and pain in daily work, thorns and thistles are just the start of it. Each of us faces the same fate. Let today be a reminder. You will die.

But for Adam and Eve there was a seed of hope, and so also for us. The seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The offspring of the woman would come and make it right. Where Adam went wrong, the Second Adam Jesus Christ, would once and for all secure eternal redemption. Perfection would be restored.

Our reading from Hebrews provides a commentary on just what Jesus meant when he said, from the cross, “it is finished”. It shows Jesus as the High Priest of the New Covenant, in contrast to the old. There, the priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to pay for the sins of the people, by the blood of an animal sacrifice. But on the cross, Jesus our High Priest, deals with all sin, by his own blood, once and for all, and he does so perfectly.

When we hear the word, “perfect”, we often think of it as meaning, “without sin”. We say things like, “O well, nobody’s perfect” (except for Jesus, of course). But here, the perfection of Good Friday is something else. It is a perfection of completion. It means God’s master plan of salvation is done, finished in Christ. It is finished. It is.. perfect.

It’s perfect because of who it is that pays the price – the perfect, spotless lamb without blemish. He who had no sin. The only offering that could suffice. A more noble sacrifice than all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain. But this isn’t just a perfect man, this is also the Son of God. And there is nothing more precious than He. No offering more perfect.

Every jot and tittle of prophecy is fulfilled by him. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Dogs surround me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I thirst. They divide my garments among them. A man of sorrows, stricken, smitten and afflicted. Everything is perfect.

Every last bit of sin is covered. No evil thought, no hurtful word, no dark misdeed now stands. It’s all washed away in the holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death.

From the thief to the murderer, the liar and scoundrel. Every criminal and rebel. The mother who aborts her own child, the husband who defiles his marriage. The old woman and her years of gossip, the old man his head full of sinful pride. The thoughtless sins, the purposeful sins, the downright mean words and actions. The selfishness, greed, the lust and perversion. Don’t forget the sins we rationalize away as something good. The log in our eye as well as the speck in theirs. Even the things that we should be doing and should have done that didn’t get done because we forgot or were too lazy or had some other excuse.

All of this. Completely, fully, totally… wiped away. On this good day. On this perfect day. At the cross.

The divine liturgy of the execution of God’s judgment is complete. And it is perfectly done, by the perfect priest, who makes a completely perfect sacrifice. It is finished.

So, forgiven sinner, your perfect day isn’t winning the lottery and going to Disney World. Your perfect day, is Good Friday. The day that Jesus did all things perfectly for you. The day that Jesus declared, “it is finished” for you. Your salvation is complete, even perfect, in Him. And an eternal inheritance is yours. Amen.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Palm Sunday – Sunday of the Passion
April 1st, 2012 
Mark 15:1-47
Passion Moments”

Palm Sunday and The Sunday of the Passion, a busy day for us. Let's consider our Lord's suffering according to Mark's Gospel, and take a verse by verse approach this morning. Follow along as we consider his “passion moments”:

1 And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate.
They waste no time – first thing in the morning. Let's get this over with. Jesus is bound like a thug, though he willingly gives himself over to their wicked design. This day will bring many more bitter moments that Jesus could have avoided, but he suffers for you and me.

2  And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.”
The puppet king of Caeser tries the King of the Jews and the King of Kings. The irony is thick. Everything that Pilate is not, Jesus is. But even for this weak man, Jesus would soon die.

3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5 But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Like a lamb before the slaughter, he is silent. Nothing he could have said would have mattered. Their course was set. But so was his. This was his plan. He used their wicked words, their false charges, like God so often uses evil for good. Pilate is amazed. But more amazing things are to come.

6  Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. 7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. 8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. 9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” 15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
The Great Exchange. The criminal is freed. The innocent is punished, and slain. It doesn't take a theological rocket scientist to see in Barabbas every sinner and lawbreaker, including yourself. But Jesus takes our place. In the great injustice of it all, God's perfect justice is done. A murderer they save the prince of life they slay.
The leaders and the people alike are against him. There is no ally on this day for Jesus. The crowds that once shouted Hosanna are now an angry mob calling for his blood. The leaders of the Jews and Romans alike find enough common ground to destroy him. Jesus is truly alone, as alone as anyone will ever be. Even the Father is turning his back on him.
16  And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.
The irony is bitter. He really is a king. He really deserves a crown and scepter and throne. But the mockery just shows the ugliness of sin. And we are no better. Even our “harmless”, and “little” sins make a mockery of God, of Christ. As if his commands are a joke. As if his righteousness isn't serious.
But Jesus is suffering and dying even for these tormentors. Those who spit in his face. What sins could you commit that are too great to be forgiven? What dark evil in your closet of skeletons is not paid for here in these dark hours?
20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
It had to be crucifixion. The most bitter. The most painful. The most public and shameful. But what more fitting altar of sacrifice for the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world? There suspended between heaven and earth he would bridge the gap of sin between God and man. There held up for all to see, he would draw all men to himself. There, at the crossroads of all history the God-Man is the center of everything. We preach Christ crucified for sinners, and this is the point of it all.
21  And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.
An “innocent bystander”, but who's really innocent? Simon carries a cross for Jesus, who bears the cross for him and for all. Simon is compelled by the Romans, but Christ is compelled by holy love for you. Simon, like all Christians, carries a cross, but only Christ bears the punishment of it to pay for sin.
22  And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).
A fitting place for death to meet its death by the death of the Lord of Life.
23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.
This last small kindness offered to the condemned was a mild anesthetic. But Jesus would endure the full measure of suffering, nothing to take the edge off. No cutting corners when it comes to your salvation.
24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.
Fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament down to the last detail. Jesus is stripped not only of life, but also of clothing. He has nothing left but the sins of the world. No honor or dignity. Truly a man of sorrows.
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
Further mockery.
27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left.
He is “numbered with the transgressors”, and crucified with common criminals. They deserve it. He does not. But he who had no sin has become sin. He's now the biggest criminal of all. And all your crimes against God and man are on him. Here they will die. At the cross.
29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
The satanic voice of mockery reaches a crescendo. But he will raise the temple in a few days. And he will save others, and after dying, he will rise. He could come down from the cross in an instant. But even if he did, they wouldn't believe. Even if someone should come back from the dead, they wouldn't believe. Unbelieving sinners always reject and mock and shake their fist at God. Only through the gift of faith can we see the truth behind this ugly picture of suffering and shame.
33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.”
No, he's not calling Elijah, he's declaring the ultimate suffering. Not physical pain or emotional despair. This is far worse. In an unfathomable mystery of unimaginable bitterness, God the Father himself forsakes his own Son. You are dead to me. You are cut off. This is hell. This is what we deserve. This Jesus endures, so we never have to.
36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.
The King James puts it poetically, “he gave up the ghost”. He willingly died. Only he could give up his life. Now that all was accomplished, his suffering complete, he paid the wages of sin. And that loud cry we know from the other Gospels was the single word, “tetelestai”, or in English, “it is finished.” Well done, good and faithful servant of all.
38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
The Old Covenant is now fulfilled in Christ. Access to God is no longer found in the Holy of Holies, but in Christ's holy, precious blood. We meet God at font and altar, in water and bread and wine. And even the Roman Centurion confesses, the first of many other Gentiles who would, this man was and is the Son of God.
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The women, who on Sunday Morning would be the first witnesses to resurrection. They serve him, even in death, who served them, especially by his death.
42  And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
Even in burial, he fulfills the prophecy, buried in the borrowed tomb of a rich man. Jesus had no need of his own tomb, since the death he died was in our place anyway. So he is buried in our place. So he will rise to give us a place in his resurrection.

This Holy Week, ponder the passion moments. Reflect on your sin, and Christ's bitter suffering for you. Repent. And know how deep his love runs, deeper than death. And look forward to the glory of resurrection – his and yours. It's coming soon. In Jesus' name, Amen.