John 18:1 – 19:42; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your Lord Jesus Christ “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He is the Lamb of God’s self-offering who willingly suffered the horns of His strength to be caught up in the thorns of your sin and took your place upon the sacrificial altar that He would be consumed by the Father’s righteous wrath. He drank that cup, undiluted, to the bitter dregs so that it was finished, it is finished, there is nothing left, but the Father’s wrath is dried up, it’s fire is extinguished, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
For, this is the way in which God so loved the world: He gave His only Son. And, the Son of God went willingly, because He is the love of God incarnate. For, God is love. And, love suffered, died, and was buried because there is no greater love possible than that a man lay down his life for his friends. He has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.” All this He willingly suffered out of love for His Father and love for you.
You were the object of that love, and now your are the fruit of that love. For, you were born again, born anew from the side of Jesus on the cross. The water and the blood that flowed from Jesus’ pierced side are your new life. You are born out of His side through means of Holy Baptism like a new Eve and Bride brought forth from the side of the New Adam and Bridegroom Jesus. For, you have been baptized into Jesus’ death and buried with Him. And, if you have been united with Him in His death, you are also united with Him in His resurrection that you might walk in newness of life.
But, what does that newness of life look like? How then does the Bride of Christ appear and act and live? How do you as members of Christ’s body live Christ’s life in the world while remaining not of the world? The Prophet Isaiah described Jesus as the Suffering Servant saying, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” As I read and pondered these words of the Prophet Isaiah this week, I could not help but think that, while they properly and prophetically describe our Lord Jesus in His humiliation and suffering, they are also descriptive of Christ’s Bride, the Church, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh.
For, indeed, there have been many times throughout Her history that the Church has been despised and rejected by men, ridiculed, mocked, and hated, and has suffered persecution. And, when this has occurred as the result of Her faithfulness to Her Lord and His Word, then She has served as a light in the darkness of sin and death and as leaven and salt in this world to the glory of God. In fact, often when the Church has suffered persecution, She has been blessed with new life and growth as the early Church Father Tertullian wrote saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” For, just as it was the Father’s will to crush His Son so that He might be a grain of wheat planted in the earth that dies and bears a harvest a hundredfold, so too does the Church bear witness to the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God by serving, and not being served, even unto death for the life of the world.
However, suffering will come of its own accord, in response to faithfulness to the Lord and His Word. Therefore, the Church, nor any of Her members, need not seek it out, for it will readily come upon you. Moreover, you, O Christian, cannot choose the crosses that you will bear, but the Lord has chosen them for you, that your strength to persevere will be in Him alone who has suffered all for you. For, truth be told, too often, rather than the radiant Bride that Her Bridegroom Jesus has called Her, and made Her, to be, too often the Church wears the costume of, and exhibits Herself like unto, the Whore of Babylon, inviting and provoking the mocking, the jeers, and the hatred of the world, not because of Her humility and selflessness, but because She is pompous and proud, self-righteous, uncharitable, unmerciful, and unforgiving. Instead of bearing the griefs and sorrows of this fallen and sinful world, too often She has courted favor with Caesar and put Her trust in the laws of men, wielding them like a weapon upon the weakest and the poorest of men. Indeed, the Church is continually tempted to wield both the swords of spiritual authority and of political authority as She once did in Rome before the Reformation.
However, the Prophet’s words describe Jesus in His humility and lowliness as our Suffering Servant and as God’s sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And, if these words also describe Christ’s Church, and they do, then they describe Her in Her Lord Jesus Christ, with His life, His love, His mercy, His charity, and His forgiveness flowing from Him through the Church, making Her a beacon light of hope in this world of darkness, sin, and death.
For, God has so loved you, and He has loved you in this way: He sent His only Son to willingly suffer and die on the cross in selfless, sacrificial service to you, so that the love of Christ now controls you, because you have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. Through Jesus’ suffering and death, God has reconciled you to Himself. Therefore, He has given you the ministry of reconciliation, that is, the service of making others right with God through Jesus Christ. And yet, this service of reconciliation is not your work, but it is God’s work in Christ through you. For, you serve with His service. You love with His love. You bear with others in His patience. You forgive others with His forgiveness, regarding no one according the flesh, but all as sons and daughters of God, redeemed in the precious, holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ.
In this way you fulfill your calling for which you were made, for which you were born again from the side of the New Adam, Jesus Christ, in water and blood, filled with His Spirit. For, you are His helpmate, His Bride, His New Eve, the Church, the mother of all the living, to the glory of God. For, there is salvation in no one else but Christ, and there is no salvation outside of the Church which is His body. Therefore, as Christ suffered and died to reconcile you with God, so has He made you ambassadors for Christ that you may die to your self and serve others, exhorting them to be reconciled to the God who has loved them to the end in His Son. For, the message of reconciliation is this: Christ has died; and Christ has risen. God “has made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.