Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

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.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-15, 34-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; Exodus 12:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.” This is the Word of the LORD, and truly it says it all – I will pass over you. I will spare you. I will redeem you from sin, guilt, death, and from Satan, the grave, and from hell. I will do it all because I love you, and you will remember that I did it and that I do.
Oh, I know. You think that you did something by killing the lamb, by preparing it, by eating it, and by smearing its blood upon the doorposts and lintels of your homes saying, “I will,” “I did,” “I do.” But, don’t be a fool. The blood of the lamb only caused the LORD to pass over your sin and guilt because He attached His Word of promise to it proclaiming that it would, the very same reason the fruit of the Tree of Life gave life, and the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil brought death. Fruit trees do not bestow life and death anymore than do lambs, unless the LORD says that they do. And so, the Passover is the LORD’s work, not yours. Likewise, salvation, redemption, and justification are the LORD’s work, not yours. They are His work of love for you and for the world that you might be restored to Him and live with Him again, now, and forever.
Indeed, the entire sacrificial system of the Jews was a gift of the LORD’s love that there might be a way in which He could spare them the wages of their sin, death, for a time, in order that He might still abide with them in His holy Presence and love and not consume them and destroy them in His holiness and righteousness. The blood of bulls and goats caused the LORD to look away from their sin and guilt because He said so – period – but, only for a time, hence those sacrifices had to be repeated again and again, year after year. Of this the Preacher to the Hebrews proclaims, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” This is most certainly true. The LORD knew this, but He had a plan in mind, a mission: He would send His only-begotten Son, His beloved, into your flesh to become a man, to suffer and die as the true, only, and final sacrificial Lamb that would actually take away the guilt of sin forever and restore you to a right relationship with your God, your Father, forever – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Couldn’t God just forgive and forget? Well, in short, no. It’s not a matter of will, but it is a matter of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness. You see, this is something that is, for the most part, lost on Christians today. Generally speaking, we do not understand, we do not remember, what it means for God to be holy and righteous. That God is holy means that He is utterly distinct, separate, other, and in a class by Himself. This really isn’t that hard to comprehend if you only consider what the LORD says about Himself: In the beginning there was God, and nothing else. All things that are are because of Him. This means that the LORD is before all things, distinct, the source, cause, and creator of all things. In the beginning, our First Parents were in complete harmony and unity with God in His holiness; they were holy and righteous. However, their sin, and our sin, have made us something other than God, separate from God, and thus unholy. God couldn’t just forgive and forget, for His holiness and righteousness and our unholiness are simply incompatible. Yet, the LORD demands that you be holy, as He is holy. Since God’s own holiness and righteousness will not permit Him to simply forgive and forget, if we are to be holy, then He is going to have to do something to make us holy once again. For this reason the Son of God became the man Jesus, that He might die for our sins and shed His blood to make us clean and holy once again and be restored to a right relationship, a relationship of holiness, with God.
Did God have to do this? Well, yes and no. No, by no right or force did God have to sacrifice His Son to make us holy. In truth, He would have been fully righteous to destroy us and to completely and wipe us from His memory. However, God is love. Love is an essential quality of our LORD. God’s love is the reason there is something instead of nothing. God is love. And, greater love is not possible but that a man should lay down his life for his friends – and so, love is sacrifice. Therefore, God so loved the world in this way: He sacrificed His Son Jesus out of love for you to restore you to holiness and to Himself. And God’s Son, out of love for you and for His Father submitted Himself to humiliation, suffering, and to sacrificial death to make you holy once again.
In a final display of His love for us, Jesus instituted this Lord’s Supper for His disciples, and for you and I, before He suffered and died for our sins. In St. Luke’s narrative of the Last Supper Jesus says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” The original Greek is more poignant: “With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you.” It is that word desire that communicates the depths of God’s love Jesus poured out that night and in His subsequent Passion and death. It was the LORD’s passionate desire and love to restore you to holiness that carried Jesus through the terrible events of Holy Week.
As in love for you the Son of God humbled Himself to become a man, so Jesus in love for you took on the role of a servant. He removed His outer garments, tied a towel around His waist, and bent down and began to wash His disciples’ feet. It was customary for those who were otherwise clean to have their feet washed by a servant before eating, but not by a rabbi. The exchange between Peter and Jesus is revealing. Rightly did Peter protest Jesus washing his feet out of respect and reverence for His teacher. Likewise, when Jesus explained to Peter that He must wash him in order for him to have a share with Him, Peter zealously desired that His entire body be washed. But, Jesus’ meaning is that the cleanliness He bestows is not a matter of dirt being removed from the body, but of the stain of sin and guilt being washed away in His holy, innocent shed blood. Thus Jesus answered Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.” Only he whom Christ washes and cleanses from sins can have part with Christ: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Then, after serving His disciples by washing their feet, symbolically foreshadowing His washing them in His blood on the cross, Jesus celebrated His final Passover supper with them. It was in the context of this Passover meal that Jesus interpreted the bread and wine to be His very own body and blood: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me’.” “In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: ‘Drink of it, all of; this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’.” Through these clear, precise, performative, and creative words Jesus transformed the Passover Supper into the Lord’s Supper in which He, the Lamb of God’s own offering for the sins of the world, would cleanse and absolve, nourish, strengthen, protect, and send His disciples, His Church, for the life of the world. God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only-begotten Son. Jesus so loved you in this way: He willingly laid down His life in sacrificial service for you that you may live in Him. “And when I see the blood,” says the LORD, “I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you.” I will pass over you. I will spare you. I will redeem you from sin, guilt, death, and from Satan, the grave, and from hell. I will do it all because I love you, and you will remember that I did it and that I do.
And, now He sends you bearing His love, to love one another, as He has loved you saying, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus has washed you and made you clean. In your holy baptism you have been given a share in Him, in communion with Him. Now you may, indeed you must, love others with His love which you have received, give to others with the gifts you have received from Him, and forgive others with the forgiveness you yourself have received as a result of His boundless love for His Father, and for you, and for all the world. No, your love is not a work that you do, but it is Jesus work done for you, to you, in you, and through you. You share with Him, in communion and partnership with Him, this work of love for your brothers and sisters in Christ, for your neighbors, for your enemies, and for all. Do this in remembrance of Him, to the glory of God the Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Christian Funeral for Kevin Melvin Leisinger

John 5:24-30; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 61:1-3, 10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What then shall we say to these things?” What shall we say when a middle-aged man in presumably good health simply drops dead in front of his locker at work? What shall we say when a good, kind, hard-working, caring, selfless, and loving man, a man of faith who put his faith into action in loving service of others, his God, and His Church suddenly dies? What are we to say? Truly, there are no words. Truly, there is nothing to say that will change the harsh reality. Truly, there are no words except for the words uttered by the most devastated, derelict, and desperate people in the Bible – people like a man who was born blind, people like the Cannanite woman and her demon-possessed daughter, people like lepers, tax collectors, outcasts, Gentiles, the unclean – people who have nothing to offer and no way to help themselves, people who came before the Lord having no other words, having nothing to say but Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy.”
It is said that Martin Luther’s dying words, scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket, were, “We are beggars, this is true.” Luther was correct. In relation to our God, our LORD, and our Creator, we are all beggars, we are all on the receiving end of His mercy, His grace, His compassion, love, and forgiveness. We are all beggars; we bring nothing to the table. Even our lives were first His gracious gift to us. Thus did Job famously confess, “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” Life is the LORD’s to give us, and life is the LORD’s to take from us in accord with His holy and righteous wisdom and will. This is because life – your life, and my life, Kevin’s life – all life is the LORD’s. Life is the LORD’s to give, to take, to redeem, to raise from death to never die again. Kevin’s life was a gift of the LORD, and the LORD has seen fit to call Kevin home.
And so, the LORD has taken Kevin away. Or, shall we say, the LORD has taken Kevin back home. Now, let us ponder that for a moment. All life is from God. All life is of God. And, our Lord Jesus has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father except through me,” and also, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And, St. John says of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” All life is from God. Kevin’s life was, and is, from God. Kevin belongs to God. He is God’s beloved son. And, this is not something new, something that just happened Saturday, but listen again to what Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Already in his earthly life, Kevin had passed over from death to life. For, this is what it means to be born again of water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Kevin died in those sanctified waters fifty-six years ago, and the life he lived those fifty-six years was a holy and righteous life, life in Christ, and life that cannot die. And so, there is something that we can say in the face of all these things; though Kevin’s body has died, his soul is alive and rests in Jesus, who promises that those who die in Him will live, indeed, can never die.
And, here’s something else we can say; the life of Christ was manifest in Kevin’s life, and he bore the Lord’s fruit in his faith and life and works. The love between those high-school sweethearts Kevin and Ruth was self-evident. They received and treated each other as sacred and holy gifts of God. Ruth may have initiated that romance in junior high when she “accidentally” dropped her pencil in Kevin’s direction. Kevin picked it up and handed it to her with a knowing smile. However, it seems that little exchange had been observed by the teacher; next day, Kevin was given a seat on the other side of the class! When they were courting, Kevin’s bicycle mysteriously always seemed to break down in front of the Orth household. Kevin liked to show his love by sending Ruth flowers when she was at work at the newspaper with this simple message, “Have a good day. Love, Kevin.” Likewise, together Kevin and Ruth shared the love they had received, not only with each other, but with others, always looking to the needs of others above and before their own needs. Kevin, in particular was continually using his mechanical and electrical knowledge, gifts, and talents in service of others, maintaining the low-rent housing in Shell Rock, fixing things around the church, seeking odd jobs he could do to help others. It seems that Kevin was extremely adept and speedy in replacing toilets. When someone at the hospital suggested that Kevin might be a good candidate as an eye donor, Ruth replied, “No! He’ll need his eyes to fix the toilets in heaven!” The Lord also gifted Kevin with a beautiful voice for singing, which he shared with the congregation by singing in the choir and by providing a strong lead in the hymns and liturgy. Indeed, Kevin’s selflessness and sacrificial service was evident early in his life as he had to take a leadership role in his family after his father died when Kevin was only twelve. He managed to take his sister Sara to the babysitter on a bicycle carrying a heavy school bag and a tuba! One of the neatest things I learned about Kevin recently is that he liked to do something he called telephone Russian roulette. He would scroll through his phone contacts and select a name randomly and call that person just to see how they were doing. I heard from a parishioner just the other day that he had recently been the recipient of one of Kevin’s telephone roulette calls and how unexpected and nice it was. And, most of all, Kevin loved being with his family and grandchildren. He was their “Daddy-O” and their “Pi-Pa.”
All this brings us back to our original question, “What then shall we say to these things?” Why would the LORD take such a good and faithful man from us? There simply is no answer to that question. And, the LORD is not obligated to provide one. And yet, there is much that we can say, for the LORD has revealed much to us in His Word, and in His Word made flesh, His Son, Jesus Christ, whom He did not spare, but gave Him up for us all. Jesus willingly laid down His life unto death on the cross out of love for His Father, and out of love for you, and for Kevin, whom His Father loves. Greater love is not possible than that a man should lay down his life for his friends. And, Jesus laid down His life for all of us when we were His enemies; while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, - and He is - who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” No, there is nothing needful and good that our Father will not provide for us or do for us. Moreover, no matter what we face and suffer in this world and life, it cannot touch the life we have received as a gift through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Therefore, we can be certain of this: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [is] able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What then shall we say to these things? Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. And, He does. The LORD has clothed Kevin with the garments of salvation and He has covered him with the robe of Christ’s righteousness, therefore we may greatly rejoice in the LORD and exult in our God. Kevin has heard the Word of the LORD and has believed and trusted in Jesus His Savior. He had passed over from death to life even in his earthly life. And, the life he now lives can never die. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus, has lead His dear sheep Kevin through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and into His Father’s house where His sheep may safely graze. Therefore, though we mourn, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Our LORD gives us the oil of gladness instead of mourning. And, our Good Shepherd accompanies us, now, through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in the sure and certain promise kept and fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection that, though we must all pass through it, death cannot hold us and has, in truth, become a doorway through which we enter our Father’s house. On that day on which our Lord returns in glory, He will raise our lowly bodies from death to be like His glorious body and, in our restored and glorified flesh and blood bodies we will see our Lord, and we will see Kevin again, face to face. We will see him with our own flesh and blood eyes, hear him with our own flesh and blood ears, touch him with our own flesh and blood hands, and hug him with our own flesh and blood arms – as it was in the beginning, so shall it be forever in His kingdom.
What then shall we say to these things? Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD. Thank you Jesus. Keep our brother Kevin in Your grace and peace, and bring us to live with him in your gracious presence and peace forever in accord with your wisdom and time.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palmarum (Palm Sunday)

Matthew 26:1 – 27:66; Philippians 2:5-11; Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Each year on Palm Sunday we remember and we celebrate the coming of the Son of God Jesus Christ to be our King. We remember how the crowds received Him that day waving palm branches and laying down their cloaks before Him crying, “Hosanna,” “God save us!” “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Indeed, the coming of our King is so momentous an event that we remember and sing those very words, not only on Palm Sunday, but each and every Lord’s Day in the Divine Service as we prepare to receive our King who continues to come to us again and again in the Lord’s Supper.
However, this day we also remember how quickly the fickle crowd turned on their King. When He proceeded, not to Herod’s or Pilate’s palace, but to the temple, where He angrily turned out the money changers and those who traded in sacrificial livestock, they quickly became disillusioned and wondered, “What kind of king is this anyway?” By Friday of that same week, their cries of “Hosanna” and “Blessed” were replaced with shouts, “Crucify Him! Crucify!” Either by acclamation or by silence they all together handed over their King to be crucified. Wittingly or unwittingly, they confessed, “This man is not our King. We have no king but Caesar. Let Him be crucified.” And, He was. King Jesus was crowned with thorns, sentenced as the “King of the Jews,” and was mounted to His wooden throne for all the world to see.
Either way, indeed in both ways, He was their King. And so is He our King. This truth we confess in the Small Catechism, in the explanation of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”: “The Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” The point is, as we confess each year in Advent with the same Gospel theme as today, our King is coming, ready or not, like it or not, whether you receive Him or not. Therefore, the question is only and always, “How will you meet Him?” Will you meet Him in faith to your temporal and eternal blessing, or will you meet Him in unbelief and rejection to your judgment and condemnation?” The King has come. He comes now. And He is coming again. He comes in blessing to those who receive Him. But, woe to the one who rejects Him, who betrays Him, and will not receive Him as King. In Jesus Christ, God’s Kingdom has come. O, that it would be received by all His creatures. O, that we would receive His Kingdom amongst us and live under His gracious rule in love and obedience.
At the beginning of St. Matthew’s Passion narrative, Jesus said to His disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” The phrase “will be delivered up” in Greek is one word, paradidotai, which literally means “is betrayed.” This word was translated into the Latin as traditur, from which we get our English word traitor and its derivatives to betray, to hand over, and, perhaps surprisingly, tradition. The point that Jesus makes is that, in His Passion, He was being “handed over” by His Father to be the atoning sacrificial Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is the sacrifice of God’s self-offering, the Lamb that Abraham confessed the LORD would provide for Himself. Jesus is Isaac’s ransom, Israel’s ransom, and the ransom of you and I and all who receive Him as their Savior, Redeemer, Lord, God, and King.
As the Prophet has written, “It was God’s will to crush Him.” Indeed, it was God’s will to hand over His Son to suffer and die for the sins and redemption of men, but still, Jesus says, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is [handed over].” Immediately the Evangelist tells us of the plot that the chief priests and elders of the people were putting together in the palace of Caiaphas the high priest. And then we are told of Judas who went to the chief priests and offered to hand over Jesus for a price, thirty pieces of silver. From that moment Judas sought the right opportunity to hand Jesus over and betray Him. On Thursday evening, when Jesus gathered with His disciples for a final Passover meal, Jesus took this opportunity to teach about His Kingdom and the kind of King He was and would be. Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him.” The LORD’s Messiah and King was prophesied of old from that First Gospel was proclaimed by the LORD in the Garden after the Fall of our First Parents. Since then the LORD renewed His covenant promise with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses, and David. The Prophets proclaimed it again and again in Word and Sign. The Son of Man Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all those prophecies, and He was about to pour out a New Covenant in His blood. Truly, this Passover celebration would institute a New Passover. Once again the Angel of Death would pass over those marked by the blood of God’s sacrificial Lamb, Jesus. But, woe to the one who rejects Him and His Kingship in unbelief.
“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born,” Jesus taught. Greatly distressed, the disciples each began to ask, “Is it I, Lord?” When Judas asked the same, Jesus answered him saying, “You have said so.” Now, Christian theologians and laity alike have debated for centuries the role of Judas and the nature of his betrayal. The questions they ask are typically these: Did Judas truly have a choice? After all, it was necessary that someone betray Jesus, right? Is Judas culpable for his betrayal? Didn’t God use him in this capacity? Wasn’t Judas actually being faithful in furthering Jesus’ mission and purpose? Etc. I say to you, all this is speculation. Truly, God’s will in this matter is a great mystery. We have only what He has revealed to us in His Word, which may not answer all our questions, but provides us what is necessary for faith, life, and salvation. In such cases, let us then consider simply what the Lord has said. When Judas asked, “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered only, “You have said so.” Should we conclude from this that Judas had no choice? That he was destined to betray Jesus? That he could not have done otherwise? By no means does the Word of God say any such thing! That is a reading that is forced upon the text by human reason and rationalism. What lies behind those words is the wisdom and will of God which is a light too bright for man, His creature, to gaze into. What we have is His Word, and it is sufficient for all our needs.
What is clear, however, is that there is a “handing over” that is holy and good – the Father’s “handing over” of His Son to suffer and die – and there is a “handing over” that is sinful and wicked – the rejection and betrayal of God’s self-offering in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This is my body.” Then He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and He gave it to them saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Herein Jesus instituted a new Passover, a New Covenant. He offered to mark all with His atoning blood that the Angel of Death might pass over and spare them from death. This covenant is for all who will receive it in faith, but woe to the one who rejects this covenant of grace.
That night in Gethsemane, Jesus prophesied to His disciples that they would indeed all betray and hand Him over. Though Peter insisted that he would never do such a thing, Jesus prophesied that he would deny Him three times before dawn the next day. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” We are all traitors. But, are you Judas or Peter? Do you believe that Jesus’ sacrifice is for you? Do you believe that it is finished, just as He said? Do you trust in the New Covenant in His blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, the New Passover blood which marks and seals you that the Angel of Death may pass over? Judas did not believe; he fell into despair and hopelessness and took his own life in desperation to be relieved of the agony of his guilt. Peter, though every bit as guilty, trusted in Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. After His resurrection, Jesus restored Peter, forgiving His sins, much like the Prodigal Father received his wayward son home again and restored him proclaiming, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
Thanks be to God that He has handed over His Son as the atoning sacrifice that covers our sin and restores us to sonship with the Father. Glory be to Jesus who willingly handed Himself over as the sacrificial Lamb of God that His blood might mark us prodigal sons and daughters who have strayed far and wandered from the love of our Father that the Angel of Death might pass over us that we may live now and forever in His mercy, grace, and love. Let us not betray Him and hand Him over with sins and unbelief we treat as lightly as a kiss. For such sins and unbelief did Jesus shed great drops of blood in intense prayer in Gethsemane. For such sins and unbelief was Jesus’ soul in anguish and did suffer the separation from His Father’s grace and mercy that we justly deserve. For such sins and unbelief does Jesus hand over His precious body and His holy blood that we might eat God’s Passover Sacrifice and live now and forever.
This is the nature of God’s Kingdom, and this is how God’s King reigns: in selfless, sacrificial love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. “Thy Kingdom come.” Though “the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, […] we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted” in bread and wine which are His body given and His blood of the New Covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. How do you receive Him? Believe and receive; He is for you. He is your King, and He is for you. God has handed Him over for the life of the world. Take. Eat. Believe. Receive. Trust. Keep. Live.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.