Lenten Sermons

By Rev. Donald Stauty

 

Ash Wednesday  March 6, 2019

“When you fast,” Jesus says, “do not be like the hypocrites.” When, not if, you fast. This is from the Sermon on the Mount, by the way, everyone’s favorite good teachings from Jesus that they’ve never read. Because once you read it, you realize that Jesus isn’t a good teacher. He’s an unyielding taskmaster. Sure, the Beatitudes are nice. Maybe. Until He starts talking about the Law. And warns His disciples not to relax the Law by even one tiny dot. So, to avoid relaxing the Law, Jesus launches into a six-fold intensification of the Law—“You have heard that it was said . . . but I say to you”—that leaves you and everyone else slack-jawed and stupefied that anyone could be such a legalist, such a hard-nosed dictator with the Commandments. And that culminates in this standard of just how well you need to obey the Commandments: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That’s what precedes “when you give to the needy . . . when you pray . . . when you fast.” Do not be like the hypocrites.
 
Prayer you can get behind, maybe giving to the poor too. But fasting is just weird. It seems too physical to be spiritual. It’s too concerned with what you eat—or don’t eat—to be a Christian activity. Weight Watchers clients, yes. Christians, no. Not Lutheran Christians, anyway. Not people liberated from the Law, basking in the glorious freedom of the Gospel, having severed their ties from the works-righteous, earn-your-ticket-to-paradise Roman Catholics with their fish fries and their days of fasting.
And yet, “when you fast,” Jesus said. Later in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask why they fasted and the Pharisees fasted but Jesus’ disciples did not fast, Jesus answered, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (9:15). Then they will fast. After Jesus the Bridegroom is taken away. Like now. “When you fast,” Jesus said.
 
Fasting, peculiarly enough, involves hunger. Stumbling out of the KC hall after two and a half hours of cramming fried cod and French fries into your gullet, buzzed on Coors Lite, is the opposite of fasting. Fasting means abstaining, not just from diet sodas or chocolate bars for forty days, but from food. Properly done, fasting leaves your belly aching for another helping. This is why fasting seems too physical. What does a rumbling belly have to do with your piety, with your Christian devotion?
 
“Behold the man!”; Jesus, the God-man. As Pontius Pilate trotted out before the jeering crowds a freshly flogged Jesus wearing a diadem designed to inflict suffering and a faux-royal robe intended to invite ridicule, he preached an unintentional, yet profound, sermon: “Behold the man!” (John 19:5). Taking his advice, that is what we will do throughout this season of Lent that commences tonight. “Behold the man!”
In Jesus, God is man. The Word has become flesh. Like you. God is your Brother. The One begotten of the Father from all eternity is now the One born of the Virgin Mary. And your Lord. Behold the man! Just like you, He has skin and bones, blood vessels and lymph nodes, teeth and hair, heart and lungs, blood and saliva, hands, feet, eyes, lips, tongue, stomach, spleen, and epiglottis. Behold the man! He eats. He breathes. He walks. He sleeps. He prays. He weeps. He laughs. He bleeds. He dies. He rises. He ascends. He sits. And He will come. He is completely human and completely divine, two perfect natures in one indivisible person. He has fingerprints and DNA. Behold the man, Jesus, your Brother.
 
Unlike you, though, He has no sin. His human nature is perfect, unspoiled by Adam’s rebellion. Because of sin, you are subhuman. But not Jesus. Oh, He was tempted in every way, just as you are, yet He is without sin. His desires were never distorted into lust, greed, coveting, or idolatry. Behold the man! Like unblemished Adam at the close of the sixth day of creation, when God declared His handiwork “very good,” Jesus is as human as human can be, as human as He intends to make you in the resurrection.
So why fasting? Behold the man! Jesus fasted. The Gospel for this coming Sunday places Jesus in the wilderness, following His Baptism, fasting for forty days, being tempted by the devil. This is not the faux fasting of feasting on fried fish or giving up some pet vice for the season. For forty days, Jesus ate nothing. Matthew and Luke understatedly report that He was hungry. You don’t say!
 
That shouldn’t be noteworthy to say that God hasn’t eaten for forty days. Eating is not something natural to God. But, behold the man! Behold the God who took human flesh in the virgin womb of a Jewish girl. Behold the unborn baby, being nourished for nine months in His temporary, earthly throne room. Behold the crying infant, rooting for the breast to fill his newborn stomach. Behold the toddler to whom His parents introduced new foods, all of which He had created. Behold the boy, eating the Passover lamb with His extended family. Behold the man, God in human flesh, who needs to eat in order to live. And now, behold the man, who has not eaten for 40 days, 960 hours, or 57,600 minutes. And you were thinking the time since your last snack was growing a little long.
 
Behold the man, the incarnate God, with lips, teeth, tongue, and taste buds that have not savored a morsel for forty days. With an esophagus, stomach, and intestines that have been empty and aching for forty days. Behold the man who fasts for you. The First Adam sinned by eating. The Second Adam will fast before enduring an onslaught of temptation, withstanding every one. Behold the man who fasts and who assumes His disciples will also fast.
 
Like fasting, Lent is weird. Who has time or patience for a season of repentance, for subdued joy, for bottling up our “Alleluias” until we can uncork them and get punch drunk with Easter jubilation? Who wants to explain to the Wednesday-evening bridge club that they won’t be around for the next six weeks? Who wants to give away more money to the poor from their already penny-pinched budget? Who wants to devote more time for prayer from their way-too-busy schedule? Yes, Lent is weird.
 
Lent, like fasting, is also oddly physical. In fact, the Germans call this penitential season before Easter Fastenzeit, literally “fasting time.” The disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—are designed to guard you against that age-old temptation of being too spiritual. The temptation is as old as creation. When the serpent seduced Adam and his wife to give in to the spiritual desire to be like God, knowing good and evil, over the physical prohibition against eating from that one tree, they set the pattern for the rest of us, who want to prefer the spiritual over the material. So once God settled the Israelites in the Promised Land, they quickly abandoned the very physical worship of Yahweh alone by means of the sacrifices offered only in the temple in Jerusalem for the more spiritual, less-precise worship of the Baals and the Asherah. And Nicodemus cracked a joke that true religion could never be so physical as to involve rebirth. And the Sadducees concocted their ridiculous story about the woman who married one of seven brothers to prove the physical resurrection is impossible. And your children insist that they’re spiritual but not religious. And you give your “amen” when your friends tell you, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” All of that is an attempt to substitute safer, spiritual platitudes for real physical, fleshly realities. And it’s all sin.
 
Give up your pious, hyper-spiritual pretensions. God isn’t like that. The incarnation has been in His mind from before the first words of creation. Behold the man! In Jesus, in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily, you who have both a body and the complete inability to use it properly, as your Creator intended, have hope. God is like this: a man, your Brother. Behold the man!
 
Jesus fasted. For you. He is a God who can eat—who needs to eat—so that He can abstain from eating, enduring the pains of hunger to deny His flesh what it desires. For you. For your tendency to prefer the spiritual over the physical in a fake spirituality that leads you to indulge the flesh with its desires, both good and evil. Jesus endured temptation and never sinned so that He could be the man to redeem all other men, the Creator who would ransom His creatures, God who could give His life for sinners, for you.
So fast freely. Fast to discipline and chasten your flesh. Fast so that, as you learn to control your belly, it will give you discipline to control the other parts of your flesh as well. Fast and let the rumbling of hunger teach you that your belly is not your God. Pray until you realize that your schedule is not your God, your time is not your own, and your daily bread does not come from the work of your own hands. Give alms, tithe, give offerings, and give money until you know down in your gut that money is not the source of your security or happiness. Behold the man who fasted, prayed, and gave alms perfectly for you. His rumbling stomach, His hunger pangs, are your comfort in temptation. His flesh is your hope. He succeeded where you have failed. Behold the man!
 
And then break the fast. Eat. Drink. At His altar, veiled in bread and wine for His disciples to eat and drink for the forgiveness of their sins, with His flesh as true food and His blood as true drink, behold the man! Let the growling of your belly in Lent and anytime lead you here, to the place where the Lord bids you to fast and hunger no more. Here is food that endures to eternal life, drink that slakes your deepest thirst. Here at His altar is the man who gives Himself to you to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, for the enabling of your fervent love for one another, for the salvation of your flesh. In bread, in wine, BEHOLD THE MAN!
 

Mideweek Lent March 13, 2019

 

That must’ve been a sight. I wonder if the Israelites in the wilderness protested at the elaborate details and the exorbitant expense of making such vestments for Aaron. Did they have to scuttle the plans until the voters could approve of the design and the expense? Did they put it out for bids to see if someone had a source of pure gold or blue dye that they might come in under budget and put the rest in an LCEF CD? “I don’t know why one priest needs to be dressed in something way more elaborate and costly than anything we buy or make for ourselves. Does Aaron think he’s better than we are?” “When my grandkids became priests in Egypt, they had to save up all their own money to purchase vestments; no congregation was buying those for them!” “I don’t see why we have to use all this gold; tin would look almost as nice for a tenth of the price!”

Nevertheless, when God commanded what sort of frock Aaron was to be dressed in as he was consecrated as the high priest, His orders were strangely particular. First the ephod, made of gold, with two gold shoulder pieces, each with an engraved onyx stone with six names of the sons of Israel on it, joined together with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linen. Second the breastpiece, matching the ephod, of gold, with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linens, with twelve different stones—most of which we just guess at when translating—set in gold settings, and two gold rings to attach it to the ephod. Then, the robe, all blue, with blue and purple and scarlet pomegranates on the hem, interspersed with golden bells. Next, the engraved gold plate attached with a blue cord to the front of Aaron’s turban. Finally, a cloak, the turban, and a sash of fine needlework. All these Aaron is to wear so that when he presides as high priest, he does not die. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be Israelite high priests (see Exodus 28:6–39).

It’s hard to parse out the spiritual meaning of such apparel. Clothing is unavoidably physical. And yet, despite the beauty of those vestments, no matter how real the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, as well as the Levites, they were merely shadows of something more real, of a more permanent priesthood, of a High Priest whose service endures eternally. Aaron’s vestments, like a pastor’s vestments, are a sign of the beauty of the office he occupies, an office that does not truly belong to him, the one who merely stands in between God and His people. The vestments signify neither Aaron nor the pastor, but Christ. The office is beautiful because of Christ, no matter the grotesquerie and indecorousness of the men in the office.

Aaron is no longer the one to intercede between God and men. Nor am I. But behold the man! There is One to intercede, One who is a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly King of righteousness. Behold the man who, though also God, intercedes for men before God. Behold God who has become man and who, as man, intercedes, prays for, us men.

Who wants an intercessor, a priest, a go-between, though? A go-between implies you are insufficient for the task of getting yourself to God. An intercessor implies that you cannot climb the ladder of heaven to plead your own case. That Jesus takes on human flesh to be an eternal Priest between men and God implies that you, on your own, are not good enough. You need someone else to take up your case. Behold the man!

Because, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not. Who seeks for God as he ought? Whose thoughts are undistracted in prayer? Whose hatred for (okay, call it annoyance with) his brother does not interfere with the orientation of his prayer? Who loves God perfectly enough to be able to approach Him in prayer? Who keeps the Sabbath perfectly, hears the Word of God gladly and regularly? Who uses the name of God correctly, never letting slip an “Oh, my God” when things don’t go according to plan, and calls upon it regularly, when the catechism prescribes prayer? Who? No one. Well, at least not you. You are a sorry excuse for your own priest. So behold the man!

Jesus is the perfect High Priest. Sinful mankind cannot approach a holy God. We need someone to take our place, to plead our case. Behold the man! Jesus has taken your flesh. He will take up your cause before His heavenly Father. Behold the man! In Jesus, God has a voice that He can raise before the Father. He has hands He can fold in prayer. He has a head He can bow correctly and reverently. Behold the man who prays perfectly. Behold the High Priest whose office, whose role, is to pray for you—for you, beloved. Behold the man who prays for you without ceasing.

Jesus has hands to raise in prayer. He has eyes so that He can lift them up. He has lips that can shape syllables. He has vocal cords that can craft syllables His Father will hear. He is man so that He can intercede for men. And for what does He pray? For His disciples. For His Church. For you. Because sinners cannot approach a holy God, Jesus intercedes. Because rebellious man’s petitions will fall on deaf ears, the only obedient Son of God has taken flesh in order to pray for you, to give voice to your prayers, to pray for you.

Since you cannot keep yourself from sin, from idolatry, from rebellion, Jesus prays that the Father would keep you: that He would keep you in His name, which was put upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism; that He would keep you from the evil one, which we ask in the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus, as perfect God and man in one person prays for you. Behold the man who prays for you constantly before His heavenly Father.

So, in Jesus, who prays for you without end, you are no longer rebels against your heavenly Father. You are no longer sinful aliens. You are no longer unable to bend the Father’s ear with your petitions. You are in Jesus, and Jesus prays perfectly. Not because you pray regularly or correctly, but because you are in Jesus, your prayers are perfect. Because Jesus lifts up His hands perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus lifts up His eyes perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus’ voice is perfectly attuned for prayer, so is yours. Because Jesus is the man who intercedes for the rest of mankind, as man, you have hope. You have a Lord who prays for you. You have a man who redeems men. You have the God who became man for you. You have a Savior. You have the man on the cross. Behold the man, the Priest who bids you pray and who prays for you without ceasing.

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

“A God Beaten”

You need a God you can punch. You really do. You might not think so. You probably think you’re more pious than that. But that’s not how you envision God. You think you need a God who can hold your hand as He walks with you and talks with you in some ethereal garden. You think you need Him to hoist you onto His shoulders as you’re walking along the beach together, leaving some footprints in the sand. You need a God, you suppose, like the statues that show Him playing soccer with little kids or towering over the little kids on the basketball court. But you don’t. You need a God whose lip you can fatten with a well-placed right cross.

This is the human predicament. Since Adam’s rebellion in the garden, since he fearfully fled and hid himself at the sound of God walking in the garden, mankind has been alienated from God. Nothing had changed in God, of course. But everything changed in man. He sought to be his own god, and in so doing, he turned away from his Creator and the source of his life. Only a dying Adam would flee from a perfectly good Creator.

Since then, rebellion has been fallen man’s plight. Enmity with a holy God is all that sinners have. Sinners hate God. He is holy. They are not. His Law is an affront to their do-it-yourself divinity schemes. He calls His people to be holy just as He is holy. Jesus demanded perfect righteousness, just as the heavenly Father is righteous. No matter what you score on the righteousness self-assessment you take in your head every morning, you simply are not good. The Law is absolute. The Commandments allow no room for deviation, not for even a moment, not from even the least part of the Law. So Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, alienated from God, on their own.

It’s little wonder that people prefer a god of their own creation, a Jesus of their own imaginations, to the Holy God of Scripture, who demands that your holiness perfectly match His. A good-teacher Jesus, or a life-coach Jesus, or a model-CEO Jesus, or a moral-example Jesus, or a nice-guy Jesus, or a guru Jesus is not an affront to your sinful nature. And He wouldn’t have gotten struck in the face, verbally and physically bludgeoned, nailed to a cross, and killed.

But that god can’t save you. He’s fake. Adam doesn’t need a god who encourages him to do better next time. He doesn’t need a mulligan. He has eaten. He has rebelled. He is wholly other from a Holy God. He needs a God who can plead his case, who will take up his cause, who will bear his flesh and do in Adam’s place what Adam failed to do. He needs a holy God who will impart His holiness as a gift. He needs a God with human flesh who keeps the Law perfectly. He needs a God with a face he can punch.

Unless He can bear your hatred, this God can’t save you. Unless He can receive your blows, this God can’t bear your sins. So behold the man. God has become man. Jesus is a God you can punch. He has drawn near, not in wrath, but in mercy. Behold the man who has come to seek for lost humanity. In Jesus, God walks in the midst of His creation again. And He desires to draw all men to Himself, out of their fearful hiding, out of their sin and their shame. Behold the man! Behold, God is man!

Now the Creator’s “Where are you, Adam?” has become “Why do you strike Me?” Asked about His teaching, Jesus answers, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret.” So Annas commands one of the officers to strike Him in the face. Behold, this is your God. Behold the man Jesus. Behold, God has a face that can be struck. Behold, God has a back that can be scourged. Behold, God has hands that can be bound so that He can be sent to Caiaphas.

This is good. Behold the man who comes to allow Himself to be struck by the sinners He seeks to redeem. Behold the man, the God you can punch, who can bear your striking, smiting, scourging, hating. Behold the servant who will suffer in your place. Behold the One despised and rejected by men, despised, whom no one esteemed. Behold, this One who can be struck in the face has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows. Behold the man who in your place is stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. Behold Him pierced for your transgressions, crushed for your iniquities. Behold the man upon whom is the chastisement, the punishment that has brought you peace. Behold the wounds by which you are healed.

In His flesh, Jesus bears all of mankind’s sinful, rebellious hatred of God. He receives the blows you would have lined up behind the official to be next in line to deliver. All this He gladly suffers. For you.

His holiness is a gift He gives, not to those who deserve it, but to those least deserving. He has borne all of man’s hatred of God, and worse, all the Father’s punishment for man’s rebellion, and He has answered for them with His life, with His face, with His cheek that bore striking in this kangaroo court.

The solution to your hatred of God, to your desire to punch Him in the face, is not to clench your fists, bite your tongue, and abstain. The solution is to confess, to speak in unison with the Law what you know to be true. Your flesh is sinful. It does not desire God. And then, though you would have raised a hand against Him, Jesus sends His officials, His pastors, His men with His word of Absolution. And when you confess your sin, He is faithful and just, merciful and compassionate. The pastor raises a hand, not to strike, but to soothe. He places his hand upon your head and pronounces the verdict of a Holy God: In the stead and by the command of the God-man who bore these and all your sins, I forgive you.

Jesus turns the other cheek. God turns from wrath to mercy. Behold the man who would rather endure shameful abuse at the hands of sinners than allow sinners to have to answer for their own sins. In Him, you are made holy and whole, a new man. Behold the man.

 

March 27, 2019 sermon

A GOD EXPOSED

 

How things have changed. Naked once meant “innocent, selfless, and perfect.” The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed, Moses records at the end of Genesis 2. Different from guilt, shame includes an unhealthy preoccupation with oneself. That Adam and his wife were unashamed though they were naked makes sense because they didn’t have that level of self-awareness that comes from sinful, selfish navel-gazing. But then, as soon as they sinned, their eyes were opened to a new reality. Sure, they knew good and evil, knowledge their Creator had withheld purely for their good. But now they see that they are naked. Exposed. Vulnerable. And when their eyes incline toward themselves for the first time, they are ashamed. “Look at me,” Adam thinks. “Look at me,” his wife muses. But each is too preoccupied with him- or herself to notice the nakedness of the other. Sin does exactly that; it curves our gaze in on ourselves.

What could they do? Hide themselves, they hoped. Fig leaves hastily stitched together before their flight into the garden away from their Creator were their garments of choice. But fig leaves cannot hide sin and guilt. So, after God exposes the pair in their ashamed hiding, elicits their acknowledgment (though not their confession) of their sins, and doles out the curses to the two and the serpent, He then upgrades their wardrobes from bloodless fig leaves to garments made from skin. And so they learn quickly that God was not wrong in threatening death at the moment that they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But He mercifully stayed their executions by shedding the blood of whatever innocent animal this was from which He took the skin to cover the sin and shame of the man and woman. Their nakedness would be covered at the cost of an even deeper nakedness, for what could be more exposed than an animal stripped of its skin? And so the first death, the first bloodshed, happened at the hands of the Creator Himself, to grant to these rebels the luxury of hiding their shame behind the innocence of another creature.

Though you’re not wont to admit it, this is the true nature of sin. You want to hide it behind pious-seeming fig leaves, but these won’t do. No matter what you do to delete your browsing history, you can’t hide your shame or obscure your guilt from the eyes of an all-knowing God. No matter how you try to couch your gossip in thinly veiled requests to “pray for her,” those words remain reputation-damaging slander against your neighbor and render you guilty before a Holy God. Even if you call it “just getting what’s rightfully yours,” it’s still greed. Excuses why you can’t make it to the week-after-week Sunday morning Divine Service don’t allow you to receive the gifts God delivers there. And they can’t hide your sin. That everyone else does it is a flimsy fig leaf. Repent of these and all other fig-leaf attempts to hide your sin and trick yourself into thinking you’re blameless.

Sin can only be covered with skin.

No one knows what that animal was in the garden from which the Creator peeled its innocent hide in order to hide the exposed and vulnerable parts of Adam and his wife. But, given the way in which immature ovine offspring are often selected to be sacrifices on Passover, in the tabernacle, in the temple, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that the first animal to die, flayed to stave off death for mankind, was a lamb.

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” John the Baptist declared of Jesus (John 1:29). Behold, the fulfillment of every lamb with its throat slit to render it a sacrifice in the temple. Behold, the fulfillment of every Passover lamb roasted and completely consumed the night before God brought His people out of slavery. Behold, the Lamb who is not actually a lamb but a man. Behold God with skin.

Behold the man scourged by the Roman soldiers with their evil flagrum, designed to shred the skin from the back of the whipped one, tearing away flesh so deep that the internal organs are nearly exposed. Behold the man on whose head the soldiers pressed the crown woven of thorns to ridicule Him as a madman with His belief in being King. Behold the man on whom they drape a soldier’s dirty purple robe to intensify the jest. Behold the man whom Pilate brought forth to say, “This is no king!” Here is God, with skin, clothed in the mockery of sinful men.

Behold the man who, when He was nailed to the cross, was stripped naked. Behold the man whose clothes the soldiers divided amongst themselves. Behold the man for whose seamless tunic the godless gambled. Behold the man, God with skin, whose skin is shamefully exposed for all passersby to mock. Behold the naked God.

Behold the man who will bear your sin and shame. Behold the man who will suffer in your place. Behold the man whose nakedness answers for Adam’s. Behold the man naked and unashamed, with nothing to hide, with no sin of His own to garb in raiment and rationalization. Behold the man stripped bare to bear your own sins. All of them. The ones you try to hide and obscure, the ones you pretend are not there, the ones that cause you the greatest shame. All of them hang there on the cross with this man, this God, Jesus, naked and dying for you.

Behold the man, stripped naked so He might clothe you in new skin. Behold the man who will hide your sin with His own righteousness. Behold the man who gives you Himself to wear. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Behold the man in whose washing of Holy Baptism you are clothed in the incomparable perfection of His own righteousness. Behold the man who covers your sin with His own skin. Wear His raiment. Wear Him. Your sin is gone, your shame removed, your guilt dissipated.  Behold the man!

 

A God with a Mother

Texts: Revelation 12:1–6; John 19:25–27

To say that God and man are one in Jesus is not to say that Jesus has always been a fully-grown man. We know that, of course, as we celebrate His nativity. But His incarnation didn’t begin at His birth. His taking on human flesh was a full nine months earlier, when the eternal Second Person of the Trinity, whom time and space cannot contain, united Himself to a single human zygote cell. At that moment, Mary became a mother and God became man.

To confess that Mary is the “Mother of God” is to say nothing about Mary and to say everything about her child, which is why the Early Church Fathers and the Lutheran Confessions insisted on this proper designation of the blessed Virgin. To call her the Mother of God is to say that the zygote who lived inside her is God—as was the blastocyst, the embryo, the fetus. And the infant, the toddler, the little boy. Also the adolescent, the teenager, the young man. The man Jesus upon the cross is truly God. The Son of Mary is the Son of God.

And now, as He hangs dying on the cross, the prophecy Simeon gave to Mary, that a sword would pierce her own soul as well, is being fulfilled. And in this hour of His suffering and her grief, He commends His mother into the care of His beloved disciple. He cares for her who has cared for Him.

When she was a girl, pregnant and unwed, with this cockamamy story of being the Mother of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealed to her by the angel Gabriel, which her friends and family were, let’s say, just a little hesitant to buy into, could she have expected this? When Joseph insisted on keeping her as his betrothed and took her with him to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, did she envision this? When they brought their forty-day-old baby to the temple for the rites of presentation and her own purification, and the white-haired Simeon added the footnote to his prophecy, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also,” did she picture this? When she and Joseph anxiously searched through extended family for their missing twelve-year-old, only to find Him and His word, “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” in the temple, did she understand this was the end? When they were at the wedding in Cana, and she received a polite rebuke for asking Him to deal with the drought of wine, did she think she was three years from seeing this? When she heard rumors of His actions in the temple to manufacture a whip and drive out the otherwise-peaceful merchants selling animals for sacrifice, did she think it would culminate in this? When she followed on the way from Jerusalem to Golgotha, did she think the trip would be so final, so irreversible? Mary, did you know? How could you?

The Lutheran Confessions are clear that, if you refuse to call Mary the Mother of God (this is to say that Mary, who is the God-bearer, is the mother), you are a Nestorian heretic and no Christian. In the fourth and fifth century, Nestorius wanted to defend the divinity of Jesus, so he argued that Mary could not be the “mother of God.” She must be merely the mother of the human part of Christ. Because no woman could give birth to God, right?

Wrong. She is indeed the Mother of God. And it is necessary to say so. God and man are inseparably one in the person of Christ. God has a mother. But beware. If you confess Mary to be the Mother of God, you risk all personal security. If what Mary bore in her womb is truly God, this will undo all your excuses about God. If the One who is for nine months a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus, you can no long claim that unborn children are not truly people.

If the One who inhabits His mother’s womb for nine months is truly God, your pious pretensions that a mother can freely choose to abort her unborn babies are sinful and wrong. If Mary is the Mother of God, then children are truly a blessing from God, to be received without reservation. If what this woman has borne in her body is truly God, then God is truly man, and man’s only hope for salvation is in the offspring of this woman. If the man she bears is truly God, then men have hope. If she gives the eternal Second Person of the Trinity flesh, then those of you who also have human flesh have a Savior.

But no one, or almost no one, wants this woman to be the Mother of God. Some people shy away from calling Mary the Theotokos, the Mother of God, because to say that what she bore in her womb (the same substance as was borne in your mother’s womb) is in the person of Jesus, who is truly God, is to admit that your flesh, on which you rely for so many daily tasks, is not up for the task of doing the works God requires. To call Mary the Mother of God is to say that your flesh—with its inclinations to be its own god, to reject the name of God, to refuse the Sabbath rest in the Word weekly, to dishonor and disobey your parents and other authorities, to harm your neighbor’s life and body, marriage, property, and reputation, and to be discontent with what your heavenly Father gives—is not simply weak; it’s an abject failure. If Mary bears in her womb the Second Person of the Trinity, then you must look for hope and salvation outside yourself.

She is the Mother of God. In her womb and thereafter, God is man. God has been a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, boy, adolescent, teenager, young man, and man. If you are or have been any of those, then your hope can only be in Him. Behold the man.

Behold the man! He calls her “woman,” His mother. But the One who hangs dying on the cross is not merely her Son; He is also her Savior—your Savior. He exists to save all people, including you, from their sins. This is Mary’s Son, who was appointed for the rising and fall of many in Israel, who is the salvation of Israel and Gentiles alike. Behold the man, the promised Seed of the woman sent to crush the head of the serpent who, since the fall, has enslaved all mankind. Behold the man who redeems all men.

Behold the man who cared enough to use His dying breath to care for His mother. Behold the man who cared enough to use His dying to save her and you. Behold the man, your Brother.

And you, beloved, behold your mother, the Bride of Christ; your mother, His Church. From her womb, the font, He has given you new life, caused you to be reborn through water and the Spirit. Behold your mother, in whose care you receive forgiveness day after day. Behold the only place where your sins have rich and full forgiveness. Behold the man who redeems men in the place and instruments of His Church.

Mary is truly the Mother of God. And God is truly the Savior of sinners. He is the man, your Brother, your flesh, who alone can offer Himself on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. She never could have expected this. Nor could you. This man is God. This God is man dying for you. Behold the man. Behold your Savior. Behold your salvation. Behold your God.

 

A God Who Thirsts

April 10, 2019

What a strange interaction. First, Jesus said to this Samaritan woman—an outsider, a half-breed, who expected to have no interactions with any Jews—“Give Me a drink.” She responded not with water but with a query, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Okay, fine. But then comes this more peculiar response from Jesus, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” Then later, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:7–15).

Wait, what? Water that wells up to eternal life and slakes an eternal thirst? Yes, please. Later, Jesus told a crowd, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37–38). If you are thirsty, Jesus says, come to Him. That is beautiful, inviting, and a bit odd.

Still later, the One who promised living water so that man might never be thirsty again hung on a cross, naked, derelict, and dying. With nearly His last breath, He cries, “I thirst.” Behold the well of living water, the fount of water welling up to eternal life. Behold the very Rock who was cleft in the wilderness to give a wellspring of life-giving water to His thirsting, complaining people. Behold the One who created the waters that flow, rivers that run, oceans that surge, water tables that nourish, and springs that bubble. Behold the God who made six stone jars of water to be the choicest vintage of wine the wedding guests had ever tasted, with a vintage to satisfy their taste buds beyond the simple wedding banquet. Behold the man! He is thirsty. Dried up, parched, with His tongue sticking like Velcro to the roof of His mouth, craving even a sip of sour wine from a sponge. Behold the man who thirsts.

Having taken human flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity now needs to drink water in order to survive. If this God does not drink, He will die. What can you make of this? The Creator relies on an element of creation to make it from day to day. His tongue is like sandpaper in His blister-dry mouth; He wants a drink.

And you? For what do you thirst? For what does your flesh ache and groan? Not a drink of water, probably. That is far too ordinary. For money, for riches, for power, for influence, for success, for popularity, for comfort, for security, perhaps. Or maybe your thirst is more basic, for another swig, for another beer, for another glass of wine to numb the pain, to dull the senses, to make you forget the cruel realities of living in this world. Maybe you thirst for more likes, more reviews, more respect, or a better salary. You, like Jesus, are thirsty. But you, unlike Jesus, are thirsty for self.

Jesus thirsts for you. God has taken human flesh, flesh that hungers and thirsts, flesh that needs sustenance, flesh that can be beaten, abused, mocked, nailed to a cross, and hung until it thirsts in peril for its life. But He’s not thirsting so that He can live. He’s thirsting because He can die. He’s thirsting because He has flesh. He has flesh because He desires to save mankind. Behold the man who thirsts.

Behold the man who empties Himself so that you might be filled. Behold the man who is cut off so that you can be grafted in. Behold the man who thirsts so that you can be satisfied. Behold the man who thirsts so that men might drink and never be thirsty again. Behold the man who is parched and dried up so that you might find in Him a river of life. Behold the man who thirsts as He dies so that you might never die—not like this, not the big death, not this death separated from God, not death and hell. Behold the man who thirsts so that you might be satisfied.

In Him, your thirsts, your desires, your needs are quenched. Every thirst is primal, a hearkening back to the days in the Garden of Eden. Every thirst is eschatological, hearkening forward to the new creation, to the river of life, to the renewed heavens and renewed earth. Your thirsts, even when they seem shallow and distorted, are really thirsts for this wellspring, the river that flows and waters the whole earth anew. Your thirst is good, a reminder of your Creator’s provision in the garden, a harbinger of the draft that is to come, a call to remain in Jesus alone, who offers water that will quench every thirst.

Until then, as you wander in this wilderness between Eden and the New Eden, your thirst is still good. In the same way that hunger sharpens your desire for the bread of life, the body of Jesus, thirst chastens your taste buds to desire something more than water, wine, or temporary fulfillment. Thirst disciplines you to desire a heavenly draft. Until you can slake your thirst with the eternal water of life, there is a river from the Lord’s altar that can soothe your parched throat. Here is the blood of Him who bled for you, who thirsted for your fulfillment, who died so that you might have life. From the chalice in the Holy Eucharist flows a river that gives you a foretaste of an eternal quenching, a stream that can fulfill your deepest thirst.

Behold the man whose blood still flows for you. Behold the man who was dried up with thirst so that your dry lips could be satisfied with the drink of His blood for true drink. Behold the man who thirsted. Behold the man who bids you thirst no more. Behold the man who is the headstream of a new drink, the river of life, the water for which you thirst deeply and intensely. Behold the man who was dried up with thirst so that you might be quenched with a water that flows to eternal life. Behold the man, God who thirsts for your salvation

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