Friday, March 15, 2019

St. Patrick's Day Meditation

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

 It is good and fitting for us to observe St. Patrick’s Day–not merely in the way of the world but in keeping with who the man actually was.  Just as there was a real St. Nicholas who was a bishop and defender of the Christian faith, so also there was a real St. Patrick who had a zeal for bringing lost souls to the faith back in the 5th century A.D.  As Lutherans we rightly honor and give thanks to God for the help He gives to His saints and for the good He works through them.

 Patrick actually wasn't Irish but English.  His grandfather was a pastor, and his father was a member of the city council and a deacon in the church.  When Patrick was 16, he was seized by Irish raiders and sold into slavery there.  He was forced to tend the sheep of the Irish chieftain of Ulster.  Patrick had not been particularly religious before, but now he turned to God for comfort and strength.  Patrick later wrote abut those difficult years: “The love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.”

 Patrick eventually escaped from his captors but later, amazingly enough, he felt the call to return to Ireland and preach the Good News of Christ the crucified to the Irish, his former captors.  In this way Patrick is a good example of the Scripture which says, “Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.  Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

 Patrick was unprepared for such a mission as this, so he went to France to complete his education.  He studied theology at a monastery and was soon ordained.  Eventually he was sent to Ireland.

 Patrick was tireless in his ministry.  He overthrew pagan idols.  He preached Christ to the Irish chieftains.  He founded churches and schools.  He later wrote to his flock, “I went even to the farthest districts, beyond which there lived nobody and where nobody had even come to baptize, or to ordain clergy, or to confirm the people.  With the grace of the Lord, I did everything lovingly and gladly for your salvation.”

 It is because Patrick preached that grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that he is to be remembered.  He proclaimed the one true God, the Blessed Holy Trinity, and the Son of God, whose death and resurrection alone brings salvation.  As you know, one of the things that is now associated with St. Patrick is the shamrock, the clover with its three leaves.  Those three leaves on one stem are symbolic of the Trinity, three persons in one God.  He used that as an illustration to teach the people.

 There is a hymn that St. Patrick wrote that is even included in our hymnal.  The song’s tune is called St. Patrick’s breastplate.  Part of the hymn goes like this: “I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three, of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.  Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!”

 One of the legends that arose about St. Patrick is that he drove all the snakes off the island, and that’s why there are no snakes in Ireland today.  Perhaps that legend arose, however, because of his preaching of the Gospel which drives away the serpent, the devil.  For indeed, by Christ’s holy death on the cross, He fulfilled the Scripture which says that the Messiah will crush the head of the serpent.  The cross is like a dagger into Satan’s skull, and when Christ crucified is preached and believed, Satan is cast out and defeated.  So it is fitting that St. Patrick’s Day always falls during Lent, when we dwell upon the blessed Passion of our Lord for our salvation and our victory over death and the devil in Christ.

 Patrick is also an important reminder to us of Jesus’ words to go and make disciples of all the nations: be they Irish or German, be they rich or poor, be they friendly or hostile.  We are given to speak of and show Christ’s love to all, and to be willing to suffer for the sake of the truth of God’s Word.

 May God grant us also to be zealous and passionate in helping to free others from their false beliefs to bring them to the one true faith, faith in the only Savior, Jesus Christ, who together with the Father and Holy Spirit belongs all worship, honor, glory and praise.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Spoiler We All Need

There are some scholars and textual critics of the Bible who suggest that the account of the Transfiguration is, in fact, a misplaced resurrection narrative, an Easter story.  For whatever reason, the end of the story, Jesus in His glory, got placed in the middle.  I don’t agree with this, of course.  But there is a sense in which it is helpful for us to think of the Transfiguration in this way.  Before we get to the end of the story, Jesus gives us a glimpse of how it all culminates.

We often need this in our own lives.  We need to know how the story ends for us, especially in the middle of suffering or difficulty.  Jesus shows us this on the mountain.  After speaking of the necessity of His suffering and death, after saying that whoever wants to be a disciple of His must take up the cross and follow Him, He then reveals the glory that belongs to all those who are baptized into His body, shining brighter than the sun.  The fact that Jesus is speaking of His death with Moses and Elijah on the mountain (Luke 9:31) shows that the only true way to glory is through the cross.  “Whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). 

In the middle of your story Jesus comes to you and shows the glorious climax of it all.  He speaks to you the words of eternal life; He gives His own risen body and blood into your frail flesh and blood.  He gives away the end of story; but that doesn’t spoil it but gives meaning to it and strengthens you to bear the cross and endure to the end.  He says to you, “It’s only a little while longer; keep on going, trusting in Me and loving your neighbor.  For the sufferings of this present time are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in you” (Romans 8:18).  The Apostle John encourages us, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).   

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why is IVF Not a Viable Option for Christians?

           It is a good and natural thing that husbands and wives desire children.  This is one of the reasons why God instituted marriage. The desire for children is bound up in His ongoing creative Word “Be fruitful and multiply.”

           However, since we live under the curse of sin, our fallen bodies are not always fruitful as they were created to be.  What are married couples to do when the gift of children is not being given?  Christians call upon God in prayer, and one of the answers to prayer can be medicines and therapies which work to bring healing to the body’s functioning – promoting ovulation or increasing sperm counts, etc.  Since these sorts of treatments and procedures work within the boundaries of the natural, one-flesh union God created to conceive life, there are very few potential ethical concerns with them. 

But what is to be done when that doesn’t work?  It is at this point that many couples consider in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Because of the way IVF is done, it raises several significant ethical issues.  Here’s how IVF works (from “In Vitro Fertilization—Ark or Tower?” by James Lamb):

Fertilization in Glass
The basic procedure of IVF begins when the woman is treated to produce many viable eggs per cycle. The eggs are retrieved through a hollow needle inserted through the abdominal wall. They are placed in a petri dish and mixed with sperm. Fertilization occurs and development begins “in glass,” Latin, “in vitro.”
Embryo Grading
A laboratory technician then assigns a grade to each embryo based on his visual microscopic assessment of how “good” each embryo appears. This is completely subjective—and is admitted as such on fertility clinic websites. Generally, embryos with “poor grades” are discarded. Many couples are unaware that this happens.
Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis
At this point, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis may take place. A nucleus from one of the embryonic cells can be removed and analyzed. If a genetic disease exists, the embryo may be destroyed. Since gender is determined at the moment of conception, this technique can be used to select boy or girl embryos, and the clinic will only implant the babies of the gender the client chooses.
The “good” embryos are placed into the uterus. The procedure generally calls for three or four embryos to be inserted because not all may implant in the uterine wall. The success rate is about 30 percent. When multiple embryos do begin to develop, doctors often recommend “selective reduction” so only one or two remain. Selective reduction = abortion.
Embryo Freezing
Embryos not inserted may be frozen in liquid nitrogen. Although freezing techniques have improved, embryos may be harmed in this process, and harm may occur when they are thawed. Couples with frozen embryos generally have four options:
1.       Have more inserted at a later date
2.       Donate them for research
3.       Seek to have them adopted by another couple
4.       Allow them to die

Based on the above information, there are several of God’s commandments that come into play which Christians will want to give serious consideration to.  First, and most clearly, is the 5th Commandment.  In the meaning to this commandment against murder, the Small Catechism states, “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body. . .”  However, IVF clearly and almost inevitably involves harming or destroying embryos.  This is virtually unavoidable in the IVF process.  Multiple embryos are created with the goal of merely one, or perhaps two, actually implanting and being brought to term.  Every one of these embryos is a child, a human being with a soul, a boy or girl with their own unique DNA.  And yet it is routine and accepted that many of these young lives will simply need to be sacrificed in order to achieve the goal of pregnancy.  If the unused embryos are discarded and left for dead, or donated for research where they will be experimented upon and eventually destroyed, the 5th Commandment is directly being violated.  And even if the embryos are frozen, there is great potential for harm to come to these young human lives in the process.  And the entire method of freezing embryos raises the more basic question, “Where and when were we given the right to create and manipulate human life like that?”  God gives children to us to parent and raise up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord.  You can’t parent a frozen embryo.  The entire notion is contrary to God’s order for bringing new life into the world.  And we haven’t even begun to address the reality of a 70% failure rate for implantation of these embryos.  This means that from the outset, parents and doctors are willing to accept a 70% death rate of the children they create outside the womb in hopes that one will come to term within the womb.  This is simply unconscionable.  In the name of creating human life, IVF destroys human life.

            There are also other deeper issues at work.  For instance, IVF takes the creation of life outside of the one flesh union God instituted and brings 3rd parties into the actual reproductive process itself.  This is contrary to the 6th Commandment.  In some cases, donor eggs or sperm are used, which even more radically brings a 3rd party into the marriage, contrary to God’s will. 

            And at the root of all of this are matters of the 1st Commandment, where we are called to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  IVF goes beyond using God’s good gift of science and medicine for healing and helping, and it transgresses into the realm of taking over the role of God.  It is no minor thing to change the way life is created and to intentionally step outside of God’s natural order.  This is virtually the very definition of playing God.  Medical technology becomes a false god when we look to it for help in a way that stands in contradiction to the Holy Trinity and His Word.  Our desires and dreams become idols if we set our hearts on them more than the Lord.  The entire notion that children are commodities that we are in charge of bringing into existence, rather than gifts which God gives according to His good pleasure, is deeply problematic.

The Lord gives hope and comfort

            Dealing with infertility and barrenness certainly involves serious spiritual struggle.  Scripture gives many helpful examples of women who experienced these issues and endured this struggle.  There is comfort to be had in hearing about their lives as they trusted in the Lord and called on His name.  Whether or not the gift of children is ever granted, God’s Word is full of comfort and hope and promises such as this: “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  He has promised to work all things together for the good of His people, those whom He has called to be His own in Holy Baptism (Romans 8:28).  Very often it is precisely when we are weak and empty and powerless of ourselves that He draws us most closely to Himself and fills us with His blessing and teaches us to trust in Him ever more confidently.  St. Paul, commenting on a different sort of struggle, said in 2 Corinthians 12, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this. . . but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  In suffering we cling most fervently to Him who suffered for us, even to the point of death on the cross to take away our sins and to restore us to everlasting life.  

Our Lord Jesus shared fully in our humanity.  The Son of God was willing to become a holy embryo Himself in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.  He sanctified the wombs of all women, those who bear children, and those who don’t.  He made our entire lives holy, from conception to the grave, and redeemed us as His own by His precious blood.  Through faith in Him who is now risen from the dead, new and eternal life is conceived in us, and we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Having this life in the risen Jesus is what we set our hearts on above all; it is what gives us purpose as we love and serve our neighbor.  That purpose may involve fostering or adoption or any number of other paths of service that God might set before us.  But in all things, we seek to live according to His will, trusting in Him, giving thanks to the Lord in the confidence that “He is good, and His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 136:1).  

-Pastor Koch

P.S.—An excellent resource on the general topic of infertility and barrenness can be found here, “He Remembers the Barren” by Katie Schuermann.  And on the general topic of life issues, be sure to visit

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I've Been Invited to a Same-Sex "Wedding." What Should I Do?

           Sadly, this is a question that many Christians will have to have wrestle with sooner or later.  Whether it involves a family relation or friend or coworker, there are no easy options for someone who wants to be faithful to God and His Word and loving toward his neighbor.

            Christians know that same-sex “marriage” is sin.  It is a clear and blatant rebellion against God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11; Rom. 1:24ff).  It rejects His work as the One who created us male and female (Matt. 19:4-6).  And in so doing it corrupts and undermines faith in His work as our Redeemer.  For it is the Man Jesus who laid down His life for His elect Lady, the Church (Eph. 5:25ff).  God is a husband to His chosen people, His Bride (Is. 54:5).  The fact that we are created male and female is a reflection of the nature and the ways of this God who is love (1 John 4).  Same-sex marriage, then, is not only the breaking of a commandment, it’s a denial and an overturning of God’s order of creation and redemption. 

           Where most Christians struggle is how to respond to this sin in a way that does not come across as hateful or unloving in our hyper-sensitive and easily offended culture.  Family relationships may be involved.  Often, the “wedding” will be for gay or lesbian children or grandchildren of long-time friends or co-workers.  We want these people to know that we don’t wish ill on anyone and that we care about everyone involved.  So how do we show true Christian love?

            Part of the struggle we have is that we falsely pit faithfulness to God and love for others against each other, when in fact they are two sides of the same coin.  The best way that we can love others is by holding faithfully to God’s Word and confessing its truth clearly and compassionately, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  For God’s Word of Law and Gospel gives eternal life (John 6:68).  It works repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:46-47).  It brings true peace (John 14:27).  Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Luke 21:33).  To set aside God’s Word in the name of love or for the sake of some supposed future greater good is a delusion.  Real love cares for a person’s salvation and never condones sin which brings death to a person’s soul (Ezek. 18:20).

            What is loving is to grieve with parents who are having to deal with a child who has openly departed from the faith in this way.  What is loving is to encourage them to continue to look to God for help in prayer and to trust His Word for guidance and comfort.  And when the people involved willingly embrace sin or approve of sin, what is loving is to call them to repentance.  What is loving is to point people to Christ who died for all sins and who desires that we turn from our evil way and live by His mercy and forgiveness (Ezek. 18:23). 

            The truth is that the reason some Christians might feel compelled to attend a same-sex “wedding” is because we don’t want to let go of our favorite idols.  For some the idol might be money.  A job or a business relationship might be at stake.  To such people Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke16:13). “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).  Others simply want to be thought of well by the world and not looked at as the bad guy.  To them Jesus says, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15; see also Galatians 1:10 about seeking favor from men or from God).  Or still others want to keep peace in the family rather than to act according to the truth.  But to those who bow down to the idol of family, Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).  Even harsher are the preceding words, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). 

Our media-saturated lives have desensitized us to the grave spiritual seriousness of this matter.  We’ve forgotten what was common sense only a couple decades ago.  So consider this:  Would we think seriously about attending a wedding where not just two people were getting married but three or four people were entering into a sexual union among themselves?  (Yes, this is happening now.)  Would we want to be supportive of their choices even though we disagreed with them?  I mean, #lovewins right?  Would it really help the family to show up at a ceremony that condoned that?  How, then, is a same-sex wedding any different?  Both reject and corrupt what God Himself has given and created in marriage on a fundamental level.

            Some try to suggest that Jesus would go to a same-sex “wedding” since He spent time talking with and even eating with sinners.  There is no doubt that what Jesus did raised some eyebrows.  But what was He doing in those encounters?  He was calling people to turn from their sin to the freely given mercy of God.  “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32).  Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), never to condone sin (Matt. 5:17-19).  No one is suggesting that we should cut off all contact with unbelievers or those engaged in sinful lifestyles.  For then we would have to leave the world (1 Cor. 5:9-10).  God places us into our various vocations precisely so that we might show love to our neighbor in both word and deed.  Those relationships provide the opportunity to confess our faith in Christ the Savior.  But it is supremely dishonest to think that by attending a same-sex “wedding” you can do as Jesus did.  Do you seriously think you’ll be able to call people to repentance in that venue where sin is being celebrated and the words of Jesus are explicitly being rejected?

At a wedding you are obliged to congratulate the couple, to smile politely and happily at what is going on, to laugh at the jokes.  Being present means joining in the celebration, affirming the goodness or at least the acceptability of the union.  Under what circumstances can a Christian justify doing that?  Plus, when the people involved are ones we naturally care for and are close to, there is a very real possibility of being tempted to compromise the truth and to be drawn away from God’s Word ourselves.  After all, weddings are nice and positive and fun.  And there you are feeling like a wet blanket.  Being present at such events and witnessing the counter-preaching of the world can make you question the Scriptures.  The very nature of the event whispers to you, “Did God really say…?” (Gen. 3:1). 

            In the end there is simply no way in good conscience that a Christian can attend a same sex “wedding.”  For there is no realistic scenario where doing so does not lend aid and support to sin and rebellion against God.  There really is no middle ground on this one.  Jesus Himself said “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt.12:30). 

This is a defining issue of our times.  Let us take our place with Christ, even in the face of worldly scorn.  For He took His place with us, even unto death.  He is our Immanuel, God with us, God who is for us to rescue us sinners that we may share in His resurrection life forever. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Meditations on the Scriptural Stations of the Cross

1) Luke 22:39-46
Jesus Prays in the Garden of Gethsemane

    Already here, it is written that our Lord is in agony.  He is not yet being physically beaten or scourged.  And yet He suffers deeply in both body and soul.  For He is in a very real sense carrying the weight of the world.  Gethsemane means “olive press” where olive oil was pressed out.  Jesus experiences here the greatest of pressing and pressure, as even the blood is pressed out of His body with His sweat that falls to the ground.  He knows the suffering that lies before Him.  Above all, Jesus does not wish to be cut off from His Father whom He loves with perfect love.  That the Father would turn His back on Him at the cross was an unbearable thought.  But this Jesus does for you.  He submits Himself to the Father’s will out of love for you, that you may share in His love with the Father.    
    Remember Jesus’ agony when you yourself are in mental or emotional anguish, when the weight of the world seems to be pressing down on you, when you are pressed or depressed, and there seems to be no way of escape.  Remember Jesus, who did not escape, who will not let you be tempted or tested beyond what you can bear.  He is your escape.  He is your rest and your refuge.  He drank the cup of judgment, so that now there is no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.  You are given to drink the cup of salvation.  The cup of God’s mercy overflows to you in Jesus.

 2) Mark 14:43-50
Jesus is betrayed by Judas

    Swords and clubs are instruments of power and force and coercion.  They are what the chief priests and scribes and elders wield to lay hold of Jesus.  They are what even Peter tries to use to defend Jesus.  But for both it is in vain.  God’s kingdom cannot be established by the use of force and worldly power.  God’s kingdom cannot be stopped or undone by the use of force and worldly power.  For His kingship is exercised not through coercing His subjects but through the giving of Himself for His subjects.  In love He rules the hearts of His people through faith.  We dare never put our trust in the powers of this world to establish or save the church.  We dare never behave as Peter did and think the success of the Gospel is dependent on our wisdom and strength.  The Gospel thrives precisely in apparent weakness and defeat.
    Even in the midst of the physical roughness here, the most hurtful thing that is done is Judas’ betrayal.  This cuts to the heart, even for Jesus who knew in advance what would be done.  As a true man, Jesus feels the human hurt of having a friend and follower stab Him in the back, all with a smile and a kiss, all while His companions flee for cover.  Remember this when people deceive and betray and use you for their own ends, when they bring you to tears.  Jesus has been there for you, He is with you in your hurt to deliver you, to vindicate all who take refuge in Him.

3) Mark 14:55-65
Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin

    “As a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”  For Jesus had not come to defend Himself against false accusations but to defend us against the true accusations that the devil would lay against us.  He allows Himself to be condemned in our stead. 
    Put under oath, Jesus does speak the truth of who He is, the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, who will come again on the Last Day for judgment.  But here in His first coming, He allows Himself to be placed under judgment, that there might be deliverance from the final judgment for all who take shelter under His wings. 
    Jesus had used His spittle to heal, to give sight.  Now He is spit upon by those who are blind to who He is–that He is the true temple, where God’s presence dwells in bodily form.  He will be  destroyed in death and then raised up in glory on the third day, that the people of God might have an eternal dwelling in Him. 

4) Luke 22:54-62
Jesus is denied by Peter

    Peter has three chances to confess that he knows Christ.  Three times Peter fails.  He would have to live for a while with the awful emptiness of his disloyalty and failure.  We know that weakness of the flesh, too, when we deny Jesus with our words or behavior, seeking to avoid negative consequences to our reputation or our income or our life.  Apart from Christ, Peter can do nothing, in spite of his good intentions.
    Jesus had told Peter this would happen.  When it occurs, as the rooster crows, as Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, He turns and looks at Peter who is there in the courtyard.  Jesus did this not simply to cut proud Peter down to size, but also to teach Peter that His love would remain despite Peter’s sin.  This was not a look of anger, but of sorrowful compassion.  Peter would call Jesus’ words to mind and weep.  But he would also realize that Jesus didn’t reject him even though He knew this about him ahead of time.  So also with you–Jesus knows you and how you will stumble and falter.  And yet He doesn’t reject you; He sticks with you despite yourself.  The rooster’s crow is not only a call to repentance but also a call to faith in Jesus, who looks on you with constant love.

5) Mark 15:1-15
Jesus is judged by Pilate

    The name Barabbas means “son of the Father.”  But this Barabbas did not act like a child of God, but of the evil one.  He was a murderer in the rebellion.  And so Barabbas represents us.  For all sin ultimately is rebellion against God.  It is the attempted murder of God, to get Him out of your way so that you can run things the way you want without any interference or consequences.  This is what the chief priests were doing.  They handed Jesus over because of envy, because He was a threat to their plans and their power.  They were a more pious version of Barabbas, rebelling against God in the name of religion and good order, very literally seeking to murder God.
    And the Father allows them to succeed.  And their success is their undoing.  Evil is overcome by getting its way.  The wicked fall into their own trap.  Sin and death and the devil are overcome by the crucifixion of Jesus.  Justice is satisfied by this injustice.  Christ takes our place in death so that we may be real Barabbases, real sons of the Father through Him.  The Savior is made to be sin so that we are made to be true children of God in Christ.

6) John 19:1-5
Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns

The first time we hear of thorns in the Bible is in Genesis after Adam and Eve fell into sin.  God spoke a curse on the ground saying, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.”  The very ground out of which man was created will itself turn against him.  No longer will food come easily as it did in Paradise.  Now it will come only with thorny and sweaty labor.
Behold the kind of king we have then in Jesus.  He is one who is willing to bear sin’s curse, literally wearing it on His head in order to break the curse and release us from it.  Here is your king, who doesn’t parade His wealth with gold and jewels in His crown, but who manifests His love with blood stained thorns.  There is no fault in Him, as Pilate said.  But He bears all of your faults.  And they died with Him.  No need to beat yourself up over them any more.  Jesus your king has freed you and given you new life. By His wounds you are healed.

7) John 19:14-17
Jesus carries His cross

    Golgotha, Place of a Skull.  What happens with the skull, with the head, is a key theme of salvation and deliverance in Scripture.  The very first explicit promise of the Gospel in Scripture is that the Redeemer would crush the serpent’s head.  When God gave victory over the enemies of His people, there were many times when the taking of the enemy’s head was a sign of triumph.  Goliath was decapitated.  Jael pounded the tent peg through the temple of Sisera’s head. 
    Now, our final and ultimate deliverer carries His weapon, His cross to the Place of a Skull.  There He drives His cross into the Skull like a sword, to defeat the power of death, to destroy the work of the devil.  Though Jesus’ feet are pierced, yet those same feet crush Satan’s head and pulverize the power of the grave. 
    This is why Jesus bears His cross.  This is why He allows Himself to be delivered over to be crucified, to deliver you from the powers of darkness and bring you as His own into His kingdom of light, where you will serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

8) Mark 15:21

Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene

    Jesus is so weak from the beatings and the flogging He has endured that He can only carry the cross for a short distance.  The lack of sleep, the loss of blood, the weight of the world’s sin causes Him to fall beneath the burden of the cross. 
    And so a man named Simon of Cyrene is compelled to carry Jesus’ cross.  Simon was in the city for the Passover feast and was probably pulled out of the crowd randomly by the Roman soldiers to do this duty.  And yet it wasn’t entirely by chance that this happened.  For God chose Simon to perform this special task which would give a vivid picture of Jesus’ own words, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up the cross and follow Me.”
    So it is for you.  In your baptism you were chosen by God to bear the cross.  You received the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and on your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  You are given to carry that cross daily, bearing the burdens of the callings into which God has placed you, sometimes suffering because of faithfulness to the truth of Christ. 
    But notice the fundamental distinction between you and Christ.  Though you take up the cross, yet you do not bear the judgment against sin.  That’s all on Jesus.  He bears the real burden.  He bids you to follow after Him beneath the cross that you may receive all the benefits of His suffering.  That’s how it is that Jesus can say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”  Freed by Jesus’ cross from the crushing weight of sin’s curse, we find it to be a light load that brings rest and peace to our souls.

9) Luke 23:27-31
Jesus encounters the women of Jerusalem

    The faithful women mourn what is happening to Jesus, to their Lord and Teacher.  They are powerless to stop it.  But Jesus tells the women not to weep for Him but rather to weep for themselves at what is coming, great tribulation for the faithful.  If persecution and suffering come when Jesus is present, how much more so when He is no longer seen by the enemies of the Gospel!  Weep for a world that is dry wood without the Gospel, that brings upon itself disorder and chaos and pain by its faithlessness, that invites God’s judgment, even as Jerusalem was overrun in the year 70 A.D. and blood flowed in the streets.  How much more easily the dry wood burns than the fresh green wood!  Both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
    Jesus’ cross is green wood for us, flowing with life, bearing the fruit of salvation for us.  Weep only for where that fruit is rejected.  Weep only that the ingratitude for God’s mercy finally brings judgment and death for those who refuse Him.  Pray for those who are unrepentant, that they  may be granted penitent hearts and be restored to God through Christ, and may eat of the green tree of life.

10) Luke 23:33-34
Jesus is crucified

    Jesus is numbered with the transgressors, treated as a common criminal and worse, just one of three men receiving the death penalty.  There He is, not above it all, distant, keeping His hands clean, but right in the middle of it all, being dirtied with our sin, that we might be cleansed forever.
   Our Lord Jesus is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, even for the very ones who crucified Him.  “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
    Sin makes us ignorant.  We don’t know what we’re doing.  Even when we do know we’re doing something wrong, we don’t grasp how deeply we are hurting others and ourselves.  We don’t know how we are slapping God in the face.  But Jesus prays for us, anyway, “Father, forgive them.”  Here is the ultimate picture of God’s love for us, that He dies for sinners, even for His enemies, His persecutors.  Before we could ever ask Him for help or seek His forgiveness, He was already there to save and redeem us.  He doesn’t require us to change before He’ll love us.  His forgiving love is the very power that changes us. 
    Jesus’ prayer to His Father is surely heard, and so your are surely forgiven.  He has borne the nakedness of your shame so that you may be covered with His garments of mercy.

11) Luke 23:39-43
Jesus promises Paradise

    Jesus was mocked so thoroughly that even one of those who was crucified with Him joined in, telling Him to save them if He was the Christ.  Of course, that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.  But this criminal couldn’t see that.  Even in death he was not repentant for his sins but was full of anger and denial.  He was a goat at Jesus’ left hand.
    But there is also a sheep at Jesus’ right hand.  Learn from this second criminal how to come before God.  Do not complain in bitter anger at God for the crosses in your life, many of which are caused by our own foolishness; for those crosses are for the putting to death of your old sinful nature.  Look to Christ in repentance; trust in Him.  His steadfast love endures forever.  Pray with the thief on the cross, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
    How gladly the repentant thief must have received Jesus’ reply, words that will apply to you and to all Christians on the day of your death, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”  Those two words, “with Me” define for us what Paradise is.  It is to be with Christ.  Where Christ is, there is heaven, where the curse of sin and death is no more, where there is no sorrow or pain or crying.  It is to be restored to communion with God in a way that is even closer and deeper and better than what Adam and Eve knew in the Garden.  To be in Christ’s merciful presence is to have the fullness of life and joy and peace.  As the Psalm says, “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  

12) John 19:25-27 
Jesus speaks to Mary and the disciple

    When we suffer, we tend to turn inward on ourselves, to meditate on our pain, even to wallow in it.  We find it hard to get outside of ourselves and focus on others.  But not our Lord Jesus.  Behold His love!  In His final hours He is thinking not of Himself, but is making sure that His mother is cared for properly.  Jesus had other brothers and sisters who might have looked after Mary.  But the Scriptures remind us that not even they believed that Jesus was who He said He was.  And so our Lord places His mother into the care of John, who stood by Him with Mary in her hour of need, even as John is placed into her care as her son.  It was important that Mary be placed into the hands of one who was faithful to Christ.
    For Mary is a picture of the Church, which has given birth to us all in baptism as members of the body of Christ.  And John is a picture of the Church’s pastors, who in turn care for her in the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments.  These words of Jesus apply also to us, then, as pastor and congregation, “Woman behold your son.” “Behold, your mother.”  Our Lord cares for us from the cross, setting the solitary into the family of the church and bringing comfort to those who mourn.

13) Luke 23:44-46
Jesus dies

    Darkness covers the land at midday, in token of the darkness of judgment that Jesus was enduring.  It’s as if the sun itself could not bear to look at the death of the Son of God and hid its face.
    Jesus’s final words, though, are confident words of faith and trust in His Father.  They are from Psalm 31.  “In you, O Lord, I trust. . . quickly deliver me! . . . For you are my rock and my fortress . . .  You will bring me out of the net they hid for me, for you are my stronghold.  Into your hands I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth. . .  I will rejoice and be glad in your faithfulness.”  After Jesus’ other anguished words on the cross, here Jesus expresses assurance in His Father’s love and faithfulness.  He breathes His last, certain that the Father will deliver Him and raise Him up again.
    As one who is not only fully divine but also fully human, Jesus has a spirit, a human soul.  At this moment of His death He entrusts His spirit to His Father.  He dies like a child falling asleep in the arms of his father.  Remember these words of Jesus when the time comes for you to breathe your last breath.  Remember that by entrusting Himself to the Father, Jesus has entrusted you to the Father.  Your spirit even now is held safely in His hands.  As the baptized you live in Christ, and He is in the Father.  When you are experiencing affliction in your last days and last moments, you also are given to pray these words with peaceful trust and to breathe your last knowing that God will deliver you, too, and raise you up again.  “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.”

14) Mark 15:42-47
Jesus is buried

    Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the very group that had condemned Jesus to death.  Perhaps he had spoken up but was greatly outnumbered at Jesus’ trial.  Perhaps he had not spoken up at all.  But here he takes courage, and goes to Pilate the governor, and asks for the body of Jesus, that Jesus might be given an honorable burial, and not be left for the vultures.
    It may be that you identify with Joseph, feeling outnumbered in your life when it comes to the things of Jesus, sometimes remaining silent for lack of courage.  Let us then stand with Joseph now and take courage.  In the light of Jesus’ death, we see that nothing else is so important as our Lord and His holy cross, even in the face of untrustworthy civil authorities.  Let us ask for the body of Jesus, seeking the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood every week, that we may honor His Word and be honored by the gifts that He gives to us in His Supper. 
    Jesus is buried in a new tomb hewn out of rock.  For He has come to be Rock of our salvation by conquering the grave, bringing new life out of death.  By being laid in the tomb, He has truly made your grave a place of Sabbath rest, of peace, from which you will awaken in the resurrection to everlasting life.  And so we say with the Psalmist, “In God is my salvation and my glory; The rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.”

All Images © 2013 Nicholas Markell | Eyekons
The Holy Bible, New King James Version Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.