Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Gardener

John 20:10-18

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

    Mary Magdalene is standing near the tomb in the garden weeping.  That sounds a lot like Eve, doesn't it? Wasn’t it in the garden that Eve, with Adam, fell away from God? In so doing didn’t she bring a curse of pain and sorrow upon herself? Wasn’t death the result of her and her husband's sin? In her helplessness and hopelessness and loneliness, Mary Magdalene, the daughter of Eve, weeps.

    So it is for all the children of Eve, for all you who are dust to dust. Everything is only temporary in this vale of tears. Nothing lasts. It is written, "All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls." Even the vitality of youth is permeated by the degenerative power of death. It's the hollowness that you still have after you've taken in your fill of all this passing world has to offer. It's the so-called "fun" you rationalize that ends up taking from you more than it gives. It's the camaraderie you seek by going along with the crowd that turns out to be a sort of crowded isolation. There's ultimately no avoiding the brokenness of mortality. In the end you are left right where Mary is, bent over, staring through wet eyes into the mouth of the grave.

    But note what Mary sees. Not only does she see that Jesus' tomb is empty, but she also beholds two angels sitting where the Lord had been. And these messengers of the Lord ask her, "Why are you weeping?" It's almost as if they said, "There's no need for tears any more. For the crucified One whom you seek has risen. He who bore the curse of the world's sin has redeemed you from the curse forever. He who was held by the jaws of the grave has shattered those jaws and has destroyed death's power over you. He who did battle with the kingdom of darkness has crushed the devil's head by His holy cross, setting you free from hellish bondage. Do not cry. For Jesus is alive for you as the triumphant conqueror and the Lord of all."

    Mary turns around now and sees Jesus. But she doesn't yet know that it's Him. She mistakes Jesus for the gardener. And yet she really isn't mistaken, is she. Jesus is the Gardener. For He is the Second Adam. And was not the first Adam the caretaker of Eden's garden? So also Jesus is risen to restore you, His people, to Paradise. This New Adam walks in the garden in the cool of the new day and reveals Himself to the daughter of Eve. What He brings to her and to you is not judgment but justification, not sin but righteousness, not death but life. Jesus completely reverses and totally undoes the fall. It is written, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

    Jesus is not only the Gardener, He is also the Seed which is planted in the garden. He is the promised Seed of Eve which overcomes the serpent. Jesus had said that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, then it is fruitful. So it was that Jesus was crucified and planted in the garden tomb.  He is the New Vine of the garden, which has arisen out of the earth, bearing abundant fruit, making you alive in Him, giving you to share in His resurrection.  As Jesus said, "Because I live, you will live also."

    Jesus makes Himself known to Mary simply with one word. The sheep know the Shepherd's voice, and He calls them each by name. “Mary.”  In the joy of this sudden recognition, Mary cries out "Teacher!"

    Has not the Teacher also revealed Himself to you by calling your name at the baptismal font? Indeed, by water and the Word He drew your name into the name of the Holy Trinity.  He united you with Himself and thereby made you a child of God. So it is that Jesus says, "My Father and your Father, my God and your God."  Do you see what that means? You are given the same status now as Jesus.  All that Christ is and has He has made yours: release from sorrow, abounding forgiveness, indestructible life and joy. By virtue of your baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection, you are now His kin, His own flesh and blood, restored to communion with God and with one another.  Believing in Him you shall share in the everlasting inheritance of His new creation.

    Therefore, it is written, "'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. . . God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"

✠ In the name of Jesus ✠

Friday, April 18, 2014

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 brash 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


    Sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others. Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us. Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, "Man is like the beasts that perish" (Psalm 49:12).
    "Behold the Man!" Pilate says.  Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin. Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church. He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory. By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.
    Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of. Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
    This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham. He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.


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.