Holy Week

Sermon – Matthew 27.62-66 (Easter Vigil – 2021)

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

62 On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate,

 63 saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said,`After three days I will rise.’

 64 “Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people,`He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”

 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.”

 66 So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard. (Matt. 27:62-66 NKJ)

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

Well, the chief priests and Pharisees remembered Jesus’ words. Did the disciples or the women who sometimes accompanied Jesus remember them? If you were there at the time, would you have remembered Jesus’ words?

Those words: “After three days I will rise.”

We didn’t see this hope among Jesus’ followers. We don’t hear any of them encouraging the rest saying, “Hey guys, Jesus said He would rise again on the third day. You remember who He is right. Shouldn’t we believe what He says? Let’s look for Him to come to us on Sunday.” Instead, they embalm Jesus assuming His body was remaining in the grave for the long haul. They were mourning in hopelessness, and hiding for fear of the Jews.

We know that at least the enemies of Christ remembered Jesus’ words. It’s not that they believed the words Jesus spoke. Jesus gave plenty of evidence for the truth of His Words. Signs, even signs which showed His power over death, testified to the truth of Jesus words and His divinity. His words are trustworthy. However, they despised Jesus. They would not believe the words. Despite what their eyes had seen they believed that Jesus was a deceiver, a seducer of the people to get them to follow Him.

Jesus proclaimed Himself the Messiah. His works testified of this. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, He is the Anointed One of God promised in the Old Testament. This the scribes and Pharisees called the first deception. But they killed the Christ. In Jesus’ death they believed that they put that “deception” behind them. Though, that first “deception” would survive if the second “deception” came to pass.

What did they fear was the second deception? Well, Jesus also proclaimed that He will rise on the third day. If His body was missing from the tomb, this would go to show that His word is true. They feared that somehow the body of Jesus would go missing, of course they didn’t believe that Jesus would rise from the dead, but feared that some might steal His body away in order that it may appear that Jesus rose again. They imagined the disciples to be in on this deception. They thought that the disciples would try to steal the body so that it would appear that Jesus rose from the dead.

But why would the disciples seek to deceive? What did they have to gain? We hear that 11 of the 12 disciples died as martyrs. If Jesus’ resurrection was a deception that they were perpetrating, why would they die for it? Would they really die for something they knew was a lie?

There was no conniving going on among Jesus’ disciples. There were no efforts of deception. But there was no faith either.

So Pilate told the scribes and Pharisees to go ahead, take the soldiers and guard the tomb, and not guard the tomb haphazardly, but as secure as they were able. The stone over the mouth of the tomb was sealed, so that there could be no tampering with it. The guards wouldn’t dare allow anyone to break that seal.

And little did the scribes and Pharisees know that by providing this guard, they have only added to the firm certainty that Christ is risen. The guards were set there to prevent deception, but their presence only shows the truth of Christ’s resurrection. There was no deception. Christ’s body was not stolen. It couldn’t have been with the guards there. Neither did His body remain lifeless in the tomb. Jesus miraculously rose from the dead. The guards were not overcome by soldiers, but by angels. And the angels didn’t come to steal the body, but to show that the tomb was empty. That Christ is risen!

If only the disciples remembered the words of Jesus, and not only remembered them like the Pharisees did, but unlike the Pharisees to also believe in His words.

If only they would have believed those words, so that in the midst of their sadness that Jesus, their Lord, died, they could have also have waited with hope that He would rise again.

If only we could remember and believe the words of Christ as we wait for the resurrection of the dead. We fear as though death has won. We are despondent as though all is lost. We worry as though God is dead and is not able to help or save. We refuse to let go of our guilt as though Christ didn’t rise, and His atonement fell short.

But the soldier guard, the angels, and Christ Himself confirms that Christ is indeed risen! They teach us to remember God’s Word and not to doubt it. And so we can have full confidence and joy that death is defeated and life eternal is ours. Our Savior is risen, and we are His, how can we say all is lost. He who gave His life for us, that we may be His, lives and cares for you. The Father who raised His Son from the dead confirms that forgiveness has been won. His wrath was spent, and there is no more for you who are in Christ, but only grace towards you in Christ. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

Holy Week

Sermon – Leviticus 16.15-22 (Good Friday – 2021)

Pardon to Pardon

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

15 “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat.

 16 “So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

 17 “There shall be no man in the tabernacle of meeting when he goes in to make atonement in the Holy Place, until he comes out, that he may make atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the assembly of Israel.

 18 “And he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD, and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around.

 19 “Then he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, cleanse it, and consecrate it from the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

 20 “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat.

 21 “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man.

 22 “The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

These are Your Words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

We saw throughout the Lenten season how particular sections of the Old Testament Scripture point forward to Christ and His saving work. We get a look at another one here that gives us a very vivid picture. It describes the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus from two different angles of the one saving work. We see it in the two goats.

Two goats were chosen. Lots were cast to determine which one was for the LORD and the other for Azazel.

The goat that was for the Lord is the goat that would be used for the burnt offering. This offering showed that sin requires death. It takes a life. God said that the day that you eat of the tree which you are not to eat, you shall die. Sin requires a life, not just bodily death, but death that is separation from God, who is the fount of goodness and love. Well, we ate of the tree in Adam and Eve, and we have sinned, as Adam and Eve. We have the same greedy eyes that see what our hearts desire and it looks good. We wish to be like God, rather than to be subject to our Creator. We make our own law, follow our own path, we do what is right in our own eyes, to disobey God and obey our passions. And so we act selfishly, we put ourselves first, we lust, we greedily chase after the treasures of the world, we get our priorities out of whack. These sins cost a life, our life. For those of the Old Testament, a goat was given. Its lifeblood is shed, and it is sacrificed, as it is burnt on the altar and the smoke rises to God. Its life is taken in place of sinful man, and thus through this sacrifice, the people are pardoned. Yet it is not the sacrifice that earns this forgiveness, but this sacrifice saved the Old Testament believers because God’s Word was connected to that sacrifice and the sacrifice points forward to that once for all sacrifice that would really atone for the sins of the world.

Christ is the fulfillment of this sacrifice. In love, He willingly offers His life to God. Whereas the goat of the burnt offering is offered to God on the altar in the tabernacle or Temple, Jesus is brought out of the Holy City, away from the Temple and gives His life on the altar of a torturous cross. So there on the cross He doesn’t enter the Holy of Holies made of wood and stone and fabric built by the hands of men, but He goes before God in the heavenly Temple offering His blood and His life to atone for your sins. Scripture says, “For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another… but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:24,25,26,28).

He gives His life for ours–His divine, righteous life without spot or blemish for our life, so that sin and the death that sin requires is answered for, and thus life is won for us.

Another aspect of Jesus saving work on the cross is typified by the other goat, the goat that was for Azazel.

Azazel is a hard Hebrew word, and there are many different theories as to what it means, one common one that we see in numerous translations is scapegoat. And that’s a really fitting one. A scapegoat is simply the goat that escaped. Nowadays we say that a scapegoat is someone who takes the blame for something.

Aaron placed his hands on the head of the goat, and he confessed the sins of the people of Israel upon the goat, transferring their sins upon the it. That goat takes the blame, and is driven out from among the people and from God’s presence into the wilderness.

Jesus is our scapegoat. He has taken all of our sins, transferring every one of them upon Himself. Therefore “He who knew no sin, became sin for us.Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Is 53:4-5). He becomes our sin. And He is driven away outside of the city bearing our sins. But more than that, He is driven away from God’s presence. God, His Father abandons Him, and this is literally what hell is. And in the absence of the Father’s love and goodness, with only the wrath of God to be felt, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachtani.” And since He has done that, your sins are removed from you! They have been placed on Jesus, and they have been taken away. As far as the east is from the west, so far has Christ taken your sins from you.

O what sadness there is in this night. For it is not a couple random goats that are sacrificed, but our soul’s great Friend, the righteous and holy Son of God is treated the way we sinners should be treated. He suffers hell. He is killed. And we see how awful our sins are, for what tremendous cost there is to atone for them and to remove them from us!

But also rejoice, because in such unfathomable love for us, He willingly does this. And in His suffering and death we are redeemed from sin, death, and hell. In His gory death, He crushes the serpent’s head that we may share in the spoils of His glorious victory.

So, in this rejoicing, we give our lives as a sacrifice of thanks and praise to Him who sacrificed Himself to make us His own redeemed people. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

Holy Week

Sermon – Exodus 24.1-11 (Maundy Thursday – 2021)

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now He said to Moses, “Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship from afar.

 2 “And Moses alone shall come near the LORD, but they shall not come near; nor shall the people go up with him.”

 3 So Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the judgments. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has said we will do.”

 4 And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

 5 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD.

 6 And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

 7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.”

 8 And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.”

 9 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel,

 10 and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.

 11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exod. 24:1-11 NKJ)

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Dear fellow redeemed,

Everyone has a relationship with God. Either the relationship is having Him as our loving Father, or having Him as our vengeful judge.

We do not enter into a loving relationship with God on our own terms. Rather it is on His terms, and really, it is God who does it. And we see a perfect example of this in our text from Exodus today.

God, here, is establishing a covenant with His people. It is what we call the Sinaitic covenant since it was established at Mt. Sinai, or the Mosaic covenant, since God established this covenant through Moses. We should rightfully understand what is going on.

Moses read the Book of the Covenant, the Law, and the people said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” Their obedience didn’t bring them into a relationship with God.

Rather, it is by grace that God establishes this covenant with the Israelites. God had chosen Israel by His grace. Moses said, “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt”.

Therefore the people agreed to the terms of the covenant by faith in God’s grace. Their agreement to be obedient to the Law is the fruit of their faith, since good works must follow faith. Good works don’t save, and they don’t bring us into a relationship with God, but they are the fruit of those who are saved and in a loving relationship with God.

And then what ratified, or put this covenant into effect, is what follows. This covenant relationship they entered into with God is possible only through blood. Moses built an altar and with the help of the young men of Israel, he offered sacrifices. He offered a burnt offering. The burnt offering is the great shadow of Christ’s atonement. This is the sacrificial victim that is slaughtered pointing forward to the Messiah who would come to be slaughtered to answer for the sins of the people. Its blood is shed pointing forward to the shed blood of Christ that restores sinners to a relationship to God. Then there was also the peace offering, or the fellowship offering. This offering was partially burned, and partially eaten. It emphasized the fellowship the people had with God on account of the blood that had been shed for atonement.

Through the blood and death of the sacrifice, the Israelites are brought into a relationship with God. The blood establishes this relationship. The blood is splattered on the altar to prepare it for the service of the Lord. And then Moses splattered the blood upon the people with a hyssop branch covering them in the blood that pictured the atoning blood of Christ. With that blood they are rendered clean to serve God their Father. David understood the meaning of this blood, when he said, “purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps 51:7).

It is only through the blood and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that we sinners are brought into a loving relationship with God. Our works do not do it, but through Christ whom we hold by faith alone, that we are forgiven, redeemed, are made God’s dear children, and are rendered clean to serve our Father, so that we can say in faith and gratefulness for His grace, Lord all that you command, we will do.

Yet we are tempted to say, “I’ll be in this loving relationship with you, O God, but I don’t care to do what you command.” We do not set the terms. Though our works do not bring us into the relationship with God, a refusal to obey God shows that our faith is dead, and shows that we reject the blood of Christ that bought us from wicked works.

Yet, God does not withhold His hand of grace from You, dear baptized. The hyssop branch is at the ready, and the blood of Christ that was shed for your atonement will still cover you.

But now, we get to the part that deals specifically with the theme for today. We get a remarkable sight at the end of our reading. God orders the prophet, Moses, the priests, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the governmental leaders, the 70 elders, to come up on the mountain and eat with Him. What a fantastic sight! “They saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.

This is the throne of God, where He sits in glory. We get other images of this in Scripture. Ezekiel spoke of what he saw above the cherubim that appeared to him. He said, “The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads…. Above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it” (Ezekiel 1:22,26). And John saw a similar sight of heaven which he recorded in Revelation. “Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal” (Rev 4:6).

So when the men went up Mt. Sinai to eat with God, they entered the threshold of heaven. Here heaven and earth converged. God was present with them. He didn’t lay His hand upon them as an angry judge over sinners. He was not present in the terrifying way, as He had been earlier when His glory was manifested in fire, smoke, thunder, and lightning. Rather He softened His glory, that they beheld His glory and enjoyed fellowship with Him in the meal. We can’t help but wonder if what they ate was the fellowship sacrifice.

As magnificent this meal of the Old Covenant was, it does not compare in power and magnificence as the meal of the New Covenant: the Lord’s Supper. For what is eaten is not the body of a beast which was only a shadow of Christ, but rather it is the true body and blood of Christ that is given us to eat and drink. Jesus said, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26:28). This is the very body and blood that has redeemed you, covers you, cleanses you, and brings you into a blessed relationship with your heavenly Father.

When we come to this altar to receive this meal, it truly happens, as it happened on Mt. Sinai, heaven and earth converge. We are in the presence of God’s glorious throne, with angels and archangels and all the hosts of heaven, though that glory is hidden, and we enjoy a fellowship meal with our God.

We examine ourselves, 1. I must recognize I am a sinner. My fellowship with God is not based upon my works, for my sins separate me from God, thus I repent of these sins. 2. I must recognize that my blessed relationship with God is based upon the blood of Christ which atoned for my sins. 3. We must recognize that this fellowship meal is the true body and blood of Christ, which He sacrificed for my sins, and this body and blood grants me forgiveness. 4. Finally, we desire to amend our ways, and say, “All you command, we will do.” We strive to live godly lives in love towards God and towards our neighbor. We look for the strength to do this in the body and blood of Christ, and there we find forgiveness when we fail.

And so then we heed the invitation of Christ, who is both our host and our meal. And in faith we come to the threshold of heaven to eat before His sapphire throne, the fellowship meal, as His dear redeemed people, in a blessed relationship with Him through His blood. This is a foretaste of heaven! Thanks be to God for this blessed Communion! Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.

Holy Week

Palm Sunday