Friday, March 29, 2024

The Fifth Word: Thirst

John 19:28 – “I thirst!” The fifth word from the cross actually was just one word (it takes two words in English to translate διψω). Though it is the shortest of Christ’s sayings from the cross, it is by no means insignificant. First of all, the Scripture had to be fulfilled (John 19:28). “They also gave me gall for my food, And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Psalm 69:21). Jesus would not let a jot or tittle pass from the law till all was fulfilled (Matthew 5:18) . . . and just before He spoke the words, “It is finished,” He was also fulfilling the Scriptures. And there is more. Roman soldiers were the most crude and cruel of men. We may see the depth of their depravity as they nailed Jesus to the cross, raised Him up, and stood around the crucified Christ. Cicero, the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher had written that crucifixion was so horrible, that the word “cross” should never be mentioned in polite society: “Let the very word ‘cross,’ be far removed from not only the bodies of Roman citizens, but even from their thoughts, their eyes, and their ears.” (Cicero, [106 - 43BC], Pro Rabirio 16). But Roman soldiers demurred not one bit from crucifying hundreds -- or even thousands -- of men at a time.  For example, in 4 B.C., the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews. The lictor had given Jesus forty stripes minus one with a whip of leather strands having pieces of sharp bone at the end which did not merely give welts, but ripped the flesh from His back. They put a purple robe on that back which had the flesh ripped off, they mocked Him – and later they ripped the blood soaked robe from His back in which the blood had no doubt begun to coagulate. They had blindfolded Jesus and struck Him asking Him to prophesy who had hit Him. And their cruelty did not end there. A bit earlier, Jesus had refused the drink they had prepared. Jesus had been offered sour wine mingled with gall to drink. “But when He had tasted it, He would not drink” (Matthew 27:34). But Jesus had a second opportunity to quench the kind of thirst which accompanies the shedding of one’s life blood. He initiated it by saying, “I thirst.” And then we read: “Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth” (John 19:29). People generally don’t give much thought to this or ask, “How was it that the Roman soldiers happened to have sour wine, a sponge, and a hyssop stick?” but it is noteworthy. The Roman soldiers carried no toilet paper in those days. Archaeology has discovered the xylospongius or tersorius, also known as a “sponge on a stick.” Uncovered in ancient Roman latrines, these wooden sticks with a sea sponge fixed at the end were often cleaned in vinegar. The soldiers likely carried a tersorius in their kit as they traveled about on their various assignments, including the one to Golgotha. They had them on hand, in this case, to add just one more insult and indignity to all the others they had already heaped upon the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world. At the institution of the Lord’s Supper the previous day, Jesus had said that He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God. On the cross, Jesus received the sour wine as He was opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. With that, we come to another noteworthy aspect of Jesus saying, “I thirst.” It is not uncommon today to see a glass or bottle of water on the pulpit. A pastor’s mouth can dry out while preaching. So, too, for our Lord. Jesus said, “I thirst,” because He still had something important to say – words for our comfort, joy, and peace. When He had received the sour wine to His parched lips, He was enabled to say audibly, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30) And now, we who with the apostle Paul “die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31), who have been “crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20), who have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) and who “boast . . . in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucifed to [us] and [we] to the world” (Galatians 6:14) – we thirst. We exclaim with David who, when he was in the wilderness, composed these words: “My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1b). Jesus, who knew thirst, invites us: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink" (John 7:37). And is it not this very same Jesus, who is the One speaking in Revelation 21:6, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” We thirst. And we drink the fruit of the vine with Him in the kingdom of God -- not sour wine or vinegar with gall, but His precious blood shed and His true body given for us in His death on the cross. Thus, when we go to the Lord’s Supper, we go as if going to our death – and when we go to our death, we may go as if to the Lord’s Supper where He “satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The First Word: Forgiveness

Being retired, I rarely preach anymore, but after some 40 years of preparing sermons (I graduated from Concordia Seminary - St. Louis in 1984), I still ruminate on various texts. Here are some thoughts I would have shared on Christ's seven "words" from the cross (in Greek and Latin, "word" can refer to thoughts and sentences). Luke 23: 34 -- "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do." With these words from the cross, our Lord showed what was on His mind while He was suffering on the cross. His thoughts were not about anger, retribution, vengeance, or justice -- but forgiveness. It was for forgiveness that He was nailed to the accursed cross. He had not come to condemn the world of sinners, but that the world through Him might be saved [John 3:17]. Those who sneered while looking upon Him used their words to mock, blaspheme, and ridicule Him. They, too, were included among those for whom He was giving His life. The ones right under His nose, turned up their noses and held Him in contempt -- yet He did not respond in kind. He did not threaten them in reply, saying, "When I rise from the dead, you guys are in for a world of hurt! I'm going to kill you!" but rather, "when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). Christ's enemies did not know what they were doing. Now, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the Law. Any sheriff can tell you that, but the thought is also expressed in the Old Testament (Leviticus 5:18; Ezekiel 45:20). And yet, there was a sense in which they had to be ignorant. Who would have driven nails into the hands and feet of Jesus utterly convinced that He was both true God and true man. Those who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden got a glimpse that Jesus was the great I AM, and they fell back when they heard Jesus say, "I am He." Or as we read in Colossians 2:8, "which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." The hatred and invectives of those enemies of the cross did not stop at Golgotha. When they no longer had Jesus to kick about, they went after His disciples. They went after Stephen. Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5), never had the opportunity to read any of Paul's epistles. The words which Paul wrote to the Philippians were never read to Stephen: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . [who] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." Nevertheless, Stephen had the mind of Christ, forgiving those who were stoning him to death, crying out with a loud voice, out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin," calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" as he knelt down and "fell asleep." But even though Stephen never knew anything about Paul's letters, Paul (who at that time was Saul) had the opportunity to hear Stephen. Saul had consented to the stoning of Stephen. He breathed threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. In Acts 22:20, Paul himself confessed: "when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him." If anyone was an "in" + "amicus," literally, "not a friend" -- if anyone was an enemy of the cross -- it was Saul. But in the forgiveness of Christ's cross conveyed through the words on the dying lips of Stephen, Paul came to know "For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10) and again, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled" (Colossians 1:21). Today's world spends billions of dollars to have vengeance and retribution streamed onto their 84-inch smart screens or to read about such things on their tablets. Writers and directors set us up in the beginning of movies and novels to be shocked at some abhorrent evil or injustice. By the end of the movie or book, we expect to see the antagonists die a most gruesome death. We expect the enemies to get justice from a wide array of implements of destruction. It is not likely that the same amount of revenues could be collected in a story which ends with the enemies being forgiven (though there are a few). We, by nature, are not friends of the Lord God almighty. We demonstrate this by our selfishness, our carelessness, our lusts, our pride, our complaints, our wasted time, our willfulness -- our sinfulness. We justly deserve temporal and eternal punishment. We cannot plead ignorance, but with the apostle Paul, we confess, "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:4). And yet by the grace and mercy of our crucified Lord, we do not come to a bitter end. We do not face the holy and righteous justice of the almighty Lord God. Jesus faced that bitter end for us on the cross. Christ died for enemies like us. And by His grace, mercy, and peace through faith, through Christ's words of forgiveness from the cross, we, too, are enlivened to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Pure Doctrine for the Mission-Minded

Those who consider themselves "mission-minded" are not too often enthused about the topic of "pure doctrine." They may trot out diatribes decrying "incessant internal purification."

Still, for every fervent Walther mission citation, one can put forth five zealous "pure doctrine" quotes like the following:

“It is true, brethren, as you well know, that in our day it is common for people to say, ‘Emphasizing doctrine so much only harms and hinders the kingdom of God, yes, even destroys it.’ Many say, ‘Instead of disputing over doctrine so much, we should much rather be concerned with souls and with leading them to Christ.’ But all who speak in this way do not really know what they are saying or what they are doing.” Our Common Task - The Saving of Souls, (1872).

“Nowadays any one who insists that pure doctrine is a very important matter is at once suspected of not having the right Christian spirit. The very term ‘pure doctrine’ has been proscribed and outlawed. Even such modern theologians as wish to be numbered with the confessionalists, as a rule, speak of pure doctrine only in derisive terms, treating it as the shibboleth of dead-letter theology. If any one goes to the extreme, as it is held to be, of even fighting for the pure doctrine and opposing every false doctrine, he is set down as a heartless and unloving fanatic. What may be the reason? Unquestionably this, that modern theologians know full well that they have not that doctrine which in all ages has been called, and verily is, the pure doctrine. Furthermore, they even think that pure doctrine does not exist (is a non-ens), except in a dream world, in the realm of ideals, in the Republic of Plato. (Law and Gospel, 347)

“How foolish it is, yea, what an awful delusion has taken hold upon so many men's minds who ridicule the pure doctrine and say to us: ‘Ah, do cease clamoring, Pure doctrine! Pure doctrine! That can only land you in dead orthodoxy. Pay more attention to pure life, and you will raise a growth of genuine Christianity.’ That is exactly like saying to a farmer: ‘Do not worry forever about good seed; worry about good fruits.’ Is not a farmer properly concerned about good fruit when he is solicitous about getting good seed? Just so, a concern about pure doctrine is the proper concern about genuine Christianity and a sincere Christian life. False doctrine is noxious seed, sown by the enemy to produce a progeny of wickedness. The pure doctrine is wheat-seed; from it spring the children of the Kingdom, who even in the present life belong in the kingdom of Jesus Christ and in the life to come will be received into the Kingdom of Glory. May God even now implant in your hearts a great fear, yea, a real abhorrence, of false doctrine! May He graciously give you a holy desire for the pure, saving truth, revealed by God Himself!” (Law and Gospel)

Want to talk about mission zeal? Great. I'm all for it. But let's do with with pure doctrine. It's what our Lord expects.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

In a sermon on 1 John 4, Luther addresses those pastors and people who wrongly imagine that they can preach and listen only to the Gospel apart from the rebuke and admonition of the Law:

YOU have often heard and are now hearing the complaint, which is universal in all the world, that when human beings hear the preaching of faith about the remission of sins, they embrace it, because it is a delightful preaching: God has sent His Son for you. But when it is said that you must adorn your faith to the praise of God, and sins are rebuked, no one wants to hear anything more.

In towns everywhere, people distinguish among preachers. “This one is a fine preacher, who talks about grace and mercy; and what is even finer, he does not scold anyone or frighten people.” That is the way people commonly talk and act. If he does rebuke [sins], they undertake to have him removed. Therefore, many [of these preachers] have returned to us.

When you are scolded as a usurer, adulterer, or whatever kind of swine you are, or [it is said] that a peasant, a townsman, or a nobleman is godless, no one will suffer that. “But if I am a usurer, adulterer, swindler, and [the preacher] does not scold me, ah, what a pious man he is!”

[Are you] really righteous because I [do not] rebuke your vices? Then let the devil be [your] preacher. If I see peasants, townsmen, noblemen and do not chastise them, then I will go to the devil along with you. For [God says in] Ezekiel 3 [:18]: “I will require [their] blood at your [hands],” and they themselves will go to the devil. You shall give an account of yourself. I will not be responsible for that in the hour of death or of judgment. Rather, I shall declare what is contrary to the commandment, and then if you do not obey, you do it at your own peril.

. . . Surely an upright [Christian] gladly hears an admonition to faith, not to be greedy or a usurer, and he amends himself. I would want a brother to admonish me when I go astray. But they refuse to tolerate anyone who rebukes them [even] in general. When I say that usurers belong to the devil, why do you cry out? It is because you yourself are guilty. If you want to know which dog has been struck, it is the one who cries out.8 Therefore, you are accusing yourself, if you grumble, and are defaming yourself. As Cicero says, when vices are rebuked in general terms, whoever becomes angry at it shows himself to be guilty.

Whoever cannot bear it when unbelief is rebuked along with the fruits of unbelief, he is most certainly the dog who has been struck. But this is the purpose for which they want to misuse the Gospel: that they may do whatever they want, and the preachers should confirm it and so be cast down to hell along with them, or else we should nullify the Gospel and the ministry [of the Word], etc., [saying,] “Oh, it is all the same; do whatever you want and you will be saved!”

The Word must be unbound [cf. 2 Tim. 2:9]. It must be freely preached. Human nature has been corrupted by unbelief, which brings its fruits along with it. Therefore, sins must be rebuked, as in the Ten Commandments, etc. If you don’t want to listen to God, then don’t!

Luther, Martin. “Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, 1 John 4:16–21.” Luther’s Works: Sermons V. Ed. & trans. by Christopher Boyd Brown. Vol. 58. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, pp. 234–235.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Donne on Done

A Hymn to God the Father
John Donne

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.