Sermon for Tenebrae

luther-predigt-lc-wbThe Psalmist prophesied about the Messiah, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, you shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The promised one will be mighty. He will not be broken, but will do the breaking. The kings of the earth will set themselves against him, and will be destroyed. Broken into pieces. So, you’ll have to excuse the disciples for thinking that somehow, something got messed up. Because the promised king was just condemned to death. Mocked by the worldly powers he is supposed to break apart. Spat upon. Beaten. Whipped. And then, carrying his own cross, driven out to be crucified. He hangs suspended between heaven and earth. Lifted up as he had promised. But not as the disciples thought it would be. Before the sun set, his body was lifeless – a spear to his side made certain of that. He was dead. So, exactly how is he going to break anything? He’s hardly got a rod of iron. Dashing his enemies in pieces seems unlikely.

There’s nothing left but to bury him. The disciples are gone, scattered in fear. Joseph and Nicodemus finally get up the courage to admit they are disciples. They ask for the body, And quickly put him in Joseph’s tomb. The job must be done before the sun sets, so though not finished anointing him, they manage to lay him the tomb and get the stone in place. It was better than one would expect for a crucifixion victim. They were usually left on the cross until the body decayed and fell off. Jesus gets a proper burial. A newly carved tomb. Not his own to be sure. But, quite nice, all things considered.

Of course, that doesn’t really help with the image of the great king breaking the rulers of the world in pieces. A backwater governor broke him. It didn’t even take the might of Rome. The mob would have killed him if they could. The only thing Rome contributes is the manner of his death. The Jews did not crucify. That was a Roman invention. Designed for maximum pain, and maximum impact on the crowds. Put a criminal on a cross for a few weeks, list his crime above his decaying head, and it’s a remarkably effective deterrent.

Jesus is himself broken, not breaking others. How exactly is it that the kings of the earth will be broken? Death is the end of anyone’s story. But not this one. Jesus has not merely broken the kings of the earth, and dashed them in pieces. Death hell and the devil have been crushed. Utterly destroyed. The disciples don’t see it that day. His mother weeps. The other women weep. Even Pilate seems sorry about the way things turned out. Poor fellow.

But the one thing they could all agree on – this Jesus was finished.

That just shows how wrong everyone can be. The World arrayed against him. Death hell and the devil have claimed him as a prize. And yet he is not defeated. Tonight the candle of Christ is not extinguished. It is removed for a time. For a little while. But then, after a little while, it returns. Because Christ is the great king. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rules take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed. We see that as the rulers of the people shout “crucify”! As Jesus is taken out under the Roman Standard and executed. But the Rod of Iron – the Gospel which Jesus speaks – defeats them all. All of the most powerful empires in history have fallen. Eventually it happens. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Not kings or princes, or Presidents, or nations. No earthly power is immune to decay and destruction. They rise, stand for a time in their impregnable fortresses, and then are swept into the dustbin of history.

The Word of the Lord remains forever. The dead savior endures. The one who was beaten and mocked, who couldn’t even save himself, who hung naked on the cross, who poured out his blood into the earth, and who gave as his final gift, the blood and water that flowed from his side, has conquered them all. What we see tonight is the dead savior. His wounds gaping. But those wounds are where salvation is found. In that body broken, in the blood poured out onto the earth is the only hope you have. Those wounds are not the marks of defeat for some deluded preacher or revolutionary who couldn’t hack it. They are the marks of glory for the king who, by his death, defeated death. They are the rod of iron. Hide in the wounds of your savior.  From those wounds the Gospel goes forth to the ends of the earth. And the gates of hell can not prevail against them. The kingdoms of this world have no chance. They may be set against Jesus, taking counsel together and saying, “Let us break the bonds  of religious belief. Let us cast off the shackles of ancient myths and legends in favor of our brave new world of science and progress.” But the efforts of the world are laughable. And the Lord holds them in derision. The world rages and plots against Christ and his church. But the world can not beat the wounds of Christ, which still stand as testament, not only to his power over death, but to his mercy.

They are our glory and salvation. If you would be saved from your sin, it must be in Jesus, and in his holy wounds. The world refuses to see it that way. They see a dead false prophet, who got the reward for his foolishness. But the world’s opinion doesn’t really matter. The powers and authorities of this world stand against Christ and his death. But they are defeated. They spread the lies that they get from their father, the devil. The culture of death continues today just as it did in Jesus day. For that is what the world offers, and nothing more. Not a way of life, but a way of death. Against the dead and dying world, the Lord continues to reign in the land of the living. Among those who wait patiently for the redemption of the Lord. It is accomplished on the cross, it is offered to you in his precious wounds – the water that washes and regenerates you, giving you a new life in God. The body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.

And though the night is dark all around, even the darkness can not hide you from him. Even though you are forsaken in this world, the Lord takes you into his wounds, into his redeeming hands. With the Lord as your light and salvation, what can man do to you? There is no reason to fear, because you sleep safely in the wounds of Christ.

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