Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Minutes Daily with Luther - April 29

(Reprinted with permission from Five Minutes Daily with Luther: Daily Lessons from the Writings of Martin Luther, by John Theodore Mueller.)

And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. Galatians 5:3.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The first injury borne is indeed very great, where Paul says that Christ is of no benefit to those who are circumcised. Then he adds this also, he says that those who are circumcised are under obligation to keep the whole Law. These words may be expounded in two ways, negatively and affirmatively. Negatively in this way: Paul testifies that every man who is circumcised performs no part of the Law; yes, that in the very work of circumcision he actually is not circumcised, and even by the fulfilling of the Law, he actually does not fulfill it but transgresses against it. This is Paul’s simple and plain meaning. In the sixth chapter he explains himself like this: “Those who are circumcised, do not even keep the Law themselves.” So also in the third chapter: “for as many are of the works of the Law, are under a curse.” He means to say: “Although you are circumcised, yet you are not righteous and free from the Law; and the more you work at satisfying the Law, and try to be set free by means of it, the more you entangle and snare yourselves in the burden of it, so that it has more power to accuse and condemn you. The affirmative exposition is this: He who is circumcised is also obligated to keep the entire Law. For anyone who accepts Moses in one point, must of necessity accept him in every point. And it does not help one whit to say that circumcision is ‘necessary’, and not the rest of Moses’ Laws. For by precisely the same reason that you are required to keep the Law of circumcision, you are also required to keep all of the Jewish ceremonies and Laws concerning foods, and places, and festivals; and Christ must be looked for as yet to come.
I know that sin and guilt combine
To reign o’er every thought of mine,
And turn from good to ill;
I know that when I try to be
Upright, and just, and true to Thee,
I am a sinner still!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon II (by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann)

The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon II

St. Paul's Easter Hymn

by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann1

Text: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:55-57)

The Triumph of Christ over Sin and Death, by Peter Paul RubensIn one of Luther’s powerful sermons for the Easter season he brings out, in a very effective way, the relation between the Lenten season and Easter, between the power and the effects of sin and the manner in which sin was overcome by the victorious Christ. Speaking of the sacrifice of Jesus, the true Passover Lamb, Luther points out that this sacrifice was indeed most necessary if the redemption of the world was to be effected. We can never fully understand and appreciate the Easter victory unless we first consider in its full extent the power of sin. The Easter miracle, with all its glorious comfort, must cause us to think of the great and terrible wrath of God against the sin of all mankind, a wrath so great that it could not be appeased in any other way, and payment could be not be made in any other manner than through this singular sacrifice, that is, through the death and blood of the Son of God. “Christ was delivered for our offenses,” writes the Apostle. It was our transgressions, the sins of all mankind since the days of Adam, that brought the wrath of God upon sinners, that were the cause of His sacrifice on the cross, with the shedding of His holy blood. This fact should produce in us true terror on account of our sins; for it was indeed not a little indignation on the part of God which could not be satisfied with any other satisfaction but that of His own Son’s sacrifice. And could we possibly think that we might endure this wrath of God, or stand before its fury, if we do not acknowledge or realize the unspeakable power of sin?

However, we have the glorious comfort that Christ was raised again for our justification. What unspeakable mercy and love is evident in the Easter miracle, since it calls to the heart of all men to leave behind the terrors of the Law and remember why God raised His Son from death. It is a miracle of comfort which St. Paul well pictures in his song of triumph in Romans 8, when he writes: “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth, Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Ro. 8:31-34). And then the Apostle’s triumphant hymn rises to its overwhelming climax: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 37-39). Truly, what greater love, what greater benefit can possibly be thought of than that connected with the Easter miracle? And it is for this reason that this sacrifice of Christ is set before us, that we might have a true and certain comfort against our sin; for surely the Easter miracle, with all that went before, must cause us to be convinced that God does not want us to be condemned on account of our sin; for does He not give us the assurance of His love in the sacrifice of Calvary, which is the highest and the most precious earnest of His grace and of our salvation? Therefore, although our sin, and the wrath of God on account of our sin, is great and terrible, we have the assurance that the sacrifice and the death of the Son of God is much greater. For all this is given to us for a sure sign that God, for Jesus’ sake, is gracious to us and forgives us our sins. These are the thoughts with which we are to comfort ourselves and have the full consolation of Easter.

These considerations are summarized in a most beautiful and impressive way in the text which we have before us. For this has rightly been called an incomparable hymn of victory. And this hymn is to be the basis of our Easter meditation, as we, with the gracious assistance of the Holy Spirit, consider:


We see,
  1. The role of sin and death in connection with the Easter miracle;
  2. The Easter victory to which the Apostle points; and
  3. The expression of the believer’s gratitude.

The role of sin and death in connection with the Easter miracle

As we proceed to study St. Paul’s great Easter hymn, we note, first of all, the parallel verses: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” And we have our attention called to the fact that the quotation of the Apostle is from an acknowledged writing of the Old Testament, for he states: “then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written” (1 Co. 15:52-58). We have here an instance of the manner in which the Holy Ghost, the true Author of Holy Writ, casts an Old Testament saying into a form that just suits the present argument. For in the Prophet Hosea (Ho. 13:14) we read, in the original: “Where is thy plague, O death? Where is thy sting (or, destruction), O death-realm?” In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, as it was in general use at the time of the Apostle, the literal rendering reads: “Where is they penalty, O death? Where thy sting, O death-realm?” The version chosen by the Apostle under the Spirit's guidance is at the same time an explanation, for the plague of death is its supposed victory, and the death-realm includes all that is suggested by the idea of death.

What, then, is the role of sin and death in connection with the Easter miracle? Our text says: “The sting of death is sin.” We note that the article “the” appears in the original, indicating that sin in general is meant. Whatever is sin, wherever it is found, and whosoever commits sin is here included. The declaration goes back to the Book of Genesis, where we have an account of the Fall of man, of the coming of sin into the world. God had told our first parents, specifically Adam: “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Ge. 2:15-17) And because both Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they became mortal, subject to death. And God Himself gave the explanation of the punishment pronounced upon our first parents, when He had His holy Apostle write: “By one man sin entered into the world” (Ro. 5:12). The sin of Adam and Eve corrupted their entire nature, made them enemies of God, changed their hearts to be always inclined to that which is evil, and so inherited sin is being continued from one generation to the next by natural procreation and birth. This natural inclination toward sin results, in the case of every human being, in actual sins. The Apostle writes: “Death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” All men are guilty in the sight of God. The series of quotations which the Apostle refers in Romans 5 is of such a nature that, as he writes elsewhere: “No flesh should glory in his presence.” For, argues St. Paul, Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, “as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ro. 5:9-12).

So then, because sin is a fact, a terrible fact and reality, because all men are guilty before God, therefore death passed upon all men. It is both by reason of inherited and of actual sin that we are under the condemnation of death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” writes the Prophet (Ez. 18:4,20). This is but saying in other words what the Lord had told the children of Israel through the mouth of Moses (De. 27:26), as St. Paul puts it: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Ga. 3:10). The curse of God invariably finds its culmination in death, certainly in physical death and, unless the grace and mercy of God interfere, also in spiritual and in eternal death. When the Lord says: “It is appointed unto men once to die” (He. 9:27), He excludes not a single human being. It is not that God created men for death, but that His holiness and righteousness compel Him to pronounce the sentence upon every transgressor of His holy will, that is, upon all men. The Law demands a complete and full obedience; this obedience is not rendered by men. Hence “the strength of the sin is the law.” How is this meant? The Apostle explains: “Where no law is, there is no transgression” (Ro. 4:15). But now God has given the gist of the Moral Law into the hearts of all men, so that even the heathen show the work of the Law written in their hearts (Ro. 2:15). Therefore, since men did not keep the Law, in fact, could not keep the Law, therefore death came into the world, and all men must go through the experience of death except those who will yet be living on Judgment Day.

But now the Easter miracle has placed an altogether different aspect on the situation. Christ, as the Substitute for sinful mankind, as He who took upon Himself our iniquities and bore our trespasses: “He was delivered for our offenses,” thereby paying the debt which we had contracted. But note, He “was raised again for our justification” (Ro. 4:25). That is what the Easter miracle tells us regarding the role of sin and death on the day of Christ’s resurrection.

The Easter victory to which the Apostle points

This is the Easter victory to which the Apostle points in our text, when he so triumphantly declares: “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Co. 15:54). He does not merely say: Death has been overcome, or, the victory over death has been gained, but he uses the far stronger expression: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” By and through the Easter miracle death is consumed, has been completely put out of the way as to its power. Victory has taken the place of defeat, and therefore death has lost its terrors.

This may, indeed, seem strange to us, as we daily see before our eyes the unmistakable evidence that men are still mortal, that even believers succumb to its power. We read of King Hezekiah and his earnest pleading that the Lord might grant him further time before he should be taken away. We find the Psalmist uttering his earnest prayer: “O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days” (Ps. 102:24). David apparently has the same thought when he prays: “Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Ps. 13:3). And there are many other passages of this kind in the Bible.

However, over against these statements we have the many declarations that the children of God do not really go through the experience of death in the form in which it strikes the unbelievers. This is indicated in passages like that of Ps. 116:15, where the Psalmist declares: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” And why is this? Because the righteous, the believers, are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them. Because “blessed are the dead that die in the Lord from henceforth” (Re. 14:13). Because death, properly understood, is the severing of the fellowship between God and man, whereas, in the case of the believer, it is the very opposite. It is, as Holy Writ so frequently describes it, a sleep in and through which the soul of the believer is transported to the presence of the Savior and will at the last day be reunited with the body, to live with the Lord in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, taking part in the glory which belonged to the only-begotten Son of the Father. It is for that reason that St. Paul can speak of his approaching death in such a calmly objective way, when he writes: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain... having a desire to depart and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Ph. 1:21,23).

All this is the result of the Easter victory, a consequence of the resurrection of our blessed Savior. For, as we by faith are partakers of His death, are, in fact, in Holy Baptism buried with Christ into death, “that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection... Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Ro. 6:4-5,8). Thus we become partakers of the Easter victory, and death has lost its terrors for us.

The expression of the believer’s gratitude

And for that reason we join the Apostle in his grateful song: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Here we truly have the very heart of the proper Easter celebration. The account of the miracle itself, as recorded by the Evangelists and so frequently alluded to by the Apostles in their sermons and in their letters, can have but little significance if we merely accept it as an historical fact. The description given by Paul Gerhardt in his well-known Easter hymn Awake, my heart, with gladness, correctly pictures the defeat of the devil and his satellites, and the evil Foe is certainly painfully aware of the fact that his head is now fully crushed. But that knowledge avails him nothing more than to intensify his suffering in the abyss of hell.

And so it is with all those who do not accept the Easter message and do not, by faith, make the Easter victory their own. They may be amazed at the Easter story, they may even admit the truth of the Gospel account that Jesus truly rose from the dead. But if they stop there, the Easter story will be to them like a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. All the splendid Easter hymns, all the beautiful Easter music will not bring to the heart of such people the comfort and the power of Christ’s resurrection. No, we must place our trust, our personal faith, in such words as we find in 1 Thess. 4:14: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” We boldly confess, with St. Paul: “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Ga. 2:20). And to that true thought we add the words of our text: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let every believer confess as the inmost conviction of his heart: My Savior arose from death to bring me everlasting life. And we can summarize the thoughts of our hearts in the prayer:
    O death, where is thy victory?
    Where is, O grave, thy sting?
    No longer canst thou to my heart
    Thy fears and terrors bring.

    Though many are my sins and great
    And grieve the righteous Lord,
    Yet He forgives for Jesus’ sake,
    As promised in His Word.

    Like sand upon the ocean shore
    My trespasses are found;
    Yet this is comfort for my heart:
    Much more does grace abound.

    The strength of sin is in the Law,
    The sting of death is sin:
    Death is consumed in victory
    And peace now dwells within.

    Thanks be to Christ who by His death
    Has set the sinners free;
    Thanks be to God, who, for His sake,
    Has brought the victory.

    And so our Easter hymn rings forth
    In accents bold and strong;
    To us the spoils of victory,
    Of boundless grace belong.


Endnotes:Jesus Only, by Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann
  1. Kretzmann, P. (1956). Jesus Only: A series of Lenten and post-Easter Sermons. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. pp. 76-85.


The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon I

The Festival of Christ's Resurrection – Sermon I

Text: "So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up on victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor. 15:54-58)

He lives! Hallelujah! "He is not here, for He is risen as He said!" (Mt. 28:6) This is truly the glad Resurrection message, assuring us of Christ's total and complete victory over Satan, death, and hell, and our absolute freedom from sin and its eternal effects! We can say without a doubt, "I know that my Redeemer lives!" (Job 19:25)

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus gives us powerful assurance and wonderful comfort about our faith. So also, Paul tells us this morning that –

We Have Proof Of The Truth Of Our Faith, and
We Have Proof of the Victory Of Our Faith!

Faith and religion go hand in hand – I think just about everyone will admit that. But what is "religion" anyway? Well, religion is any teaching that attempts to answer any or all of these questions: "Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why are we here?" and especially, "What happens to us when we die?" Any religion that cannot rid people of their fear of death – or at the very least diminish it – is, in the end, worthless and useless. A religion that cannot take away the "sting" of death, which is caused by sin, but allows people to die and suffer all the horrors of death, without peace or solace; any religion that only pretends to save people from the terror of death is false and deceptive and not a true religion at all.

Such is not the case with the religion of St. Paul – indeed, OUR religion! He says, "For me to die is gain!" (Ph. 1:21) He triumphantly proclaims, "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and power of sin is the Law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (vs.54-57) Paul knew that the Law of God reveals sin in all its true and terrible black light. And he knew that he too was, by nature, under the Law, and because of His disobedience of that Law, subject to death, just as every single human being is also! So, Paul finds no comfort in himself or in his own righteousness in the face of death. His confidence comes because of the victory which Christ has gained for him. It is to this victory of Christ over death and the grave that Paul devotes so much of this last portion of his letter to the Corinthian congregation.

So, Christ is indeed "the lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world!" (Jn. 1:29) And "the blood of Jesus Christ [does indeed] cleanse us from all sins." (1 Jn. 1:7)The Empty Tomb – Why do you look for the living among the dead? Christ, by dying in our place has truly and really removed the sting of our own death. Now, death, which threatened always to swallow up the whole human race, has itself been swallowed by Christ's resurrection. This was God's plan from the very beginning – even before the beginning of time. And this was all accomplished as Paul reminds us, "According to the Scriptures!" (I Co. 15:3)

Yes, according the Bible Christ had to rise again. The Victor over death could not remain a prisoner of death. Peter told the Jews, "God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the FACT!" (Ac. 3:15) God did this because He was pleased with the Son's work on earth on behalf of all people. And through Jesus' resurrection God made known His divine pleasure. "Christ was raised for our justification," Paul tells us. (Ro. 4:25) We know that God has totally forgiven all our sins. Therefore, by our faith, given to us through the Means of Grace – the Gospel in Word and Sacrament – Christ's resurrection assures us that our religion, which preaches Jesus' resurrection, brings to us sinners victory over death. We do indeed have the "sure and certain" hope of everlasting life!

Thus, in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified – yes, and Him also raised from the dead – we are not being false preachers of a false religion in a hopeless world, but rather are giving all sinners everywhere the one and only true Gospel of salvation. Our faith is not pinned on a dead man, but on the sinless Son of God, Who, through His innocent suffering and death overcame death for us, and Who as our living God and Savior now blesses us and give all who believe eternal bliss with Him. It is this Jesus Who says to each and every one of us, "I Am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die." (John 11:25,26) This is the truth of our faith. Jesus is true. Our religion is true. Christ's resurrection proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt!

Christ's resurrection assures us of the truth of our religion in His victory over death, and it also assures us of the victory of our religion over this evil world. Christ is the savior of the world, that is, He has covered the sins of all people of all time, yes, even those who reject Him. No one goes to hell because of their sins. Those that go to hell do so because of their unbelief. This is why He commanded that His Gospel be preached to everyone everywhere until the end of time. There is no reason for anyone to be damned. All sins have been paid for. All can be saved. But the true and beautiful Gospel of Jesus Christ must touch them so that the Holy Spirit can do His work and turn their hearts to faith and salvation. This is the work of Christ's Church here on earth, and of every congregation of believers, and indeed of each and every individual believer. And every single soul that is turned to faith is a marvelous victory for Christ. It matters not if it is one or a hundred or a thousand, each soul snatched from the claws of Satan means victory for Jesus and all His children!

And Paul knew we need encouragement in this work. Jesus rose from the grave nearly two thousand years ago. Billions have been brought to faith and entered heaven, but three fourths of the world's population still reject Christ as Savior and Lord. These people are on their way to hell. But to us Jesus has given His resurrection Gospel which is able to save them. We have the joy of reveling in Christ's resurrection this morning. We can rejoice. We exult in our faith.

But are we acting on our faith? Could it be that indifference, materialism, the ridicule of the world, the mockery of rank unbelievers, and persecution – slight as it may be around us at the moment – discourages us, and keeps us from living our faith, exercising our faith, and sharing our faith? Have we given up, or are we ready to quit because the work is difficult and our successes, measured in numbers, seem so small and inconsequential? May it never be!

Paul did not think like this, and neither will we if we but listen to him today. He tells us that we must "always give yourselves fully to the work of the LORD." (v.58) Why? How? He answers that with the first word, "therefore," that is because of all that he was already written and said in this section of his letter. All he has said is true and reliable, and because it is, we must go forth and carry it in us and with us. This command of Paul's to do this work is based on nothing less than Christ's own resurrection itself! And, in addition, he instructs us to "Stand firm!" If we are to preach salvation to others, we must ourselves be firm in our faith and not let anything move us away from it.

There are, of course, many things that would try and move us away from our faith, and we are often sorely tempted to give it up. Sad to say, many around us have given in and given up their faith. But why should we do so, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that in Him and His saving work we have the full and complete redemption from all sins, death, and the devil?!

Oh yes, the devil and the world are making a lot of noise trying to frighten us; but theirs are not the shouts of real victory, but only the cries of despair and defeat; the sound of routed and fleeing army – loud yes, even scary at times – but really helpless and harmless in the end. Let us remain steadfast and unmovable, for our risen Lord is with us and He has promised, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mt. 28:20)

With Christ as our captain we know we will have successes – be they many or few, the amount does not matter! Paul assures us, "You know that your labor in the LORD is not in vain." We need at all times to be reminded of this wonderful promise. Our preaching of the Gospel, our prayers, our missionaries, our work in God's kingdom of any and all kinds shall never be for nothing! Time, effort, money, given to the LORD is never wasted. It will always bring returns. Take it from the LORD. We have His promise. And we know from glorious experience that His promises never fail!

Our job now is to go out into the world – our world, the world around us, the people around us; as we have opportunity – and rescue sinners using the life-line of the holy Gospel of the Risen Christ! This is not a side-line, and not something we do half-heartedly, but completely dedicated in every way to the work of spreading the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God has not failed us. God will never fail us. He has already given us the victory over death. He has given the power and the ability to proclaim this victory to the world and He has already blessed our efforts in every corner of the world. Let us commit ourselves anew to go forth and tell and death-ridden humanity the glad resurrection message. We know we will be successful, because we know our religion is true, and we know this because Christ's resurrection proves it. Yes, Jesus lives! Hallelujah and Amen!

Rev. Steven Spencer


Music for the Festival of Christ's Resurrection – excerpt from Auferstehungshistorie, by Heinrich Schütz

Resurrection of Christ, by Albrecht DürerThroughout Holy Week, we shared recordings of liturgical music composed by masters of the Late Renaissance and Baroque periods – Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach. As composers for the Lutheran church in Germany, their output of liturgical music was not only prolific, but highly influential both within and outside the church. Bach, still considered to be the greatest composer in Western history, was a fiercely orthodox Lutheran who endeavored to embody his confession within his art, and to do so with fidelity, often consulting his substantive theological library for this purpose. Schütz, considered the most important German composer second to Bach, wrote almost exclusively for the Lutheran church. He masterfully wedded his musical compositions with the German language, the purest manifestation of which, for him, was Martin Luther's translation of the the Bible. Even though his compositions may seem "stark" in comparison to Bach's, he maintained fairly strict fidelity to the very words of the text, rarely straying from it for the sake of explanation or poetic expression. Unlike musical compositions of today, the sacred works of these composers were not intended for the entertainment of the masses, but as liturgical devices for use within the church – as liturgical proclamations of the Gospel, the words of the liturgy, including the lessons, being set to music so that they could be sung, or chanted. A very fitting practice for "The Singing Church."

It had been the historic practice of the Lutheran church to hold services every day during Holy Week, and thus through the week to present the Passion account from the perspective of each of the Evangelists. Since it was also the practice to chant these Gospel lessons, these Passion accounts needed to be set to music. Both Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach composed liturgical music for each of the Passion accounts, some of which we shared last week. On Monday of Holy Week, in Part 1 of our "Music for Holy Week" series, we provided a brief biography of these composers, including some details indicating their importance to Lutheran liturgical music and its resulting impact, and we invite the reader to visit that post for further information in this regard. Also on Monday, we presented excerpts from performances of compositions by Bach and Schütz which set the Passion account of St. Matthew to music, for sake of recitation by the congregation's appointed liturgists. On Tuesday of Holy Week, we shared excerpts from Bach's composition of St. Mark's Passion account. On Wednesday of Holy Week, we posted a complete recording of Schütz's Johannes Passion. On Maundy Thursday, we again posted excerpts from both Bach and Schütz – their compositions of the Passion account according to St. Luke. Finally, on Good Friday, we featured excerpts from Bach's Johannes Passion, along with the entirety of Heinrich Schütz's Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz.

The Divine Service falling on the Festival of Christ's Resurrection would also have a Gospel lesson, which would also be chanted and which would therefore also require a musical setting. This morning we offer to you, dear reader, an excerpt of one such setting composed by Heinrich Schütz: Auferstehungshistorie – the Biblical account of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Excerpt from Schütz’s Auferstehungshistorie
I personally enjoy this Martin Flämig recording of Schütz’s Auferstehungshistorie.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who is Jesus? – From the Facts presented in the Gospels, Part 3

Resurrection of Christ, by Matthais GrunewaldFor the duration of Holy Week, we thought it best to focus on themes centering on Jesus Christ and His Gospel message. This post is the final of three scheduled over Holy Week concerning Jesus and the events of His life as we know of them from the facts presented to us in the Gospels. In Part One of this brief series, we focused on facts regarding the person of Christ – beginning with man's need for a Saviour, God's promise that He would send a Saviour, the prophecies concerning His coming, and the facts of His life demonstrating that Jesus is this promised Messiah, both God and man. In Part Two, we focused on the facts of the crucifixion of Jesus – His arrest, trial, torture and death. In this final post, we take a look at the facts reported in the Gospels regarding Jesus bodily resurrection. Such facts are as important to us as they were to the disciples who witnessed His Resurrection firsthand, who on the basis of what they had seen and heard "could not help but speak of it" (Ac. 4:12-21), even in the face of persecution by the Jewish, and later, Roman authorities. Already before the close of the Apostolic Age, on the basis of their witness to these events and the Message of Jesus Christ which attended them, the Good News had become known as that which was "turning the world upside down" (Ac. 17:1-7). The Message of Good News cannot be divorced from the historical events of Jesus' life as Scripture records them, from His birth to His death by crucifixion, and especially His bodily Resurrection. For "if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ... If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Co. 15:11-23). The facts of history concerning Jesus, as they are recorded in the Scriptures, establish the Christian religion; and this is why, as facts, they are important: for if the Messiah had not actually come as God in the Flesh, if He had not died on the Tree as propitiation for the sins of the world, if He had not risen bodily from the grave, all in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, then the Christian religion is a myth – the same as every other religion on the planet which rests on false or unverifiable historical claims, or on no claims whatsoever.

This post is taken from a series of posts on Law & Gospel, begun in October 2010 (a series which is awaiting the completion of two more essays, before finally being finished), from the post entitled Law and Gospel: What do they teach? – Part 3.1, The Events of the Gospel Accounts (The Resurrection of Jesus).

The Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, and its consequences

The Empty TombOn the third day following His public execution, life was returned to Jesus, and for a period of forty days following He appeared before His disciples and others who knew and recognized Him, confirming His Resurrection (Ac. 1:3; 2:32), His power over life and death (2 Ti. 1:10; 1 Co. 15:26), and His authority as God (1 Co. 15:1-24). Knowing that Jesus claimed to be God and knowing that He foretold His own resurrection on the third day following His death as unequivocal proof of His public claims, the Jewish council requested that Pilot place a guard at the tomb in which Jesus was lain, to prevent anyone from stealing His body to make it appear that He had arisen (Mt. 27:62-66). On the morning of the third day following His death by crucifixion, however, the Roman guards were shaken by an earthquake as an angel rolled back the stone which closed the tomb of Christ, and sat upon it (Mt. 28:2-4). Panic-stricken, the guards fled, reporting to the Sanhedrin what they had seen (Mt. 28:4,11). The Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was no ordinary man; yet, when news of His Resurrection reached them, they sought instead to cover it up by paying the guards and circulating a lie – that the Roman guards had fallen asleep and that Jesus' body was stolen (Mt. 28:11-15).

That this was a lie is manifest from the many appearances of Jesus following His death. In the morning of His Resurrection, a group of women set out with prepared spices and perfumes to properly embalm the body of Jesus (Mt. 28:1; Mk. 16:1-2; Lk. 24:1). Along the way, they wondered how they would remove the stone that sealed the tomb (Mk. 16:3). Upon reaching the tomb, the women saw that the stone had already been rolled away, and that it was open before them (Mk. 16:4; Lk. 24:2). When they entered, it did not smell of decaying flesh, nor was the body of Jesus even there (Lk. 24:3). Just then, two young men, whose appearance was as lightning, appeared before the women. One of them said
    Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen. Remember what He told you, "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again?" Go, tell His disciples. He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you. (Lk. 24:4-8; Mk. 16:6-7; Mt. 28:5-7).
Jesus walks with His disciples on the Road to Emmaus, as they return from JerusalemThey left to go tell the disciples that the tomb was empty and what the angels had said. On their way, Jesus met them, confirming what the angels had said, and encouraging them as He sent them on their way to report to the disciples (Mt. 28:8-10)6. Peter and John investigated, and also found the tomb empty (Lk. 24:12; Jn. 20:3-10), after which Jesus appeared personally to Peter and also to two disciples as they walked back from Jerusalem to Emmaus, with whom He appeared, ate food, and engaged in extended conversation (Lk. 24:13-35)7. While the disciples were gathered, excitedly reporting to each other that they had seen Jesus alive, He appeared to them together, showed to them that he was human by allowing them to touch Him and by asking them for food that He might eat with them, showed to them the marks in His body to confirm for them that He was the man who suffered torture and died by crucifixion just a few days prior, and reminded them of the words He had spoken to them regarding His life, suffering, death and Resurrection (Lk. 24:36-48; Jn. 20:19-23). Thomas, being absent, later doubted the testimony of those who had witnessed this extended appearance of Jesus', and required that he place his fingers in the wounded hands and feet of Jesus, and place his hand in His side where the spear had pierced Him. Eight days following, Jesus appeared to them all together again, and with Thomas in attendance, beckoned him to examine His wounds and confirm that it was He and that He had arisen. Thomas responded with the words defining the significance of Christ's Resurrection for those who would hear His message: My Lord, and my God (Jn. 20:28).

Following this, Jesus appeared to seven of the disciples as they fished unsuccessfully in the Sea of Galilee, and recommended that they cast their nets on the opposite side of their boat, resulting in a great draught of fish. By the time they landed ashore He had prepared a fire and food. They ate together and conversed at length (Jn. 21:1-24). Afterwards, while the disciples were still in Galilee, Jesus appeared before them, and five hundred others at once – a report which is significantly recorded by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians as he extolled the significance of the Resurrection (1 Co. 15:3-8). By including these facts, Paul indicates that most of those five hundred were still alive – he wasn’t making up stories, as these five hundred could still be asked about what they saw and confirm his report.

The Ascension of Christ into HeavenAt the end of the forty days following His Resurrection, Jesus appeared a final time, conversed with the disciples and others with them, and led them to a mountain top in Bethany where He commissioned them as witnesses of what they had seen and heard; commanded them to go into all the world, baptizing and preaching the gospel in His name; promised to send them the Holy Spirit; and was then taken, bodily, up through the clouds into heaven (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15-20; Lk. 24:46-53; Ac. 1:1-11).

It was the events and the words of Jesus to which the disciples were commissioned as witnesses, it was these of which the disciples could not help but speak (Ac. 2:22-41;4:1-22), and it was on the basis of the events of Christ's life – the fulfillment of prophesy and the miracles – that the message of Christ was heard and received by those the apostles and others spoke to8,9, through which the Holy Spirit worked faithfully to produce and strengthen faith as the New Testament Church grew and spread.


  1. It is important to note in the Resurrection accounts that the angels who met the women in Jesus' empty tomb encouraged them to report to the disciples that Christ had arisen, and that the first appearance of Jesus after His Resurrection was before women. Many who doubt the Resurrection accounts, claiming that they were made up, fail to realize the significance of the women and the task assigned to them. Anyone making up these accounts would not have written it this way. They couldn't have written it this way. Culturally, women were of very little value, and their word on matters was disregarded. This is why the women were afraid to speak to any men about what had happened (Mk. 16:8), and certainly why the disciples, at first report from the women, refused to believe them (Mk. 16:10-11; Lk. 24:10-11). An author inventing such a story could not have conceived the notion that (a) an event of this magnitude would have been revealed, first, to women, and (b) that the women would have been given the responsibility to carry the report to men. The only way these accounts could have been recorded the way they were is if they actually happened the way they were written.
  2. It is important to note the physical condition of Jesus in these appearances. Those who reject the deity of Christ, but are nevertheless constrained to admit the Gospel accounts – including the appearances of Jesus just after His crucifixion – given the measurable veracity of these historical accounts themselves, not to mention their astounding consequences in the centuries immediately following them, can only do so by denying that Christ actually died. Instead, they claim, He only appeared to be dead when He was brought down from the cross, revived while in His tomb, and thus revived, appeared to His disciples and others in the days following. Yes, in less than 48 hours time, they claim, Jesus recovered sufficiently from His ordeal at Calvary, to not only convincingly appear before His disciples and others (who were reluctant to believe He had risen from the dead in the first place), but to walk with them, eat with them, and hold extended conversations with them. This position strains to the point of breaking all rational notions of plausibility.

    Beginning with His prayers in Gesthemene, the physical depletion of Christ was evident. Strange prayers, different from any other He had uttered, He cried in anguish, Abba, Father! All things are possible for Thee, remove this cup from me... (Mk. 14:34-36). He knew what He was about to face. The psychological trauma is evident in His words, and its impact on His physical condition is reported in Scripture: And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became as drops of blood, falling down upon the ground (Lk. 22:44). Page 1456 of the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” from the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 255, No. 11) referenced above in the body of this essay, refers to this physical condition of “sweating blood” by it’s medical name: hematidrosis. This condition renders the skin of a human exceedingly sensitive, making even the slightest touch painful. In this condition, Christ endured the remainder of His torture and death by crucifixion. The following pages of that paper describe more fully the medical aspects of the suffering of Jesus. Deprived of sleep and sustenance, He was dragged from place to place, beaten with fists and sticks multiple times. The skin on His back was literally flayed to the bone from whipping, very likely causing the onset of circulatory shock. Weakened in this way, Jesus was physically unable to do what was expected of Him, therefore Simone of Cyrene was conscripted to carry His wooden cross after He failed to progress under its burden. At Calvary, large spikes were driven into His wrists, crushing or severing the median nerve along with many ligaments. Large spikes were also driven into His feet, severing or at least damaging paroneal and plantar nerves. The wounds to His hands and feet were calculated to induce searing pain. Though loss of blood resulting from the wounds on His back would have been significant, given that each breath required Him to lift his body so that He could expand His lungs, causing Him to scrape His lacerated back along the stipes of the cross, the wounds caused by the nails would not have resulted in significant blood loss. On the contrary, this procedure is known to have produced in the victims of crucifixion hypovolemic shock or asphyxiation, which were their most common causes of death. But if all of this didn’t kill Jesus, then certainly, having had a spear thrust through His side, which pierced His heart and left a gaping hole, would have.

    The fact is, if Jesus were not God, and if He were only “mostly dead” when He was taken from the cross, and if He then revived later, His hands and feet would have been paralyzed. He would have suffered the extended effects of blood loss and exhaustion, not to mention the continuing physical agony of the contusions which covered His body. Not in forty days, much less three, would He have been presenting Himself to those He knew, who also witnessed His crucifixion, as a deity who had defeated death and miraculously returned from the grave. Rather, He could only have presented Himself as a severely wounded and beaten man who somehow cheated death. In three days, He would not have stood before them, He would not have walked with them, He would very likely not have eaten solid food with them, He certainly would not have held extended conversations with them. If He were merely a man, and somehow survived His torture and crucifixion, chances are He would not even have been conscious after only 48 hours.

    But this is not the reality of the Resurrected Christ presented to us in the Gospel accounts. Rather, on the third day, He rose again, and He presented Himself to those who knew Him, and to others, as a fully vibrant and healthy human – gesturing, walking, eating and conversing intelligently over extended periods of time. Though He bore in His body the marks of His ordeal, establishing that it was He who was crucified, His physical health and vitality offered a fully convincing contrast to the death they had witnessed Him suffer, establishing that He is Who He said He was: God in the flesh.
  3. Ireneaus. (1999). Against Heresies: Book II, Ch. XXXII, §4 and Book III, Ch. XXXIV. In P. Schaff (Ed.) The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325: Ante-Nicene Fathers (Vol. 1: “The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus”). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. (Original English translation published 1885, original work published in Greek, 2nd Century, A.D.). pp. 409, 511-513.
  4. Eusebius of Cæsarea. Demonstratio Evangelica Book 3, Ch. 4. (English translation published in 1920 by F.W. Ferrar, original work published in Greek, 4th Century, A.D.)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week Sermons – Good Friday (by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke)

Crucifixion of Christ, by Matthias Grunewald

Good Friday Sermon

The Legacy of the Dying Redeemer

by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke1

Text: The Passion story containing the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.

Today we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. On this day occurred the death of which God speaks through Paul: “The covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ” (Ga. 3:17). And: “For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (He. 9:17). So it was on this great day that the divine testament which was made and confirmed in Christ came into force for us. But what did our blessed Lord, the Lamb of God, bequeathe to us at His death? Of earthly goods there was almost nothing. We hear this about his material legacy: “(They) parted his garments, casting lots” (Mt. 27:35) Moreover, we know that the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, had no where to lay His head, to say nothing of gold and silver.

But the testament of Jesus, which came into force with His death on the cross, the New Testament, is not written in terms of temporal goods, but in terms of spiritual, heavenly treasures. It is a better testament (He. 7:22), we are told, than the Old Testament set down by Moses, and, assuredly, it is also better than the testament of the rich men of this earth. Oh, let us this Good Friday realize the greatness and the glorious riches of this testament. Let us contemplate it with devout and attentive minds and with hearts filled with humble adoration and fervent gratitude to the beloved Testator, Jesus, for His love, worthy of our eternal praises. It certainly will be a most fitting and Christian observance of Good Friday, if in this spirit we apply heart and mind to a closer study of the individual terms and provisions of this testament.

But just what spiritual treasures did Jesus leave to us? How do His final provisions read? Dear fellow-Christians, we have just heard His last Seven Words. These are the seven provisions of His testament. They show us

  1. A full remission of an unpayable debt.
  2. A blessed abode for eternity.
  3. A friendly home with a comforting fellowship even in this life.
  4. A serene peace with God.
  5. A fountain affording continual refreshment.
  6. A wonderful eventide rest from our labors.
  7. A blessed departure from this life.

A full remission of an unpayable debt.

Hear the Dying One’s last provision concerning this. It reads: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Forgiveness of sins, the remission of sin’s debt, is the bequest made here. The debt of sin is one fraught with terror for you and me and all the world. The debt of sin is, moreover, a debt that is unpayable for you and me and all men. Men in their blindness think, of course, that they can make good their failings and debts with their good works.

But you surely cannot pay earthly debts payable in gold or silver or some other legal tender with worthless stones. Now, all our works, done in our own strength, are defiled by sins. How, then, can they possibly pay and make good for sin? Therefore the Scripture says: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Ga. 3:10). That means: The man who would use works to pay off the debt of sin remains under the curse. It costs too much to redeem this debt; he must despair forever of doing so. He is forced to remain under it with sighs on his lips and anguish in his heart not only here in time, but for all eternity.

But to Jesus the price did not appear too high. The great price is the shedding of His blood for the redemption of many. But in His ardent love the Lord was ready to pay it.
    Champion, Victor, hail!
    Thou hast deigned to quell
    Death, sin, hell, wor1d – all hast shattered,
    Satan crushed, His forces scattered
    By Thy blood outpoured
    As our ransom, Lord.
    (W. Ges. 100: 4 – Tr. a W.H.F.)
Heavy, indeed is the burden of debt. Even before the torturous hours of payment on the cross, in Gethsemane, this burden drove from His pores a bloody sweat. But His love did not recoil from it. “He becomes the Lamb that taketh” (L.H. 77:6). It was a bitter toil, full of torments, that He performed on the cross. His ardent, heartfelt love made Him perfectly willing to endure there. Never had a devoted man labored thus in love that he might leave a legacy to his own. To His own – to His enemies, as though they were His dearest friends.
    O Love, all other love excelling!
    ’Tis pictured here for all to see.
    None else desire is found compelling
    To pay in blood the price for me.
    Here Love surrenders life divine!
    Can ever love more radiant shine?
    (W. Ges. 166:1 – Tr. a W.H.F.)
Jesus became poor on the cross, bitterly poor. But in love He gave up everything of His own which was precious in God’s sight, not gold or silver, but His infinitely holy, precious blood – for no other purpose than to pay off our debt; solely, that He might cry out to God: “Father, forgive! Remit the debt!” He gave up everything solely so that God, acting in accord with His righteousness, could not do otherwise than forgive, remit the debt. And He did pay the whole debt. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

But is this heritage of forgiveness and remission of sin’s debt, which He wrought in such great love, – is it also meant for us? Most assuredly! As surely as the love of the Lamb extends to the whole world, just as surely has this love gained the legacy of forgiveness for the whole world. Let no one be troubled by the fact that our Testator said on the cross: “Forgive, for they know not what they do.” Everyone of us whose eyes have really been opened has to admit: I know what I have done, how I have sinned. So I cannot comfort myself with the excuse: “For they know not what they do."”

But look closely at these words. These people who crucified Jesus and then blasphemed besides, did not, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work, know it as an assured truth that Jesus was actually the Savior; they did not have in their hearts and conscience this conviction worked by the Holy Spirit. If they would have had that and yet would have done that which they did, then they would have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost and would have sinned exactly as the devil does, and there would be no forgiveness for them, as there is none for the devil. But, Jesus says, this was not the case. Therefore there was still forgiveness for them.

But mark what had to happen if they were actually to come into the saving inheritance of forgiveness. The Apostle tells us about it in Acts 3:17,18. Do you understand these words, dear fellow-sinner? They had to realize that not only their hands had nailed Jesus to the cross, but that their sins had brought Him inevitably to the cross. They had to learn the truth which you as a penitent sinner know and also confess: “’Tis I who should be smitten” (L.H. 171:5). They also had to learn to comfort themselves with the inheritance won on the cross and to say with you, the believing sinner: “The load Thou takest on Thee” (L.H. 171:6).

As soon as you speak thus in faith, your sins are blotted out, as God promises through the Apostle. You have forgiveness. A most precious legacy is ours, thanks to the wondrous love of the Lamb! Do what the soldiers did. They kept watch over Him, the Crucified One. Do the same. Guard and keep what you have that you may always be able to say: “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps. 16:6). The time is coming when we are to enjoy it with a still greater measure of delight. To that end Jesus through His dying on the cross gained for us this legacy:

A blessed abode for all eternity.

Hear, my friends, the words of the testament regarding this provision as they sound down from the cross: “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Here and throughout Scriptures Paradise is described as a place that is blessed beyond our power of comprehension. There the most beautiful communion is found. For in Paradise you are united with Jesus, the Son of God, whom all the angels worship. The Lord says: “Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” In Paradise you are also united with all the holy angels, and with all the elect and the departed saints, with all the children of God from the beginning of the world, with all men who, before us, have fallen asleep in Jesus. Paradise is God’s inexpressibly beautiful, eternal Holy of Holies, an abode, the Father’s house, which is completely filled with unalloyed blessedness. There all live and move only in blessedness. “There shall we bring our sheaves with singing” (W. Ges. 630:5). “This is the joyous city” (W. Ges. 694:9). “Paradise, Paradise, Fairest fruits delight our eyes!” (From Lass Mich Gehen).

But how bitter, O hell, is your reward! Hell, a place of terrors – who can grasp just how terrible it is? It was this place of terrors that Jesus entered for us when He hung as the Lamb of God on the cross. He did it to win for us Paradise with all its bliss. He became a tormented captive of hell that we might become Paradise-citizens revelling in blessed joy. That is what His love sought to gain for us as our legacy. Ah, now more than ever we say: Dear God, I cannot grasp how such love can be lavished on such a hateful sinner as I am.
    When I would grasp this miracle,
    My soul, o’erawed, bids me be still.
    (W. Ges. 131:3 – Tr. a W.H.F.)
But for whom is this heritage of blessed Paradise? Mark it well! Mark it well for your comfort! It was for a murderer. It was to such a man that Jesus said: “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” Let this circumstance teach you the truth: For every mortal sinner, who had earned hell, Jesus has gained Paradise as his legacy. But we know that there were two murderers crucified at Jesus’ side. Why did not Jesus promise Paradise to the murderer at His left hand as well? Here is the answer: Because he did not desire it as did the man at His right. He lacked what the man at the right had, the confession, the humble penitence: We are overtaken by a just condemnation. He lacked the plea of faith: Remember me. The man at the right said: When I die, my sin is not thereby made good. After that will follow a long period of punishment, eternal in hell; but if Thou wilt be pleased to remember me, then there is deliverance for me.

Therefore cling to Him. Do not be like the man at the left hand. He wanted this physical life; if he had that, then he cared for no more. Many are like that. The things of this world, the kingdom of this world, are their only concern; they will scurry and chase after them. But to gain Paradise they will not lift a finger. Let yours be a different course. Lay hold on the legacy which was gained for you through the blood of the Lamb – Paradise! Now nothing more is needed than simply to receive it by faith. To the malefactor came the word: Today. In spite of your forfeited life you will not first be cast into a place of penance, but will be at once in Paradise. The same is true for you. Today Paradise belongs to you, if you receive it by faith. To be sure, that is a difficult thing to do. But to make it easier, Jesus in His dying hour secured for us still another heritage:

A friendly home with a comforting fellowship even in this life.

Hear Jesus’ testament concerning this: “Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother” (Jn. 19:26,27). At His departure Jesus did not leave His mother, whom He loved, alone and forsaken, nor did He deal thus with the disciple whom He loved. He bound the two together with a tie of intimate fellowship. He united the two to form one family and one home. He did this not only in an outward and physical way, but also in the spiritual sense. For, through His Word and His legacy given from the cross, they were bound together in His fellowship of love, which He ordained on the cross.

This home of the Lord still exists today; Jesus’ family is still with us. It will endure as Jesus’ legacy until the end of days. This home and this fellowship remain; only its members change. Some depart to follow Jesus into the eternal home above, into the fellowship of Paradise, and others come to take their place. This home, this holy family of Jesus, with its beautiful fellowship, is the holy, Christian Church, established for us through Jesus’ dying. It is a friendly home and a cheering fellowship. Blessed is the man who is a member of this household! This house, the Church of Jesus here on earth, possesses precious treasures, treasures comforting our hearts: Jesus’ Word, the glad tidings of Him as the Savior, the cherished Sacraments.

The fellowship in this house of the Church is a very firm one. Though Mary and John were not related by blood, still they were more closely and more firmly bound together than blood-relatives through the Word of the Lord and the love rooted in Jesus. And this fellowship is most comforting. Jesus unites the members of this fellowship to comfort each other in their earthly woes and in their spiritual need. Though not related by blood, yet the members are to be to each other as mother and son, as brother and sister, and they will do nothing more gladly than to encourage and bolster one another in all sufferings.

This fellowship is also very helpful. Even today there are many Marys, poor, in need of help. In the beloved Church they find a John, often more than one, to give them a son’s care. Even though Christians generally are not wealthy, still they lovingly make the poor brothers and sisters their concern. Verily, it is true of this home and this fellowship of the Church:
    Holy, holy
    Is our union and communion.
    His befriending
    Gives us joy and peace unending. (L.H. 23:2)
All praise be to the great love of Jesus that He has left to us this home of the Church and the fellowship of faith and love as His bequest to us. The world is utterly loveless, cold! In spite of the great show of community spirit that is made, there is nothing but selfishness; everywhere we see men speculating and shrewdly calculating to exploit their fellow-men for their own profit. That’s the world, cold, barren of comfort, unfriendly. But now, through Jesus’ love we have as our legacy, even in this world, a friendly home, a fellowship of love in the Church.

But, dear brothers and sisters, isn’t it true that we value this bequest too lightly? We ourselves are too cold toward the Church, often letting the world and its projects keep us aloof from the Church. Let us, then, resolve this day that we will amend our lives in this respect. Let us implore the Holy Ghost:
    O gentle Dew, from heaven now fall
    With power upon the hearts of all,
    Thy tender love instilling. (L.H. 235:7)
Let us pray to Jesus: Oh, let Thy legacy given in the words, “Behold thy son. Behold thy mother!” come into our hearts with a new force today. Teach us to value more highly the legacy that pronounces us Thy house and family, brothers and sisters in Thee. Happy are we! For only in this family of the Church will we, in the midst of a world devoid of true bliss, have a foretaste of the bliss of Paradise, a foretaste bestowed through the fourth bequest:

A blessed peace with God.

Again hear the provisions of the testament of Jesus as it makes this bequest in the words: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk. 15:34). What an astounding word! Our good Father Luther says of it: “God forsaken by God – who can grasp it?” My God, my God, thus the Lord’s cry of woe begins. Only He could say that in the true sense of the word. His whole life long God had been His God, in all His deeds, in all His words, in all His thoughts. It was His meat to do the will of holy God. And He, the Holy and the Righteous, was forsaken by God. What does that mean? It means: He was the target of God’s wrath; He was rejected as damnable; He was punished as one worthy of the curse; He was dealt with as a curse and an accursed one.

This significance appeared as the Lamb of God cried out: “My God my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” After three hours of suffering, trembling, and enduring anguish and torment under God’s curse, then He said: “Hast thou forsaken me?” Mark it well. He did not lament: Why wilt Thou forsake Me? Nor: Why dost Thou forsake me now? But: Why hast Thou forsaken Me, and why hast Thou caused me to bear for three long hours Thy eternal curse? “Why?” Thus crucified Love cried out of the depths of the torment under the curse.

How is this? Can it be a question regarding something that He does not know? Surely, the loving Friend of our souls knew when He went up to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday; He knew when He agonized in the night of Gethsemane’s Garden. His question: Why? is the same as the word which the malefactor addressed to Him. Only now it came from His mouth, as of the One Who was numbered among the transgressors for us.

It really was a “Remember!” Remember, My God, whose will I have done and whose curse I have borne. Remember Thy promise in the light of Thy righteousness. Remember what gain Thou didst promise for all the disobedient in whose stead Thou didst forsake Me and didst punish Me with the curse. Remember what gain was to be theirs through the exaction of the full penalty from Thy Son and obedient Servant!

Remember Thy promise that all they who had deserved punishment, by virtue of My punishment, of My anguish and pains, would be in a position to say: “The punishment lay upon him that we might have peace!” Thou who art able to punish more terribly than mind can conceive, most unsparingly, most rigorously, most unbearably, remember Thy punishment as one that was exacted, fully and completely, from Me. And Thou, who as a reconciled Father canst fill their souls with a blessedness so great that it passes all understanding, let Thy peace rest upon them. As Thou canst make souls tremble with Thy punishments, so fill Thou them now with a joyful confidence toward Thee through Thy peace. Remember that this was the very purpose for which Thou didst forsake Me.

Here is a blessed peace! We no longer must regard anything as God’s punishment, any grief, any evil days. And we need not expect any future punishment. With God, in His heart, there are at all times only thoughts of peace. As often as trouble and misery visit us, we can say with confident hearts: It is not a punishment; My Father in heaven has no thought of punishing me. He cannot. He honors too highly the bequest My Savior, His sacrificial Lamb, made on the cross.

If, after this solemn bequest: “My God, My god, why hast thou forsaken me?” I were to think that God still intended to punish me for some sin either here or hereafter, that would mean that I regarded God, the Father of Jesus, as a God who would make sport even of the torments and punishment of His beloved Son! Let these devil-inspired thoughts of unbelief be gone! I will let my heritage of sin, the penalty of hell, be blotted out by Jesus' God-forsakenness. I will no longer remember my sins, just as God no longer remembers them. By faith I grasp the heritage won for me on the cross, the peace of God.

What a priceless heritage! What would we be without it in this gloomy world? I want to know nothing and speak of nothing but peace with God. I will never let my heritage lie unused. And when my soul is cast down, then I will say: Why art thou cast down? God is doing you good. Then follow this summons:
    Therefore direct, O you peace-seeking spirit,
    Your thoughts in faith's homage to Jesus on high
    (W. Ges. 392:2.3. – Tr. a W.H.F.)
How the marvelous love of Jesus shines forth in His "Why"! It is as if a man is bequeathing something important in his testament. He wants to make sure that it accrues to his heirs, and therefore adds a special word that this provision of the legacy is to be carried out very faithfully and fully. The Lamb of God did the same. In the midst of His torture and pain and agonizing conflict of soul, He was filled with a loving concern for us, and with His "Why" He knocked with mighty blows on the door of God’s heart: I implore Thee, let those who had deserved the punishment enjoy My legacy; let them taste the sweet, blessed fruit of My punishment and pain. Let them enjoy peace with Thee. Therefore we praise and extol His love.
    O Love, who madest me to wear
    The image of Thy Godhead here. (L.H. 397:1)
Let the world be astonished that we cling to Him in love more than to anything else – and let all the unbelievers who know nothing but this world find it strange; let all the blasphemers who regard this love as worthless in comparison with the world – let them find it astonishing. We say:
    Lo! My All once high suspended!
    Scoffer, does it baffle thee,
    That my faith is thus expended?
    Jesus gave Himself for me;
    Thus became my Peace, my Shield,
    Life in me, life’s fruit to yield.
    Lo! My All once high suspended!
    Thus my faith is e’er expended.
    (W. Ges. 440:2 – Tr. a W.H.F.)
We will continue thus. Then happy are we! For then we have, here on earth, a foretaste of the eternal comfort and refreshment in Paradise. It is ours by virtue of the next legacy:

A fountain of continual refreshment.

Hear the bequest the Lamb of God makes with the Word: “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28). It is a lament, a cry rising out of deep suffering. What does it tell us? It tells of the heat of the battle which He fought in being forsaken by God. It tells how, because of it, the Lord was exhausted in body and soul. This cry tells us, moreover, that at that moment he did not have that well and fountain of refreshment which otherwise made food and drink superfluous for Him. That is the love of the Father.

On one occasion, when the disciples brought Him food, He did not partake of it, stating: “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (Jn. 4:32). And He declared: “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work” (Jn. 4:34). But that was at a time when the punishment did not yet rest upon Him as now on the cross. Then He enjoyed a perfect communion of love with the Father. But now that He was forsaken of God, the fountain of the Father’s love was shut off, so that He could not, in His exhausted state, find refreshment there.

All this He bore in love, so that a better lot might be ours. His choice was either to languish or to find a sorry refreshment in a draught compounded of vinegar and gall. Besides He had to endure mockery as He languished. He suffered that gladly, gladly refrained from using the precious fountain of all refreshment, so that it might flow forth in abundance for us. He wanted us to drink deep of the gracious, fatherly love of God and, with it, His own love. We are to be refreshed, in richest measure, at this fountain of continual refreshment, and we can, for it flows in the beloved Church here on earth. She is the City of God, the streams of which have water in abundance. Here the words come true: “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23). “I will give unto him that is athirst of the water of life freely?” (Re. 21:6) The love of God is poured into our hearts. What a precious legacy the thirsting Lord has left to thirsting men.

Wonderfully refreshing, indeed, is this draught of God’s love. He that drinks of this fountain will never thirst for a refreshing drink, even while traversing the desert of this world, even when in the heat of toil and battle. Though men greet us with mockery, though they insult and despise us, call our pastors belly-servers and the members of the congregations misled sheep, all this does not matter; we can get along without the world’s good-will and favor. We have a source of refreshment of which it knows nothing. It is the one for which we are indebted to the ever-blessed love of Jesus, the fountain of God’s love, which, overflowing in the Word and Sacrament, is poured out into our hearts. We have enough when we have this refreshment (W. Ges. 437:4; 394:1; 195:4). True, the time here until our entrance into Paradise remains a time of conflict, of toil, of unrest. But it is not entirely that, for we have:

A wonderful eventide rest from our labors.

Hear the Lord’s legacy regarding this as given in the Word: “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). What, we ask, is finished? What but the whole work of the Lamb of God? The debt of sin is paid; the punishment has been endured; righteousness has been secured; God has been reconciled; His love has found a way to the sinner; Paradise has been opened; the Church has been founded as the entrance hall to Paradise, as the portals of Paradise – everything, everything has been done; a full salvation has been wrought for the world, for time and for eternity.

The Lamb of God sounded the note of triumph even from the cross. His love proclaimed triumphantly: Now it is finished; I have accomplished it. Now I can call sinners to Myself: Come, you who are weary and heavy-laden; in Me you will find rest for your souls. You drudge and toil, and it is all in vain. You labor, and it is useless. You strive in vain to gain redemption and salvation through your work. Give up your useless work! I have done the work for you, and I have finished it. Enjoy that which I have gained for you through My work, My dying. I gained it fully and completely, so that nothing remains for you to do. Rest in God! Desist from your vain labors; receive as a legacy My rest from labor, your completed redemption. Let Me fulfill My desire in you by giving you rest for your soul, the rest that consists of a redemption fully accomplished.

What a wonderful eventide rest from labor!
    Thou of all most blessed,
    Jesus, perfect Rest. (W. Ges. 100:1.)
Enjoy it with praise and thanksgiving. You are indeed to do battle on earth; you are to strive after sanctification, to be diligent in all good works; you are indeed to bear the heat and burden in the vineyard of the Lord. But never let yourself be robbed of your rest from labor, the rest which Jesus has bequeathed you with His: “It is finished.” When you find that your sanctification is very imperfect, as you will, then prostrate yourself in all humility, but cling in faith to “Jesus, perfect Rest.” Tell yourself: My work is far short of the mark, but not Jesus’ work; that is finished. That on which my salvation depends is finished.
    ’Tis finished now; my Jesus all has won,
    Long since my victor’s wreath has plaited,
    And left no task I must fulfill;
    My Champion’s strife all wrath has sated,
    And now in tents of peace I dwell.
    (Tr. a W. H.F.)
Thus it will be until we finally enter Paradise, where there is "Rest, Rest, Rest without end." To aid us in attaining that, we have the final bequest of Jesus:

A blessed departure from this life.

Hear the final bequest of dying Love: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46). With these words, it is clear, the dying Lamb of God took a blessed departure from this life not only for Himself, but also for us. Such a blessed departure He bequeathes to us poor sinners as His final legacy for this earth. You will recall that on the previous night the blessed Savior had spoken much about His departing and going to the Father and had declared to the disciples: “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2) Then came the precious word: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14:6) There you hear it: We are to follow the path that He took. In His blessed departure we are given an example, yea, more than that, a prophecy, a bequest, a bond of a blessed departure for us poor sinners. He determined, as a vital item of His legacy, the warrant that our end should be like His.

What a precious legacy! Many a man has made use of it by faith. Think of Stephen (Ac. 6:1-8:4), or of Huss! We all must confess to ourselves: “Who knows when death may overtake me!” But, surely, we need not be filled with alarm. We pray to our dear Lord, the Lamb that was slain for us, that He would only grant us to enjoy this last bequest of His testament.
    Lord Jesus, may Thine agony
    And all Thy pain and sorrow
    My last resort and refuge be,
    When life here knows no morrow.
    Oh, grant through Thine atoning death,
    I calm may end all ills in faith
    And die serenely. Amen.
    (W. Ges. 155:6 – Tr. a W.H.F.)
He hears your prayer; He does appear as your Consolation. You gain what you desire.
    Mine eyes shall then behold Thee,
    Upon Thy cross shall dwell,
    My heart by faith enfold Thee.
    Who dieth thus, dies well. (L.H. 172:10)
Paul says: “Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth” (Ga. 3:15). Yet how many disannul the testament of Jesus, the Lamb of God! Do you too? Then do it no more! You will find no life, no peace; yours will not be the heritage of Christ. If you do not accept that which was bequeathed you from the cross, then you will go away empty-handed.

Let us who receive it continue thus. The reward of His pains is our salvation. His cross brings us the crown. We all are God’s heirs through Him alone. Glory, praise, honor, and power, and Hallelujah be to the Lamb that was slain for us; that became poor and made us rich for all eternity.


Endnotes:Glorified in His Passion, by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke
  1. Hoenecke, A. (1957). Glorified in His Passion (W. Franzmann, Trans.) Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1910.). pp. 99-119.

    Note: Dr. Adolf Hoenecke (1835-1908) is among the most important theologians of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). He, along with Johannes Bading (d. 1913), led the WELS out of pietistic indifferentism and unionism into strong confessional Lutheranism, was one of the founders of the the old Synodical Conference, and is credited with being the first German Lutheran to author a complete Lutheran Dogmatics in America – Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics – recenly translated into English and available from Northwestern Publishing House. For more information about Dr. Hoenecke, a fairly detailed biography written by Professor August Pieper in 1935, can be found at the following link: The Significance of Dr. Adolf Hoenecke for the Wisconsin Synod and American Lutheranism


Music for Holy Week, Part 5 – excerpts from Johannes Passion and Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz

Descent from the Cross, by Peter Paul RubensThroughout this Holy Week, we have been featuring excerpts from recordings of liturgical compositions which deliver to their hearer the very words of Christ's Passion according to Gospel writers, in song. During Holy Week, the historic Lutheran Church had selected lessons from each of the Gospels for each day of the week, such that the Passion of Christ would be heard by the congregation from the perspective of each Evangelist, and these lessons were presented to the congregation as part of the liturgy. It was also customary that the Gospel not be merely read, but chanted or sung. The excerpts we have featured this week demonstrate various liturgical compositions via which liturgists would deliver these lessons -- and not just any compositions, but the works of two of the most important German composers in Western history: Johann Sebastian Bach and Heinrich Schütz. On Monday, in Part 1 of this "Music for Holy Week" series, we provided a brief biography of these composers, including some details indicating their importance to Lutheran liturgical music and its resulting impact, and we invite the reader to visit that post for further information.

We have, in the previous four days this week, visited the Passion accounts of St. Matthew (Monday), St. Mark (Tuesday), St. John (Wednesday), and St. Luke (Thursday). Today, Good Friday, we revisit the Passion according to St. John in a recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's Johannes Passion, and also hear a composition by Heinrich Schütz that would be heard during the Good Friday Tenebrae Service: Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz -- the Seven last Words of Christ on the Cross.

Here are two musical settings of the Gospel accounts. The first is an excerpt from Bach's Johannes Passion; the second is a full performance of Schütz's Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz.

Excerpt from Bach’s Johannes Passion

Full performance of Schütz’s Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz
I personally enjoy this Mauersberger recording of Schütz’s Die Sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz.


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