Friday, April 6, 2012

Remember the Spirit, the water and the blood - Sermon for Good Friday Tenebrae

This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached in the evening Tenebrae service on Good Friday, 2012.

Now the first Holy Day of the Three Holy Days comes to a close and a new day begins now at sunset – a special Sabbath Day for the Son of God, a day of perfect, undisturbed rest for his dead body in Joseph’s tomb. And just as God rested from his whole work of creating the universe on the seventh day of creation, so the Son of God rested from his whole work of salvation on the seventh day of that first Holy Week.

It had been quite a day, with all the suffering and death that the whole world of sinners had coming to them, now poured out on the sinners’ Substitute – all in a single day. And yet, even after as he died and before he was buried, God already pointed to the three gifts that flow out of Jesus’ death. Of all the things to think about and remember as Good Friday comes to a close, remember the Spirit, the water and the blood.

With his Passion – his suffering – complete, with his work of redemption finished, Jesus breathed his last and “gave up his spirit.” Then one of the soldiers pierced his side, and out came blood and water.

The Apostle John points us to those three things in his Gospel, and explains it in his first Epistle, This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.

What do these three agree about? Well, they agree that Jesus really, truly and actually died. He gave up his spirit, and blood and water flowed out of his side when it was pierced.

But they agree on more than that. Because, John says, not that they testified when Jesus died, but that they testify now. To what?

To exactly what Psalm 130 says: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
That Psalm is fulfilled on Good Friday, at the great “It is finished!” The Lord did redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

But how is that redemption applied to you? How is it the forgiveness Jesus won applied to you so that you may be justified? How does the forgiveness that is “with the Lord” get to you so that you are forgiven, so that you can stand before God?
It’s by the Spirit, the water and the blood.

On that very first Easter Sunday, the risen Jesus would appear to his disciples, breathe on them and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The Spirit of Jesus hands out the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross in Holy Absolution, in the forgiving word spoken by the ministers of Christ.

It’s also by the water, by which the Spirit plunges us back through time and unites us with Christ. What did Peter say on Pentecost? Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins!

It’s also by the blood. What did Jesus say at the very beginning of that first Holy Day? “Take, eat; this is my body. Take, drink; this cup is the New Testament in my blood which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this…”

All the benefits won by Jesus on that Good Friday, all the treasures of his life and death – forgiveness, life, salvation, victory over sin, death and the devil, a Father’s love, a place with him in Paradise – all of it comes to us now through Word and Sacrament, through the Spirit, the water and the blood. And it’s no accident that they were all there on Good Friday, just like it’s no accident that John recorded it, just like it’s no accident that you, here, in this place, have been reached by the Spirit, the water and the blood. God’s love for you and his desire for your salvation are from eternity. And just as he elected us in Christ since before the foundation of the world was laid, so he also planned Good Friday from eternity, so he also planned how and where and when the Spirit, the water and the blood would come to you to bestow on you the forgiveness purchased by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

And just as Christ entered his Sabbath rest on that first Good Friday evening, so there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, according to the writer of the Hebrews. Let us strive to enter that rest, he says. And how will we do that? Through faith alone in Jesus Christ. And how will God sustain that faith in us until the end? Through the Spirit, the water and the blood. Remember. Amen.


Anonymous said...

St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) offers this interesting insight:

‘There came out from his side water and blood.’ Dearly beloved, do not pass the secret of this great mystery by without reflection. For I have another interpretation to give you. I said that Baptism and the mysteries were symbolized in that blood and water. It is from these two that the holy Church has been born ‘by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit’ , by Baptism and by the mysteries. Now the symbols of Baptism and the mysteries came from his side. It was from his side, then, that Christ formed the Church, as from the side of Adam he formed Eve.

That is why in his account of the first man, Moses has the words, ‘bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh’, giving us a hint here of the Master’s side. For as at the time God took a rib from Adam’s side and formed woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from his side and formed the Church. Just as then he took the rib while Adam was in deep sleep, so now he gave the blood and water after his death.

Have you understood how Christ has united his bride, the Church, to himself? Have you seen with what kind of food he feeds us all? By the same food we are formed and fed. As a mother feeds her child with her own blood and milk, so too Christ continually feeds those whom he has begotten, with his own blood.
(Catechesis 3)

- Rev. James Schulz

Joel Lillo said...

This is an example of the overuse of allegory as a method of Bible interpretation. The Scriptures nowhere give even a hint that this is the significance of the blood and the water. It could be that this detail is included simply to demonstrate that Jesus truly had died. A great flow of blood and bodily fluids came out to show that there was no possiblility that Jesus could have been alive at that point. That makes the resurrection the miracle that it is rather than a phenomenon that could be explained away by someone who who wanted to believe that Jesus had simply fainted due to blood loss only to be revived by the cool air of the tomb (as some have done). The massive flow of water and blood leaves no room for that sort of thing. Jesus truly was dead and he truly came to life.

ALWAYS be wary of allegory as a method of Bible interpretation, even if it supports a valid Scriptural point. The overuse of allegory led to more false teachings than you can shake a stick at.

Anonymous said...

Joel said, "ALWAYS be wary of allegory as a method of Bible interpretation,..."

Point well taken. On the other end of the spectrum:

ALWAYS be wary of prooftexting as a method of Bible interpretation, because it can lead to more legalistic and misleading teachings than you can shake a stick at. For example:

" out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them." Romans 16:17.

- Rev. James Schulz

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

So Joel, what do you think of Luther's sermon here? Truth or lie? It can be only one or the other.

Therefore I say that we should both speak and think highly of holy baptism, in order that it may be completely distinguished from all other washing and bathing; for here it is God himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is baptizing and bathing. Therefore this act must be so powerful that it makes a man altogether new. This is why St. John the evangelist is fond of speaking of this dear baptism as water mingled with the blood of Christ, as in John 19 [:34], when Christ was crucified and dead and one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, he says, “at once there came out blood and water.” And then he goes on to confirm this with this strong statement: “He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth—that you also may believe” [v. 35].

Likewise in the last chapter of his epistle he says of Christ, “This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood” [I John 5:6]. Thus he is always wanting to mingle the blood in the baptism in order that we may see in it the innocent, rosy-red blood of Christ.

Why? Because this holy baptism was purchased for us through this same blood, which he shed for us and with which he paid for sin. This blood and its merit and power he put into baptism, in order that in baptism we might receive it. For whenever a person receives baptism in faith this is the same as if he were visibly washed and cleansed of sin with the blood of Christ. For we do not attain the forgiveness of sins through our work, but rather through the death and the shedding of the blood of the Son of God. But he takes this forgiveness of sin and tucks it into baptism.

This is what St. John was looking to when he mingled water and blood together, for, after all, it has in it that which was gained through the blood. And thus St. John deems the person who is baptized as having been washed in the blood of Christ. His blood is not that of a sinful man or the blood of a dead goat or ox; it is innocent, just, and holy, it is a blood of life. Therefore it also contains such strong salt and soap that, wherever it touches sin and uncleanness, it bites and washes it all away, eats and destroys both sin and death in an instant.

Thus St. John pictures our dear baptism for us in this way, so that we shall not regard and look only at the clear Water, for, he says, Christ comes “not with water only…but with the water and the blood” [I John 5:6]. Through such words he desires to admonish us to see with spiritual eyes and see in baptism the beautiful, rosy-red blood of Christ, which flowed and poured from his holy side. And therefore he calls those who have been baptized none other than those who have been bathed and cleansed in this same rosy-red blood of Christ. (LW:51:325)

Joel Lillo said...

I wouldn't say that it is a lie; but Luther did, on occasion, slip into the allegorical method of Bible interpretation that was quite common in his day. Some of Luther's applications and interpretations in his sermons are ones that I would not make. (Confession: There are more than a few applications and interpretations in my own sermons that I wish I could re-do.)

It is fair to note that orthodox scholars differ in opinion about how to interpret this particular passage from 1 John 5.

Some see the water and the blood to be a reference to what flowed from his side as a testimony that he truly died. Some see it as a reference to Jesus' own baptism (water) and his death (blood) in opposition to the blossoming teaching of Gnosticism which taught that Jesus was God (or was anointed with the Spirit of God) at his baptism, but not at his death. Some see it is a reference to baptism (water), communion (blood), and the Word of God (Spirit).

To say definitively that John was saying that the flow of water and blood from Jesus' side was a picture of baptism is going a bit beyond Scripture.

Jim, I agree that prooftexting can make for some bad Bible interpretation. I don't get your point about the Romans quote, though. Are you arguing against the unit concept of church fellowship?

--Joel Lillo

Anonymous said...

Joel, I'll expand on my thought. What I'm saying is that developing a doctrine around one passage of Scripture, honing in on it while under-emphasizing equally valid passages which speak to the issue can lead to a wrong approach to interpretation, for example, the doctrine of fellowship. On the one side is Romans 16:17, which can lead to a legalistic application of fellowship principles. On the other is Ephesians 4:4-6 ("There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."), which can lead to a "liberal" application of fellowship principles. Point is: Let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Add to that: read Scripture through the lens of Christ, i.e. see Christ in Word and Sacrament in all of Scripture (allegory if you like). Luther put it this way in his "Preface of Jesus Christ" from his Psalms lectures:

“Every prophecy and every prophet must be understood as referring to Christ the Lord, except where it is clear from plain words that someone else is spoken of.”

Now, how about a discussion of John 6" "Capernaitic eating"? or Holy Communion? Or both?

- Rev. James Schulz

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