We've heard from Dr. Kretzmann twice this week, as we have from Dr. Martin Luther. For this, the last sermon of the Lenten Season that we will be posting, we will hear from Dr. Adolph Hoenecke, as he preaches on The Legacy of the Dying Redeemer.
But just what is a “legacy”? Often, we think of a “legacy” as that for which a person is remembered after his death, the reputation of his accomplishments. For example, very often we hear such talk in the media regarding the concern that a U.S President or state Governor may have for “his legacy” once he leaves office. The term is often heard in this sense in casual conversation. But that is not the primary, or even secondary, definition of the term legacy in its formal meaning, and it most certainly is not the meaning given to it by Dr. Hoenecke in the following sermon.
According to Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary (2002), both the first and second definitions of the term legacy are directly related to the English word legate:
n. (fr. L. legatus): ambassador, deputy, provincial governor
vt. (fr. L. legatus past part. of legare): 1to send with a commission or charge, 2bequeath.
n. 1the business committed to a legate, commission; 2a gift by will esp. of money or other personal property: a bequest
On Maundy Thursday, in the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus, our Saviour, took bread, and when He had given thanks, broke it saying, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22:19; Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:22; 1 Co. 11:24). In the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink ye all of it; this cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins. This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22:20; Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:23-24; 1 Co. 11:25). This “New Testament” offered by Christ in His Blood, was a specific kind legal arrangement that is common in probate law even to this day. Christ, in using this phraseology, was offering his “Last Will and Testament.” People draft a “last will and testament” in preparation for their death, in order that their estate be disposed according to their desires following their death; so it is very fitting that Jesus issued such a Will the day prior to His death. In a “last will and testament,” the benefit of the Testator’s life work is left to the bequeathed. By definition, they have utterly no participation in what the Testator accomplished, nor do they have any ownership in His bequest; by definition, He is the sole owner and He alone has the Authority to dispose of His property in the terms specified in His “Last Will and Testament.” It represents the blessing of the Testator upon the bequeathed, a blessing which belongs to the bequeathed only once it has been received by them in the manner specified by the Testator, in the manner administrated by His executors.
And just what was the Bequest that Jesus willed to His heirs? Just what did His life's work amount to, that wretched sinners would gladly receive it as their inheritance, and remember Him with Joy and Gratitude? He left them what they in no way could acquire on their own, what they could never claim any participation in:
And all the benefits attending thereto!
And this Benefit is distributed by His Ministers, “administered by His executors,” through the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament. Using the seven last words of Christ on the Cross, Dr. Hoenecke identifies in the following sermon seven provisions of the Divine Testament, earned by Christ, bequeathed to sinners, and received by them through faith – which the Holy Spirit works exclusively through the Means of Grace.
Holy Week: A Sermon for Good Friday
The Legacy of the Dying Redeemer
by Dr. Adolph 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
- A full remission of an unpayable debt.
A blessed abode for eternity.
A friendly home with a comforting fellowship even in this life.
A serene peace with God.
A fountain affording continual refreshment.
A wonderful eventide rest from our labors.
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.)
- 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.)
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.)
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.
Gives us joy and peace unending. (L.H. 23:2)
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)
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.)
- O Love, who madest me to wear
The image of Thy Godhead here. (L.H. 397:1)
- 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.)
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.)
- ’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.)
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.)
- 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)
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.
- 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 – recently 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