Last Sunday marked the beginning of the Third Week in Lent, also known as Oculi, and today, as we have the last three Wednesdays, we will again be hearing from Dr. Adolph Hoenecke (WELS). His topic this week is The Highpriestly Heart of Jesus in His Passion.
Peter was very close to Jesus. Of the twelve disciples, he was among the three commonly referred to as "the inner circle": Peter, James and John. He was not only bold, but displayed great courage in his boasting, of his willingness and intention to suffer alongside Jesus in His Way of Sorrow (Luke 22:33). And how could he not? He knew that Jesus alone had the Words of Eternal Life, and confessed as much to Him and before his fellow disciples (John 6:68). Who, knowing Jesus alone had the Words of Eternal Life, wouldn't follow Him to the End? But this Peter did not do. Rather than walk with Him, Peter publicly betrayed Him. Denied knowing Him or being associated with Him. Peter's was a great sin, and when the rooster signaled to him what Jesus said he would surely do, he wept bitterly over his sin. He had denied the One in Whom alone there is Life. There was only Death left for him as a result. What was he to do? Could Peter still have confidence in Jesus after this? – Confidence that he still had the love of Jesus, that he would have Life through Him, even though he had earned only Death? Can we have confidence in Jesus? Dr. Hoenecke answers these questions in the following sermon.
A Sermon for Oculi
A Highpriestly Heart in the Passion of Christ
by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke1
- Text: Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house. And Peter followed afar off. And when they had kindled a fire in the midst of the hall, and were set down together, Peter sat down among them. But a certain maid beheld him as he sat by the fire, and earnestly looked upon him, and said, This man was also with him. And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not. And after a little while another saw him, and said, Thou art also of them. And Peter said, Man, I am not. And about the space of one hour after another confidently affirmed, saying, Of a truth this fellow also was with him: for he is a Galilaean. And Peter said, Man, I know not what thou sayest. And immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew. And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And Peter went out, and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62)
But Jesus is the true High Priest. He is such an One as we need, not only because He is holy, but also because He has a heart such as must be found in a High Priest to whom poor, burdened, and afflicted sinners will gladly entrust themselves. He had such a heart particularly in the performance of His highpriestly work, in His Passion. God’s Word, in the form of today’s Passion text, makes us sure of that. Therefore the theme of our Passion devotion shall be:
- The certainty of this fact as given by our Passion text.
The fruit such certainty should bear in us.
It is made a certainty for us. “Then took they him, and led him, and brought him into the high priest's house.” They led Jesus into the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. There He stood bound before His judge. In the eyes of the ignorant world, going by outward appearances, Caiaphas was the judge, the high priest. According to God's plan, and the fulfillment of His plan, however, Jesus, the bound and captive Jesus, was the High Priest. The types of the Old Testament were abolished in that moment; fact and reality were taking their place.
Here that became fact, reality which God had said to Moses in regard to the high priest over Israel: “They shall make holy garments for Aaron thy brother, and his sons, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office... And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work... And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and grave on them the names of the children of Israel: Six of their names on one stone, and the other six names of the rest on the other stone, according to their birth.... And thou shalt put the two stones upon the shoulders of the ephod for stones of memorial unto the children of Israel: and Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon his two shoulders for a memorial.” (Ex. 28:4-12).
The fact and reality represented by this type is Jesus, the High Priest, for He is not only Moses’ brother and not only the brother of the men in Israel, but the brother of us all according to the flesh. But He is also God, blessed forever. Therefore His shoulders are strong indeed. They must be so. Not only the names of the Twelve Tribes with all their souls, no, the names of all mankind, recorded as debtors before God, and the burden, the guilty burden, which is recorded opposite all our names, opposite yours and mine – all this He bore. “The load Thou takest on Thee, That pressed so sorely on me, It crushed me to the ground” – thus we therefore sing of Him.
And how did He bear it? For every Israelite there must have been a very pleasant ring in the further directions for the high priest. A breastplate was to be made of gold. On it were to be inscribed the names of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and, by direct implication, all the souls in Israel. This little shield was to be fastened securely to the ephod, “that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod. And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth unto the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually” (Ex. 28:28b-29).
Surely, that was pleasant to hear. It meant that in all faithfulness the high priest was to bring the names of his brethren, with all their guilt, before God, when he went into the Holy of Holies with the sacrificial blood of atonement. Now, did our High Priest, Jesus, go through all His sufferings and into death, bearing all of us upon a brother’s heart? Did He have a true high priest’s heart while He bore the unbearable burden of our sins? Was His mind in His suffering for us that of a sympathetic, compassionate, and faithful brother? Was it a brother’s heart through and through?
Surely, on this all depends. Just consider the possibility that you could not presuppose such a heart in Him. Suppose that you were about to seek Him in your soul’s distress, and suddenly such a word as this came to mind: “Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins” (Is. 43:21-27). Would you have any real confidence in Jesus, if you had to doubt whether He took upon Himself the hard service and labor you caused Him with your sins and iniquities and bore them for you with a thoroughly brotherly, sympathetic heart? In that case you would very likely lose your confidence.
Therefore let us go into the shocking story of our text, and let us see whether it will not make us certain that Jesus in all His sufferings really had the heart of a true high priest, that is, a heart that held for us and all sinners a true brotherliness; that His heart was filled solely with a genuine, warm sympathy for us; that His heart in the faithfulness of love was concerned only with our plight.
The story of our text is, indeed, a shocking one. It is the story of a deep fall. If we note the heinous nature of the sin in question, the circumstances under which it was committed, and the person who made himself guilty of this sin, then we must say that the story presented by our text is a shocking one.
As we have heard, Jesus had been led into the palace of the high priest. There Jesus stood before His bitterest enemies, surrounded by a mob of rude soldiers. The priests vented their hatred against Him in venomous derision; the servants, currying the favor of their masters, practiced their vulgar mockery. The sufferings had already begun. Already the Lord had to suffer, besides the base mockery expressed in words, the most terrible calumnies and insults expressed in deeds. Already He had to endure being pummeled by fists, being struck in the face, and even being spit upon. Thus the Lord suffered even here; thus the Lord humbled Himself even then. He did it, bearing the guilt of the world, the guilt of all men, and always in the spirit of a true high priest.
While the Lord had thus already begun, as the High Priest, performing His sacrificial act in the palace of the high priest, outside in the court one of His disciples had joined the servants to see how this affair would end. It was Peter, the same Peter who had professed a low regard for his own life, stating that he would be ready, if need be, to die with his Lord. The Lord had not encouraged him to prove it in this night. Rather, he had warned him against it. He had foretold that, instead of dying or suffering steadfastly with Him, he would suffer the most shameful defeat, the most ignoble fall. It was not in accord with the Lord’s will that he sat at the enemy’s fire. But to Peter the Lord’s word; “Thou wilt deny me” (Lk. 22:34), appeared not nearly so weighty as his own declaration and vow: “I will suffer all with thee” (Lk. 22:33). Alas, what arrogance! For who could know us and the state of our hearts better than the Lord does? What arrogance! The Lord accuses us of weakness, and then to boast of our strength! Such pride always has fall and ruin in its wake.
What a fall was there! As Peter was sitting in the crowd of soldiers, he was recognized. They accused him point-blank of being one of the disciples. The accusation became more and more pointed: “Of a truth this fellow also was with him” ( v. 59). Now what do we see? Peter not only denied it, but with curses and oaths he asserted that he did not know this man Jesus! That is simply appalling. Once Peter had said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). At that time he believed and recognized that Christ was the Son of the living God. Now he uttered the miserable lie: I do not even know Him. Then he had vowed: We will not forsake Thee. Now he uttered the disgraceful lie: I had nothing to do with Him. Then he had confessed: Thou art the Christ and the Son of God; now he contemptuously denied Him by referring to Him as “this man.” How can you even think me capable of having associated with this man and of regarding Him with some respect?
Slander is always a terrible thing, but it is doubly appalling in this case and under these circumstances! There was the Lord before the priests, the target of mockery and scorn, even then engaged in the holy work of appearing before God in the name of all men, also in the name of Peter, remembering him before God for the purpose of his reconciliation – and outside stood the disciple, declaring time after time that he did not know this man Jesus, even calling a curse on his own soul to affirm it. Within stood Jesus before the priests, taking an oath on it, for the consolation of the whole world, that He was the Christ; He was vowing to all sinners with an oath that He was their Reconciler and Redeemer – and outside stood the disciple, denying with an oath this same, this only Redeemer.
The Lord did not behold this sad scene out in the courtyard with bodily eyes. The appalling lies, oaths, and curses very likely did not reach His bodily ear. But of this we can be certain: it did not remain hidden from the Lord. When the cock crowed, the Lord turned. Just as if He had been sitting right next to the deeply-fallen disciple, the Lord had lived through the whole deplorable story of this shocking denial. Yes, He had to experience all this even while He was beginning to drink the cup which the Father had given Him, the cup He was to drink also for the same Peter who had just renounced Him mid oaths and curses.
Now, how did the Lord feel in His heart toward His disciple, for whom also He was suffering? The answer to this is of supreme importance for all of us sinners! For Peter’s case is plainly our own case. Here we have a touchstone to the heart of Jesus. In Peter’s denial the greatest of all offenses was committed against the Lord, and this came at the very time when He was already in the midst of the Passion. Already His suffering was great. On top of this, He received the basest insult. Surely, at this point we desire to have the Lord give us a glimpse into His heart, and let us know how His heart during His Passion was disposed toward the disciple who had just offended, in the most saddening way, against the Lord and against His Father and against the Spirit. With the answer to that question we would at once have the answer to the larger question: With what attitude in His heart did Jesus suffer for all of us sinners?
The Lord does open His heart to us; He does let us see how He felt toward Peter. “And the Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” But how? What kind of look was that? In the well-known hymn we sing:
- On Peter, fallen deep in sin,
He looked in love and deep compassion.
(Tr. a W. H. F.)2
Then blessed are we! What the Lord was to Peter He is to all. To all He is the same Shepherd and Bishop, as Peter says in praise of Him. He is the one High Priest for us all. He has taken the whole burden of our sins upon His shoulders; He has borne all our names upon His heart. The sinful woes of every man, yours and mine, He has borne on His heart in largehearted, merciful sympathy with our misery, and with the heartfelt desire to prove Himself our Brother in bringing aid to us, for time and for eternity. It was with such a true high priest’s heart that Jesus suffered for us. That is certain, and our Passion text has established its certainty.
What fruit is this certainty to bear in us? Dear fellow Christians, what fruit ought the beloved Gospel in general bear in us? Faith, the firm, unshakeable faith toward our dear Lord and Saviour. This is also to be the fruit when God’s Word and Jesus Himself, all through the Gospel, testify with such certainty that the Lord in all His sufferings was indeed filled with wrath and hatred against our enemies: sin, death, and the devil, but never, never against even one of us poor sinners. No, as He came to us and was not ashamed to call us poor sinners His brethren, so He suffered for us in true brotherly compassion. He became our Brother and took upon Himself our flesh and blood, so that He might become a faithful High Priest and might suffer for us, bearing our misery on his heart in pure compassion.
That applies to everyone without exception. No one is excluded. Our beloved God and Lord Himself makes this truth so certain in His Gospel, so incontestably certain, in order that it might become a certainty for you and for me and for all. He wants the fact of the great, fervent, brotherly, and compassionate sympathy that stirred the heart of Jesus in all His sufferings for us – He wants that to abide securely in our hearts as an impregnable certainty and confidence.
Therefore, fellow redeemed, allow yourself to be made certain. Search in God’s precious Word and look for those wonderful passages, such as this Passion text, which clearly show you the heart of Jesus, your Brother, your Mediator, your High Priest. The Roman Catholics have an order or brotherhood which calls itself the Brotherhood of Devotion to the Heart of Jesus. It is a brotherhood with a system of self-chosen works, just like all brotherhoods which the Antichrist founds. There is no devotion there, least of all to the heart of Jesus. The true brotherhood of devotion to the heart of Jesus is the one that the Lord, our Brother, founded — the brotherhood of those who hear and keep His Word, who allow themselves to be taught and to be made certain by Him. To them He reveals Himself. Among them He sets hearts afire, hearts that burn with a blessed joy when they behold, in its unspeakable fulness, the fervent, compassionate love filling His highpriestly heart.
In such confidence entrust yourself fully to Him. Yield yourself, surrender yourself into His hands. That is a second fruit. Do that, when you stand, stand as one leading the life of a true Christian. Then yield yourself in implicit trust to Jesus, your Shepherd, your Lord, the Bishop of your soul. You can trust His heart; you know that. Then also trust His guidance; follow where He leads. Be governed by His suggestions, His directions. They are to be found in the Scriptures. To you, too, Jesus says: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). To you, too, and to me, to us all the Lord says: There is no depending on yourselves. Therefore let us humbly say: Lord, it is true. Thou knowest us through and through. Thou dost tell us that we are kept by Thee.
Let us not take it ill that the Lord humbles us. We, of course, always have a different idea about ourselves. We have this opinion of ourselves: Though all should forsake Jesus, still I never would do it. And when men say of us: “So-and-so is a Christian; you can rely on him,” how we love this flattering unction! We very likely also say of ourselves: I can depend on myself. Now Jesus says: That’s not true, My dear child, My dear son, My dear daughter. There is no depending on you. Utter weakness is your name. Give up these thoughts, these proud thoughts. Otherwise you can easily meet your downfall. Think of Peter!
My words come to you as those of a true shepherd. Therefore obey and say: The dear Lord is certainly right! Yes, follow! And if He leads you among enemies, then go! He will support you. And if you have no calling in a certain place, then stay away! Do not sit down with the scoffers, and do not draw close to their fires. Do not do it out of an idle curiosity to see how the thing will end, to find out what is going on there. Christ does not bid you go. It is very dangerous for you. This of Peter! Least of all are you to go among enemies and into the gatherings of wordly-minded people and to sit at their fires, because you like to join in their doings. Jesus forbids that to you. And who is He? The Bishop of your soul, the Shepherd who seeks only your good. If you go in spite of that, then evidently your genuine trust of faith in Jesus is already strongly on the wane. Those who have that trust are not stubborn people who accept no guidance, but willing children who gladly submit to such guidance.
And yet – ? Yet quite a few of them fall. If it should happen to you, then be like Peter. As one who has fallen, and fallen deeply at that, put yourself in Jesus’ hands. Do as Peter did; he went out and wept bitterly. He wept in deep sorrow over his sin, but not in despair. Rather, using Jesus’ grace as his pillar of support, he raised himself up. Had not Jesus looked on him with compassion and sympathy?
- On Peter, fallen deep in sin,
He looked in love and deep compassion.
(Wis. Ges. 356:6-Tr. a W. H. F.)
Then we have found help; otherwise not. Then, may the Lord Himself grant that this confidence abide in us at all times: He suffered for us with a truly compassionate, highpriestly heart, and, therefore, is always the High Priest who can feel with us in our weakness, and who surely also prays for us that our faith fail not. May He, then, grant us this further boon that we always be such who truly love His Word, for:
- Hoenecke, A. (1957). Glorified in His Passion (W. Franzmann, Trans.) Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1910.). pp. 44-56.
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
- On Peter, fallen deep in sin,
He looked in love and deep compassion.
Such was His way the strayed to win
Not only while in servant’s fashion.
Oh no! His heart is e’er the same;
Good, True, and Faithful is His name!
As He was then, through sorrow wending,
So now, enthroned mid joys unending,
His love but strives that sinners live.
My Saviour sinners doth receive.
(Wis. Ges. 356:6)