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The Authority of Jesus’ Word, even over death

1Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

5Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:1-53)

The words of Caiaphas, who was high priest at the time he said them, were prophetic.  When He said to the others, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, he was speaking the truth, even the truth of our salvation, though he knew it not.  Caiaphas was saying these words to the Sanhedrin in order to direct them on how to save themselves from the Romans coming in taking their place and their nation.  What He didn’t realize, though, was that he was also speaking of God’s love, not only for the Jews, but for all people, that Jesus die for the sins of all, though He Himself had none.

The background for all of this discussion of the Sanhedrin, the council, the chief priests and the Pharisees, concerning Christ Jesus was none other than what we heard in the Gospel account of St. John, even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

The man Lazarus had been dead for four days, four days, when the Lord cried out with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth (John 11:43).  Here was a man who had no breath and no life, but Jesus raised him who was dead from the grave.  Here, Jesus demonstrates His authority over death.  He shows His power over the tomb.  The stone did not prevent Lazarus from coming out and neither would death itself keep him from approaching at the Lord’s call.

The Lord’s call to Lazarus did not go unheeded.  Nor does the Lord’s call today go unheeded.

Jesus indeed had said, Truly, truly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live (John 5:25).

Christ speaks to you the very Words of life.  He raises you up from the deadness of our sins to new life in Him.  Because His Words are spirit and are life, they give what they say and say what they give (John 6:63).  He speaks forgiveness.  You are forgiven.  He speaks life.  You live.

The power of God’s Word does this.  Jesus Christ is that Word incarnate, through whom life, even eternal life, is given.  In the deadness of your sins, there is nothing awaiting you but death, even eternal death, but because of Christ, eternal death is no more a threat.  Even temporary death, the last trial of life, does not defeat.  When the Lord returns in glory, you shall meet as He is in our resurrected bodies.

As Jesus had said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:25-26).  Of Himself Jesus speaks.  Right in front of her was THE resurrection and THE life.  Though He Himself would die, even as Caiaphas had said, It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish, so He would also rise again on the third day.  Death would not hold Him.  The grave would not keep Him.

And so it is for all who live and believe in Him.  Such is the promise of the Lord, He shall never die.  What is meant here is not the physical death of the body, where the heart stops beating and the lungs cease.  What is meant here is that one who lives and believes in the Lord will not die eternally.  God grants everlasting blessedness and joy to they who trust in the Lord’s salvation, even Christ Jesus, who died for the people that the whole nation, the whole world, would not perish but have everlasting life.

The fact that the dead man Lazarus was raised from the dead was a work of God that none could deny.  Even the Pharisees, upon hearing the news, could not denounce the testimony of so many witnesses.  They were not able to refute the evidence that Lazarus, the one who was dead, was now alive.  And they say as such when they said, This man Jesus does many signs; signs, by the way, which they themselves were not capable of doing, and signs, too, which they could not disprove nor speak against.

In speaking as they did, and as unbelieving as they were, the true colors of the Pharisees and chief priests showed through. Because they did not believe, they could not but act against the truth that they saw with their own eyes.  Their hearts were hardened and something was to be done.  Where hearts are hardened, the truth of God will not only not be accepted, but fought against.  This we see here.

In their deliberations, meetings, and planning, their disdain for the truth, Christ Himself, and the love that they had for themselves appeared through the words of Caiaphas, words that they all agreed upon.  Jesus must die.  It would be better Him, the scapegoat, than us and our positions of honor and our nation.

The council of the Pharisees and the chief priests agreed to bring about the death of another in order to protect themselves.  They were not concerned about the people nor about peace.  They were concerned about what would come of them.  Their thoughts and motives were turned inward on their own well-being rather than on that of their neighbors.

What a distinction we see between the motives of the self-righteous Sanhedrin to protect their own selfish interests at the expense of another and the motives of the other on whom the Sanhedrin would dish out their death wish.  The Sanhedrin were completely self-centered.  Christ Jesus was completely other centered.  They meant it for their own good, without the thought of any others.  Jesus meant only for the good of all people and not for Himself.

Though the wicked do not believe, and though the wicked act completely for themselves, even if giving the impression of doing things for others, as the Pharisees and chief priests in our text, God works selflessly for the good of others.  This we see going on in Christ.

Jesus had authority to lay down His life down that He take it again (John 10:17).  Jesus Himself says, No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it again. This command I have received from My Father (John 10:18).

The Sanhedrin could take no action against our Lord except it be permitted them to do so.  Here foreshadow the words of the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, where Pilate asks Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin’ (John 19:9-11).

Pilate had been given authority from above to carry out the death of Jesus.  So had the Sanhedrin been permitted to arrest Jesus in the garden by the hand of Judas Iscariot.  But the truth remains that they did not have the last word.  Though the wicked have their way, God even works through what we cannot comprehend.  He saves through the death of Jesus that the whole nation and world not perish and to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

This is what Jesus did and does.  The Sanhedrin meant to do Jesus harm.  And they did.  But through that harm that they did to Jesus, even pushing for His death on the cross, Jesus would save the world and draw all men to Himself.

Through Christ’s death, God reconciled Himself to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18).  No longer are you at odds with God and He with you.  Your sin is no longer charged against you.  No longer are the children of God scattered abroad.  They come together in Christ.  He is your Head.  Christ and His truth truly unite.  The reason all are not united is because all do not accept the truth.  This is why there are so many denominations today.  But the Lord alone saves.  All people will not perish.  Christ our Savior has come.

Jesus has taken the full brunt of God’s wrath upon Himself, that wrath that you rightfully deserve because of your selfishness and your self-interests above the interests of others.  What Caiaphas the high priest said was true, more true than He ever knew.  Christ’s death was not only for them, sinners as they were, but for all sinners; and through Him forgiveness, life, and salvation is reality, reality for all who take a hold of His work and Word by faith, not doubting, but believing it as He says, and taking it as He gives.

All who believe in this Christ, this Jesus who died for all people, none excluded, who gave His life a ransom for all, that none perish but have everlasting life, these have the promises of God as their very own (1 Timothy 2:6; John 3:16).  Though some meant Christ’s death for His harm, God meant it for our good.

This is the truth that surpasses understanding.  Even through what isn’t right and what shouldn’t be, God works out the good pleasure of His will.  This in no way excuses what isn’t right or what shouldn’t be.  God’s good pleasure can and does work through these, but this doesn’t mean the stamp of approval is ever on what is not right.  God’s Word stands against wickedness and evil.  But even through these, God brings about good for His beloved, even us.

Though we don’t always see how these things are so, we don’t need to.  It’s not our concern.  What is our concern is what God has done and what He gives for our salvation.  By means of His Word, and Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar, He assures you and gives you His grace and favor.  These are sufficient to give you that peace which the world cannot give, but only that which Christ can and does.  Amen.

The peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

What Luther Says (Plass)

Resurrection

In his interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:2 Luther points out that here especially one should not consult reason and the senses.

3875 An Article of Faith in the Word, p1215

If you want to judge according to what you see and feel and, when the Word of God is set before you, want to pit your feeling against it and say: You tell me much; but my heart speaks a different language, and if you felt what I feel, you, too, would speak differently – then you do not have the Word of God in the heart but have quenched and extinguished it by your own thoughts, reason, and brooding.  In short, if you will not let the Word mean more to you than all your feeling, eyes, senses, and heart, you must be lost, and there is no further help for you.  For we are concerned with an article of faith, not an article of your reason or wisdom or human power and ability.

Therefore you must judge solely according to the Word in this matter, irrespective of what you feel and see.  I, too, feel my sin and the Law and the devil on my neck.  I feel that I lie under these as under a heavy burden.  But what should I do?  Should I argue according to such feeling and my own ability?  In that case I and all men would have to despair and perish.  If, however, I want to be helped, I must assuredly turn about, look to the Word, and say: I do indeed feel God’s wrath, the devil, death, and hell; but the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I have a gracious God through Christ, who is my Lord over the devil and all creatures.  If feel and see plainly enough that I and all men must sink into the grave and there decay.  But the Word speaks differently to me.  It tells me that I shall rise in great glory and live forever. (W 36, 494f – E 51, 89f – SL 8, 1103)

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