Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Living Hope through the Living Word


A Living Hope through the Living Word

1 Peter 1:17-25 The promise of God’s Word is that if we call upon the name of the Lord in faith, we will be saved. 
But of course the question is then asked, how can we call upon the name of the Lord if we have never heard of him?  And how can we hear of him if no one preaches to us?  And how can someone preach to us unless the church sends preachers? 
The Bible answers that question by saying:  how beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!
The Good News that is preached and believed—the Good News that is the source of our salvation-- is the Living Word of Jesus, crucified and raised to give us forgiveness and eternal life. 
The Good News is that we have a living hope in a living Lord through this living Word that:  1. allows us to truly call God our Father-- and 2. empowers our love for our fellow Christians-- and 3. assures us that we will live forever.  The Bible says that:
If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
            It is the great miracle and wonder of our life with God that we can truly call God, our Father-- for so he is!  Just think of it! 
The one, true and living God of the universe; the one who is from everlasting to everlasting; the one who called this world into existence by his powerful word and sustains it to this day in the same way, is your Father who 1. protects you and 2. provides for you and 3. promises to love you forever.
            God is your Father and you are his child.  But you did not begin life this way.  You began your life as a slave to sin and death.  You began your life as God’s enemy, alienated from God, with Adam’s sin (and the curse spoken upon it) rendering your life futile by death.
But Jesus Christ paid the price to set you free from sin and death, not with the things that that the world values such as gold and silver, but he paid the price to set you free and make you God’s child with his holy, precious blood.  The Bible says that:
you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
The One proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world bore your sins in his body to the cross-- and the sinless Son of God died in your place under God’s wrath-- so that you can truly call God your Father and live as his child here on earth, guided by his will and filled with his love.
Our lives as God’s children are shaped and formed by this understanding that the God who is our Father is holy and righteous and powerful and so we live our lives in holy fear, standing in awe of his majesty and glory and power. 
But our lives are also shaped and formed by the love that he has poured out upon us in the blood of his Son Jesus who has always been the promise and plan for our salvation.  The Bible says that Jesus:
was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God… 
            From the very beginning, it has been God’s loving purpose to save us and reconcile us to himself through his Son Jesus Christ. 
In Revelation we hear that Jesus is the Lamb slain FROM the foundation of the world.  In this passage we hear that God’s saving purposes in Christ existed from BEFORE the foundation of the world.
1. Our salvation from sin and death-- and 2. our reconciliation and return to our heavenly Father’s family-- and 3. our justification before a holy and righteous God—has ALWAYS and ONLY been through Jesus Christ who took upon himself our flesh and died upon a cross and rose from the dead and ascended to eternal glory and honor and praise.
Jesus has done all of this for us so that our faith and hope would rest in God alone and not in ourselves.  The Bible says that:  God raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 
God is the one who sent his Son Jesus into the world.  God is the one who punished him in our place on the cross.  God is the one who accepted his saving work and declared it justified in his resurrection.  God is the one who has given him power and glory and dominion and honor at his right hand.
God has done this in Jesus Christ so that our faith and trust and confidence and hope would rest upon God and not upon ourselves and in this way be certain and sure in this life and in the life to come.  Because of God’s work for you in Christ…
You CAN call God your Father!  You CAN know your sins are forgiven!  You CAN count on a home in heaven!  And you CAN live a life that is full of God’s love for your fellow Christians.  The Bible says that:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
            God has accomplished our salvation by a living Lord through the living word, not just so that WE can be saved, not just as so that OUR life with God can be restored, but also so that our lives WITH one another-- would be filled with love FOR one another.
            That is the purpose of our purification from sin:  that our love for one another, and especially for our fellow Christians would come from a pure heart.
We know about ourselves that often times, how we think about one another and how we act with one another, comes from motives that are something other than pure.  We want something from that person and so we are kind to them.  We don’t want conflict on our board or in our meetings and so we paste on a smile that doesn’t really fool anyone.
But God wants us to love one another from a pure heart—from a heart that has been purified by the truth.  And what is that truth that purifies us and empowers our love for others? 
It is the truth that all of us are saved only because of Jesus and not something in ourselves.  It is the truth that all of us are equally the sons and daughters of God, that no matter how different we are from one another, we all share the same Savior and the same Father. 
That truth changes how we see one another in the church.  1. Now we see one another as a brother or sister.  2. We see one another standing equally in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.  3. We see one another as common confessors of the same truth of the Gospel. 
And as our vision of others changes, our own hearts are changed.  More and more there is genuineness and sincerity and earnestness in our love for one another rather than just a fa├žade we put on to mask how we really feel. 
We see others differently and we treat others differently BECAUSE we are different people that we were before.  The Bible says that we:
have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls,
            We have a living faith and a living hope in a living Lord because we have been born again through the living word of God.  To say that we are born again is not a Baptist thing—it is a Bible thing.  Jesus says:  Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God….That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 
But what does it mean to be born again?  Peter says that our new birth has come through the living and abiding Word of God so that our new life is eternal while our old life will fade like the flowers of the field.  The Bible says:
The word of the Lord remains forever.”  And this word is the good news that was preached to you.  And so then…

Biblically speaking, being born again it is not a choice or decision that we make any more than our first birth was a choice or decision we made, but rather our heavenly Father has given us new spiritual life and made us his children through his living word.
And the 1. reason that God’s Word is living, 2. the reason that God’s Word has the power to raise us from death to life and make us new people, 3. the reason that God’s Word is infinitely something more than ink on paper is that the living Word  IS Jesus Christ, crucified and raised.  
It is through that living word that we are born again to a life that death will not end and when we begin to understand that our life with God comes ONLY through this living Word our perspective on God’s Word and our practice of the faith will change.
Family devotions and private bible reading will become times that we crave because we know how the Word strengthens our faith and sustains and strengthens the faith of our family.
Preaching and worship and Bible study will become a priority because we know that our heavenly Father is speaking to us, guiding our lives in the way he wants us to go and the decisions he wants us to make. 
Receiving the Sacrament will no longer be thought of as an occasional extra, but central to our life of faith because of the living words of the living Lord he speaks to us there:  given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.

These living words of the living Lord have not only caused us to be born again to a new, eternal life but they are the God-given way to sustain that living hope until we go to be with the Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Living Hope in a Living Lord

1 Peter 1:3-9 The picture  we have of Peter during Jesus’ passion is that of a man who has failed greatly—not because he was being tortured for his faith—not because he was facing imminent death—but simply out of cowardliness.  And not only did he deny the Lord, he called down the curses of God Almighty upon himself to back up his denial.
And yet the Lord loved him.  Despite his denials—despite his cowardliness—despite his weakness-- the Lord loved him.  After his resurrection, Jesus specifically sought out Peter to forgive him and restore him and to give him an opportunity to re-commit himself to following the Lord. 
That’s the whole point of Jesus’ resurrection:  forgiveness and new beginnings for us-- despite our fears and failures. 
In the Book of Acts we see the difference the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes in the lives of his people:  Peter and the other apostles boldly preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to…the religious leaders who put Jesus to death—the leaders of their own people of whom they were so afraid. 
And those who denied the Lord—who hid in fear when he was on trial—who abandoned him in his deepest need—rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for a living Lord who had given them: a new life and a home in heaven -and was working through hardships to being them there.  Peter writes of this living hope in a living Lord:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy
            Can you just imagine what the word “mercy” meant to Peter and the other disciples--to know that because of Jesus’ mercy, their life with God did not come to an end because they failed so completely?  Can you imagine how profoundly grateful they were to their heavenly Father for sending his Son Jesus Christ to make forgiveness and new life a reality for them despite their sins?
Each of us knows what it means to stumble in our walk of faith.  Each of us knows how often our lives in the words we say, the things we do, and the thoughts we have are outright denials of the Lord-- no less than Peter’s denial. 
That is why we join our voices with his words of praise for God’s great mercy in the gift of his own Son—because we also know what Peter knew:  that through faith in the resurrected Christ we have a living hope in a living Lord who has raised us up to new life in Christ.  Peter writes about that new life that is ours through Christ’s resurrection:
God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…
Peter calls our new life in Christ “being born again to a living hope” and there is no better way to describe the change in his life in the light of the resurrection than being “born again”.  Very simply, a new life had come for him.  He was a different person than he was before because Jesus rose from the dead. 
The resurrection of Jesus Christ still has the power to change lives from spiritual death to spiritual life. 
When the Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is preached, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to raise us from the death of unbelief-- to the life of faith. 
In Holy Baptism, it is not the water that causes new life to be raised in the hearts of those born dead in sin, but it is the powerful promise of God’s Word in that water that causes us to be born again—the promise that we have died with Christ in his death on the cross and been raised with Christ in his resurrection from the dead.
It is the resurrected Christ who is present at our altar offering forgiveness and new life in his own body and blood crucified and raised.
Christ’s death and resurrection--preached and given in the sacraments-- takes children of Adam, born to die, and causes them to be born again as children of God and gives them a living hope in a living Lord with a precious inheritance of eternal life--an inheritance that is:  imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 
            It took Peter and the other disciples a while to get this heavenly inheritance straight in their minds.  For much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, what he taught the disciples about life with God “went in one ear and out the other”. 
Their minds were fixed on Roman enemies and national pride and a physical homeland.  But AT the death of Jesus on the cross they saw these earthly dreams and misplaced hopes come to an end. 
It was only AFTER Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples began to see the truth about what he had been teaching all along:  that this world is not all there is and we ought not live as if it is—that God’s kingdom is not of this world but resides in human hearts through faith—that God has something infinitely better for us than simply satisfying our fleshly desires here on earth—an eternal home in heaven.  This is a living hope.
Like the disciples, we bear the weight of our sinful flesh that simply wants to live life with all our wants and needs met.  We value success and happiness above everything else.  We are not nearly as concerned with spiritual things as we ought to be-- but we certainly want God to give us material blessings in abundance.
But a life focused on upon the things of this world is a life of futility—a life without meaning and purpose—a life that death will always destroy. 
God wants more than that for us—he created us for an eternal life—and he redeemed us by the death and resurrection of his own Son so that we could live that life in heaven with him.  That is the living hope of the Christian and that is the purpose of God’s redeeming work for us.
Moment by moment-- he is working in our lives to bring us to our heavenly home.  Peter tells us that we have a living hope in a living Lord who is present and powerful even in the trials of life—that we:
by God’s power are being guarded  through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.   
            During the last days of Jesus’ life, the disciples lost faith in the power of God to protect them.  In our Gospel lesson today we see them cowering in fear behind locked doors. 
But after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, there was no doubt in their minds that the God who had the power to raise his own Son from the dead-- also had the power to guard and protect them and bring them safely to their heavenly home.  From then on…
They faced their enemies unafraid.  They were beaten to within an inch of their lives and thrown out of town and went right back into the same town still preaching Jesus.  They were shipwrecked and jailed and exiled and finally faced a martyr’s death. 
Did those hardships mean that God’s power to guard and protect them had failed?  Absolutely not!  In fact, the miraculous power of the resurrection was that their faith remained intact no matter what kinds of trials they faced! 
Every time they came through some kind of difficulty with their faith in Jesus still strong, God’s almighty power—the same power that raised his Son from the dead—was validated and vindicated again and again in their lives.
The same is true for us.  God’s power is not necessarily shown in keeping us from times of trial—though he can certainly do that!  But God’s power is shown in that he keeps us strong in our faith through times of trial so that we emerge with an even stronger faith than what we started with!  That is what is really important-- for it is only through faith in Jesus that are born again and have the hope of entering eternal life. 
When we finally come to the same place in life as Peter did-- in realizing that our faith in Jesus Christ is the most precious gift that God has given us-- there is no comfort that we would not forgo and no hardship that we would not endure to keep our faith. 
The trials in our lives are not the failures of God to keep us safe—but a necessary part of God’s work in helping us to keep the only thing of eternal value that we have—and that is our faith in Jesus.  Peter writes about the meaning and purpose of trials in the believers’ life from his own first-hand experience:
you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 
Trials are necessary to the Christian life if we are to mature in our faith and obedience to the Lord because they test and refine our faith.
It was only when Peter was tested in the courtyard of the high priest that he could really see the truth about himself—that his own strength was absolutely insufficient to remain steadfast—that he needed to repent of his trust in himself and put his trust in the strength of God alone. 
Trials show us where we are weak so that we can turn to the Lord for strength and ask the Holy Spirit for help in those areas of our faith and life.
Trials refine our faith just like fire refines gold—getting rid of doubts and removing worries as we discover that God will protect and provide for us again and again. 
It is only when we begin to see our faith as something infinitely more precious than gold that we can begin to THANK God for the refining fires of hardships and REJOICE in the trials of life because we know that through them God is shaping us and molding us for a glorious eternity with him. 
That was the living hope of these Christians to whom Peter wrote even though they had never seen the resurrected Lord—folks just like us.  Peter writes:
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
When the living Lord appeared to his disciples he spoke this blessing to Thomas and the other disciples who doubted:  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  We see the power of that blessing in the believers in Peter’s congregation and down through salvation history to our own day and the believers sitting in these pews who have never seen Jesus and yet believe in him and love him.
Faith in Jesus did not end with those who personally saw Jesus alive-- but spread to all who believed the Good News of the resurrection proclaimed by the apostolic witnesses—first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee and Judea, and then throughout the world down to this place and time. 

Our living Lord continues to give a living hope to all who believe in him—promising new life, an eternal inheritance in heaven, and his powerful presence in our lives even in times of trial.  Amen.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

He Has Risen!

Matthew 28:1-10 The story of our life with God began in a garden.  It is the story of God’s goodness and man’s fall into sin.  The story of our life with God ends in a garden where God and man live in perfect fellowship with one another throughout eternity.  And the only possible connection between those two gardens—the connecting bridge-- is found in the garden that we hear about this morning where Jesus’ grave was found. 
When Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimethea asked for his body, and along with Nicodemus and the faithful women, they prepared his body for burial.  The Bible says that in the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden and in the garden there was a new tomb and they laid Jesus there.  That’s how Good Friday ended…
The Seed of the Woman that God had promised all the way back in the Garden of Eden, the Seed of the Woman who would undo all the destruction that sin and Satan had caused, was laid in the earth—with the harvest God promised still come.  The Bible says that:
…after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
            They went to see the tomb.  Who can blame them?  After we lay our loved ones in the grave none of us returns the next day to see if they have been raised from the dead.  These faithful women remained with Jesus every step of the way that led to the cross and knew he died.
They saw him whipped and beaten and humiliated.  They saw him struggle under the weight of the cross and stumble and fall as he walked through Jerusalem.  They saw the hammer blows drive nails into his hands and feet and they saw a Roman spear thrust into his side. 
They saw him die-- and they handled his dead body and prepared it for burial and watched as it was laid in the tomb and the stone rolled in front of it to seal it off.
There was nothing so certain, so sure in their minds as the death of Jesus.  And early in the morning, on the first day of the week, after the Sabbath rest, they went to the garden to see his tomb.  Who can blame them?  Which of us wouldn’t have done the same?  Except…
During his earthly ministry, Jesus told them on a number of occasions just exactly what was going to happen—that his own people would reject him, that friends would betray him, that he would be crucified…and…that he would rise again.  That is a remarkable claim, but…
Had they ever known Jesus NOT to keep his word?  Had they ever once heard falsehood come out of his mouth?  He was faithful to his promises!  And there was more…
A number of times during the previous three years he had raised the dead.  He demonstrated time and again that in his presence death was a defeated enemy. 
In fact, just a week or so before he died, Jesus stood at the grave of Lazarus, dead for days, commanded the grave stone to be rolled away, identified himself as the resurrection and the life and called Lazarus to come forth from his tomb—and he did! 
If anyone had listened to Jesus—if anyone had really thought about his power—if anyone believed in him--they shouldn’t have been traveling to see a tomb—they should have been standing there to welcome their living Lord.  The Bible says that:
There was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
            When God promised that seedtime and harvest would never cease, that promise was true.  But what was also true is that sin has undermined that promise. 
Every year throughout the world, there is seedtime and harvest-- but there are also places where there are floods and hail and droughts.  Seedtime and harvest fail in those places.  Sin has destroyed what was once a perfect creation.  The Bible says that:  the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 
That is exactly what happened early in the morning on the first day of the week.  Creation herself, ruined by Adam’s sin, groaned—she could not remain silent in the presence of her Redeemer just as she could not let the light of the sun shine while the Light of the World died on the cross.  In the earthquake, creation herself testified to the death and resurrection of her Creator.
Along with the earthquake, an angel of the Lord appeared-- to announce that Jesus had been raised and with his resurrection the defeat of Satan and redemption of man.  How the angels must have longed for this day!
The angels had been there in the garden when God’s judgment was announced—they saw death enter the world—and they were appointed as guards to keep Adam and Eve out of the Garden and away from the tree of life. 
Throughout salvation history the angels executed God’s judgment and comforted God’s people and proclaimed that salvation had come with the birth of Jesus.  They worked with God every step of the way as he patiently carried out his plan of salvation and now they were here in another garden to see it accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus. 
After the angels appeared to Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph--after they sang praises to the newborn king--after they strengthened Jesus in the wilderness and comforted him in the Garden of Gethsemane --what a blessing it must have been to see the Seed of the Woman burst forth from the earth with new life for the world!
The angel rolled away the stone so that the women- and the disciples who followed them- and every person down through history from that moment on could look inside and see that Jesus had conquered death and the grave just as he promised he would.  The Bible says that at this angelic announcement:  the guards trembled and became like dead men.
            So are the enemies of God in the presence of the risen Christ.  The world’s most powerful rulers.  The fiercest pagan tribes.  The most evil empires.  All of them have been conquered one by one by the humble, gentle man of Galilee, simply by his almighty Word of life. 
What was the Roman Empire or the barbarian tribes or Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union compared to the risen Christ?  They had soldiers- and the weapons of war- and the power of the law- and the media on their side- but one by one they were conquered by the message of the cross and empty tomb:  it is finished and Christ is risen!
            It is this Good News of Christ, crucified and risen, that still has the power to defeat our enemies and conquer our fears and give us a new life filled with witness and worship and hope.  The angel said:
Go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
            From that moment on, every one of us has been commissioned to be a witness for Jesus Christ, telling what we have seen and heard and its power in our lives. 
The faithful women told the disciples- and the disciples shared that message, beginning first in Jerusalem and then throughout the Roman Empire.  Those who followed the apostles have shared that message wherever they have gone-- down to this place and time and the people assembled here today.
 The faithful women never made it San Angelo, Texas.  But we have-- and we are commissioned in exactly the same way as they were to tell those around us the Good News that in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness for our sins and the promise of a new life that death will not end so that those who hear us can worship the Lord.  The Bible says that:
Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
            The response of the faithful women was the most natural thing in the world.  How could they not worship the One who died for them and conquered death for them by his own resurrection?  Could anything be more important in that moment than their worship?!
For those who have put their faith and trust in the work of Jesus Christ—for those who find their salvation at the cross and empty tomb--how can we not worship?  How can we not cast ourselves at Jesus feet to thank and praise him for who he is and what he has done? 
We were made for the worship of God and he is worthy of that worship and his people will spend eternity worshiping in his presence.  Jesus said to them:  “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
            That is a promise for us too!  We will see Jesus just as surely as did the faithful women and we will see our fellow Christians who have gone before.
Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death and the grave have no power over us!  He is the first-fruits of an entire harvest of people who will rise from their graves to live new and glorious lives like his own, never to die again. 
            Here in the Garden of resurrection there is an incredible harvest of God’s blessings for us.  There is the assurance that Jesus will keep his promises to us.  All of them!  There is confidence that, just as God has wisely worked out his perfect plan of salvation for the world, so he is wisely working salvation in our lives, no matter what hardship we endure.  There is a life of meaning and value here on earth that is filled with the worship of Jesus and our witness to him.  And finally there is the sure and certain hope we have of another life to come. 

            Everything that was lost in the Garden of Eden has been regained here in the Garden of the resurrection by the one who conquered death and the grave this Easter Day.  Amen.

Repent! Turn to Jesus For He and He Alone Has Accomplished Your Salvation


Repent! Turn to Jesus; He and He Alone Has Accomplished Your Salvation

John 19:17-30 Throughout this Lenten season we have been talking about repentance.  The Bible says that repentance has two parts:  that we are sorry for our sins and then we turn in faith to Jesus for forgiveness.  And in that simple definition is really the story of our life with God.
            We are sinners.  We have not done the good that God demands of us.  We have done the evil he forbids.  But the wonder and glory of this sad story of our sin is that God still loves us. 
            When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not wash his hands of them and start over with two new people.  And so it was with Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and the woman caught in adultery and Peter and Saul.  And so it is with us.  God loves us and we can turn to Jesus when we have sinned and know that we will be forgiven.
And yet, this is the thing that we find so difficult to do.  Instead of turning from our sins and turning to Jesus, we blame others for our sins or we compare ourselves to others and tell ourselves it’s not as bad as all that or we try to make amends on our own.
When Adam and Eve sinned, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed God for giving him Eve in the first place.  When the Pharisee saw the man in the temple who was a tax collector he said to himself, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as all that!”  When Judas came face to face with his betrayal and what that meant for Jesus, he was heartbroken and he returned the money but he didn’t turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this night let us be done with denying our sin and excusing our sin and trying to make things right with God on our own.  Let us turn our eyes of faith to the cross and see just exactly what our sin has done and be truly sorry. 
But also let us see there, in that suffering, dying man the forgiveness he gives to us and know that Jesus, and he alone, has finished our salvation for he is the one who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior-- and he is the one who loves with an everlasting love-- and he is the one who has died in our place.
When Adam and Eve fell into sin and destroyed God’s good creation and brought death into the world for all men, God stepped in and made a promise, that from a woman he would bring forth a Savior who would destroy the works of Satan.
Throughout salvation history, in the words of the prophets and patriarchs, he added more and more to that promise:  that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he would be from the House of David and the true Davidic King, that he would be humble and powerful, healing the hick and giving sight to the blind and setting the prisoner free, that he would have a forerunner who would prepare his way and that he would pierced for our transgressions and that by his wounds we would find peace with God.
Hundreds and hundreds of prophecies over thousands and thousands of years—all of them fulfilled in one and only one man—the man who hung of the cross at Golgotha with a sign above his head that said “The King of the Jews.”  The Bible says:
They took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
            Pilate, of course, intended this to be an insult to those trouble-making Jews but the sign he caused to be written really was true:  the man of the cross dying a criminal’s death really was the King of the Jews—he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up a descendant of David to rule from his throne forever. 
            And even in his dying moments he continued to fulfill every word ever spoken about him.  His last earthly possession was taken away when the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that said:  “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”  And his last moment of torment was the agony of thirst so that even the smallest promise of Scripture would be fulfilled. 
Throughout salvation history God has spoken about what he was going to do about our sin and from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation every word about salvation is fulfilled by this man who is crucified upon a cross, planted deep in the rocky hill called the skull.
When we are confronted by our sins—when we are caught up in our own failings-- we do not have to wonder about who to turn to for forgiveness and comfort and the strength to begin again because every word of the Bible points us to Jesus Christ. 
And when we are confronted by our sins and when we are caught up in our failings we do not have to wonder what kind of reception we will receive because here at Calvary there is nothing but love for us from the man of the cross.  The Bible says that:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
            It is difficult to overstate the agony of being crucified.  The word “excruciating” comes from the root word for “cross” in Latin.  We would readily excuse anyone enduring that kind of pain who withdrew into themselves and focused only on the torment at hand. 
But Jesus did not do that—even in those terrible hours of horrible suffering his attention was still not focused upon himself—but others.
He made sure that his mother was cared for.  This one who was blessed among women to bear the Messiah had been warned that her own soul would be pierced by a sword in anticipation of this moment and Jesus wanted to make sure that this one he loved, this one among all the people in the world who knew every detail of his story, would be cared for at his departure.
But maybe we say to ourselves, well of course he loved his mother and cared for our needs in that moment, but why on earth should I count on that same love when I have failed him so often?
But look who else is loved around that cross.  There were those standing there who unjustly condemned him to death- and there are those who took hammer and nails and fastened him to the cross and cast a spear into his side.  And there were friends standing at a distance who failed him in his hour of need and he loved them all gave them what they needed when he said, Father, forgive them.
There is a thief who in the very last moments of his life had a change of heart and was sorry for his sins and turned to Jesus and Jesus loved him and gave him what he needed in that moment of death:  the promise of eternity in Paradise.
 Feast your eyes of faith on the one who was crucified and dies for you—see the love of the Savior who provided for those he loved and forgave those he loved and delivered those he loved and know that Jesus and Jesus alone has accomplished your salvation.
Hear his words of love spoken from the cross and believe that no matter what you have done and no matter how far you have wandered, you are loved with that same everlasting love and you can turn to Jesus and know he has accomplished your salvation and that you will be provided for and forgiven and delivered-- even from death—because he died for you.  The Bible says that:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How can we ever being to grasp the wonder and beauty and comfort of those words?  That while were still his enemies; before we could do anything to make a way to God on our own; before we took the necessary steps to amend our sinful lives, God loved us and his Son died for us.  This is what love is!  Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to die for us!
As the old Lenten hymn says:  Imprint this image on your heart!  This image of Jesus bearing your sins.  This picture of Jesus speaking words of love and forgiveness even as he died.  This scene of the holy, innocent, sinless Son of God, abandoned by his Father, suffering under his wrath, dying a horrible death so that you will never face any of it because he and he alone has accomplished your salvation. 
Jesus said:  “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  It is finished—and it was!  Our shame and guilt—finished.  God’s wrath and punishment—finished.  Sin atoned for—the slate wiped clean—sins forgiven—finished, finished, finished.
When John the Baptist began his ministry he said:  Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  When Jesus began his earthly ministry he said, Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  When Luther began the reformation of the church he said that the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in one word:  Repent!  Turn from sins in sorrow and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
It seems so simple and yet we saw in the Lenten cast of characters this year how difficult it is to do because we want to excuse our sins or compare ourselves to others or avoid Jesus altogether because what we have done seems beyond forgiveness. 

In our last Lenten sermon our eyes are directed to the cross and we see what ours sins have done and all our excuses and all our explanations go out the window and we are truly sorry for our sins.  But we also see there the love that is poured out in Christ’s shed blood and we know that we can turn to him and find forgiveness and for he and he alone has accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross.  Tetelestai.  It is finished!  Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Repent! Turn to Jesus and Receive a Special Assurance of Your Forgiveness

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 When there is a disagreement or argument in our marriage or family that leads to hard feelings, there is really only one way forward and that is for us to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” and then for us to hear “I love you and forgive you.”  That is the only way to restore broken relationships.
            Often times, when that confession and forgiveness has taken place, there will be a concrete demonstration of that forgiveness:  maybe a hug or a kiss or a note or a gift—something tangible that says:  “things are right between us”—something concrete that says “I love you and I forgive you”.
            And we know of course that those words of love and forgiveness-- and those tangible tokens of a restored relationship-- are not just a once in a lifetime event in our lives together, but they really do form the very center of our relationships.  So it is tonight.
            We come into the presence of the Lord confessing our sins.  We know we have done and said things that have harmed our relationship with God and one another.  We know that there is a distance between us and God and us and one another that ought not be there and we confess our wrongs. 
And then we hear that Good News that on account of what Christ has done for us, we are forgiven—that things are right and renewed between us and God-- and a foundation has been laid for a right and renewed relationship with one another.  What a blessing that forgiveness and love we receive from God is!
But there is even more.  In Holy Communion the Lord gives us a concrete, tangible gift that puts flesh and bone on his love and forgiveness:  he gives us Christ’s true body and blood.  The same body and blood that our great high priest offered up on the cross as the once-for- all sacrifice for the sins of the world, is placed into our mouths for us to eat and drink as a special assurance that things are right between us and God on account of Jesus, giving us the forgiveness we need in our relationship with God and one another.  The apostle Paul says:  For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…
On this day, in Christian churches throughout the world, this meal of love and forgiveness is being celebrated just as it has been every day and in every place for the last two thousand years.  What Christ placed into the hands of the apostles two thousand years ago was placed into the hands of the pastors who followed them down through the centuries and then is placed into our hands and mouths here tonight.
That is why we have no right to change anything of what our Lord has given to his church on earth.  Not the words, not the meaning, not the gifts themselves:  the bread which IS Christ’s body and the cup which IS Christ’s blood is given to us for the forgiveness of sins so that we would remember his sacrificial love and proclaim it together to the world.  The Bible says that:
The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
            On this night, when the disciple gathered to celebrate the Passover, they remembered how their forefathers had been enslaved in Egypt, they remembered the hopelessness of their people, and they remembered the mighty deliverance of their Savior God and how slaves had taken refuge from the Angel of Death under the blood of a lamb and then left their slavery as the dearly loved people of God.
All of this was in their hearts and minds as the Lord, the One proclaimed by John as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, took bread into his hands and said “this is my body” and took the cup of wine and said “this is my blood”—the new covenant promised by the prophet Jeremiah when he said:
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
That is what we receive tonight—the new covenant of forgiveness and love that is found only in the body and blood of Christ—the new covenant where we call to mind and receive again and again the Good News that on account of Christ God no longer remembers ours sins.
Like every covenant enacted by God, this new covenant of forgiveness and love, this new covenant of a right relationship with God because our sin have been forgotten, has been enacted by the shedding of blood of the Lamb of God. 
And every time we receive it, the reality of his love and forgiveness is proclaimed to us again and again so that we might proclaim it to the world again and again.  The Bible says that:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 
            Wherever the church has existed for the last two thousand years this meal has been celebrated and as the bread is lifted up with the words “this is my body given for you” and as the cup of wine is lifted up with the words “this is my blood shed for you” the forgives and love of God has been received by those present-- but also proclaimed to those outside the church. 
In this meal that we receive tonight, the church says to the world, and Trinity Lutheran says to San Angelo:  Christ’s body was broken for you, Christ’s blood was shed for you, his love and his forgiveness are for you.  And when we begin to understand that these gifts of God’s love and forgiveness are for our eternal benefit-- but also so that the world around us might hear the good News of Jesus--all questions about how often we should celebrate Holy Communion are put to rest. 
We need the forgiveness that is given at this altar- and the world needs to hear of the forgiveness that is proclaimed at this altar- and because this meal is so critical to our salvation and the salvation of the world, it needs to be received in a worthy manner.  The Bible says that:
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
            We are not left to our own devices when it comes to what constitutes an unworthy manner of receiving Holy Communion.  The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us exactly what that is:  not discerning the body of the Lord.
And he goes on to say that someone who eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment on himself.
            That is why we are to examine ourselves before we come to Holy Communion.  We ask ourselves:  Do I believe the words of the Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Holy Apostles that this is Christ’s true body and blood?  Do I believe that this body and blood is given to me for the forgiveness of my sins?  Do I come to this altar confessing my sins and desiring to be done with them and do I believe that my living Savior is here, offering me his love and forgiveness and strengthening presence to begin again?
That we are to examine ourselves in this way before receiving the body and blood of Christ—that we are to know the answers to these questions before eating the bread and drinking the cup-- is why we do not say to every person who worships with us:  come to the altar. 
Instead, we ask them to share our confession that the words of Jesus and the apostles are true:  that this is Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.  We ask them to have a knowledge of the things of God and the teaching of Holy Scripture so that they can examine themselves and receive these gifts in faith—because the consequence of not doing that are severe.  The Bible says that in the Corinthian congregation unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper:
is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.  But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
            In that Christian congregation, God was exercising his temporal judgment upon those who were coming to Holy Communion in an unworthy manner, having a different confession regarding the Body and Blood of the Lord.  People were weakened, became ill, and even died.
For Christian pastors and congregations who actually believe the Word of God, we have to take these words seriously.  It ought to be our firm desire to see everyone be able to come to this altar and receive the gifts of forgiveness and love that are truly given here in Christ’s true body and blood.
But that same desire has to be guided and informed by God’s Word which says that not only forgiveness can be received here—but also God’s judgment.  So it has always been in the presence of Christ:  forgiveness and life for those who believe—but judgment and death for those who reject him and deny him.

The Good News for us here tonight is that we know who is present among us under bread and wine:  the Savior who laid down his life for us on the cross—the great High Priest who takes bread and wine and says “this is my body, this is my blood given for you” as a special assurance that you are forgiven and loved.  Amen.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Have This Mind Among Yourselves

Philippians 2:5-11 The Bible says that our manner of life is to be worthy of the Gospel of Christ and so the goal of our Christian life here on earth is to grow in Christ-likeness.  Growth in Christ-likeness is not about a list of rules to follow or things to avoid. 
But rather, Christ-likeness it is a mindset—a way of thinking about ourselves and others that looks like Jesus.  The Bible says that we are not to look only to our own interests but also to the interests of others—that in humility we are to count others more significant than ourselves.
“Humility” is one of those virtues like “love” that is hard to describe—especially in our world where these things get twisted out of shape into something that is unrecognizable as humility or love—or even something ugly. 
We know about false humility that denies the real gifts that God has given us.  We know about a humility that is really just a mask to hide our bragging on ourselves.  We know about a love that is really not for the good of others but a feeling that meets my emotional needs.
It takes God to tell us the truth about love and humility.  The bible says that:  This is love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave us his Son.  And the Bible says that this is what humility is:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…
When it comes to how we are to live—in love and humility--we are not left to our own devices to discover what God is looking for from us—we are not left to the false definitions of the unbelieving world—instead, we are directed to Jesus Christ. 
When God calls us to lives of humility he points us to his Son Jesus and says this is what I’m talking about:  my Son Jesus, who shares my divine nature, did not hold onto glory and honor for himself--but for your sake, for your salvation, he laid it aside.  The Bible says that Jesus:
Made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 
            When Jesus entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he did not come as the King of kings and Lord of lords—he did not come as a great conqueror—he did not come with the majesty of almighty God (though he was all of these and more!).
He came in riding on a little grey donkey, his feet hanging almost to the ground--in meekness and humility.  So it had been throughout his life.
Jesus took on the flesh of a poor Virgin who would be ridiculed for the story that her baby was born of God—not of sin.  He lived in obscurity.  He labored with his hands.  He spent his life helping those around him.  He said of himself:  I came not to be served—but to serve and give my life for others.
And yet the great wonder of this humble man from Galilee is that he is the King of kings -and he is the Lord of lords- and he is true God in human flesh who humbled himself and was born in the likeness of men because we have failed to be the humble, loving men and women that God wants us to be. 
We haven’t loved others sacrificially.  We haven’t counted others better than ourselves.  We haven’t looked to the interests of others.  We haven’t had the mind of Christ.  And yet that is God’s expectation of us and he promises to punish, in time and eternity, those who do not do his will.
That is why God’s own Son, out of love for us, laid aside the divine glory and honor and majesty (that are truly his own) to do for us what we have not—and cannot—do:  live a holy life and suffer God’s punishment on the cross.  The Bible says that:
Being found in human form, Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,  
            Throughout his life Jesus would say of himself:  I have come to do my Father’s will!  I have come to speak my Father’s words!  And he did.  His life on earth was lived in perfect obedience to his heavenly Father in thought, word, and deed. 
He said of himself:  I and my Father are one—not just because they shared the same divine nature—but because his life as a man was perfectly united to God.
That perfect life led him into death—even death on the cross.  Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the one, true and living God---humbly counted you better than himself and looked to your interests ahead of his own and he died in your place—even death on a cross.
Two thousand years after God the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write these very words, we can still hear the stunned amazement in his voice—even death on a cross—the most painful, humiliating, degrading death that can be imagined.
In fact, the Bible says:  cursed is everyone hung on a tree---and not only because it was a humiliating, degrading, painful way to die—but because it was a visible sign of being cursed by God—a public display that a crime worthy of death had been committed and the punishment of that crime was put on view for all to see.
            That is the death that Jesus suffered—not just painful, not just humiliating—but cursed by God.  The Bible says that God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us—that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  This was Jesus’ mission:  to live the holy life we should have lived and to die the cursed death we should have died so that we can be right in God’s sight. 
And that is what he accomplished:  our salvation from sin and death.  The Bible says that this is the reason that:  God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.
We know that 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah promised that the Messiah would be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, and prince of peace.  We know that Joseph and Mary were commanded by God to give their baby the name:  Jesus—the LORD saves—because he would save us from our sin. 
But what does Paul mean when he says that after his death, resurrection and ascension Jesus was given the name that is above every name?  It’s because eternity in heaven is possible only through faith in his name.  The Bible says: 
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other NAME under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.  Jesus is the name that is above every name because God has declared that there is one way of salvation-- and only one way—and that is to call upon the name of Jesus Christ in faith, trusting in his life, death, and resurrection is our salvation and hope and peace.
The name of Jesus identifies who he is and what is had done:  that he is the LORD who saves—that he alone has accomplished the Father’s saving purpose in undoing the effects of sin and death and reconciling us back to our Creator.  That is why the Bible says that: 
at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
            Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on the cross—for us.  He made himself nothing—for us.  He did not consider equality with God something to be held onto—but he willingly became a servant to us, for our salvation.  He is our Savior and Lord and King. 
It is to the glory of God the Father that we bend our knee before Jesus and confess his lordship over every part of our lives and yield ourselves in obedience to his holy will. 
Our life as Christians is marked by humility and obedience and love for others because the King we serve lived a life of humility and obedience and love for others. 
We submit ourselves to God because Jesus did- and we count others better than ourselves because Jesus did- and we take up our cross because Jesus did- and we desire nothing other than to serve our King because Jesus desired to do nothing other than to do his Father’s will.
This is the entire purpose of Christ’s saving work—to re-establish a right relationship between us and God--and we have an opportunity---a day of grace-- right now-- to confess the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done and acknowledge his rightful rule over our lives.
When Christ comes again, all of those who have trusted in him and followed him and obeyed him and acknowledged his rightful rule over their lives will kneel before him in joy and thankfulness for all that he has done and acclaim as their Savior and Lord.

That day holds no fear for us because of this day of grace when we humble ourselves before Jesus in faith and obedience and commit ourselves to lives of humility and love like his.  Amen. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Repent! Turn to Jesus When You Face Temptation

Mark 14:32-38 In the upper room on the night that our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed into death, after he and the disciples had finished their meal and Judas had left the room, Jesus predicted that Peter would disown him before the morning came.
            But Peter insisted that was not true, that even if he had to die with him, he would never disown him. And all the others said the same. 
            From the disciples, even in that late hour, there was lots of talk about how strong they were—how faithful they were—how different they were from everyone else. 
            If they had just been the tiniest bit reflective about who they really were, they would have seen a different picture. 
            None of them had enough faith to accomplish the mission Jesus gave them.  James and John argued about who was going to get the places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.  Peter tried to turn Jesus away from the cross, denying its necessity.   
            And yet, in just a few hours, every one of them would prove that very thing by betraying the Lord- and denying the Lord- and by abandoning the Lord in his time of need.  Jesus knew just how necessary the cross was because of the weakness of those closest to him.
            What about us?  How many times in our lives have we resolved in our hearts—with real sincerity-- to be done with some sin?  To make a real change?  To go in a new direction?
            Things are fine for a while; things really are different; we really are closer to the Lord.  And yet, slowly but surely things begin to return to the sad “normal” of people that are buffeted and beaten constantly by the devil, the world, and even their own flesh.
            And our firm commitment to do better- and our sincere amendment of life- and our promise that even if all others disown the Lord, we never will do so, gets cast back into our teeth.
            It is in the Garden of Gethsemane that the disciples of Jesus have to learn this lesson for themselves, that when we face temptation we must not look to ourselves and our own puny resources-- but instead must repent of our weakness and turn to the Lord—for it is his faithfulness in the hour of trial, and it is his commitment to our salvation, that is our strength and hope.               The Bible says that: 
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”
            This was not the first time that Jesus and the disciples had gone to the Garden of Gethsemane.  It was a special place for them of solitude and prayer.  But it was not a fortress against temptation or a place of spiritual safety.  There are no places like that on earth.
            This is the mistake of monasticism—the idea that if we can just separate ourselves from the world then we will be spiritually safe from temptation.  But the highest walls and the most rigorous restrictions against interacting with those who do not share our faith and morals cannot provide our spiritual safety.
            The devil and his demonic angels are not kept out just because we shut ourselves in.  We have not removed ourselves from temptation just by removing ourselves from others because our own flesh goes with us wherever we go. 
            The cure for temptation is not found in safe places and it is not found in the safe people who share our faith for they too share in our weakness.  The Bible says:
Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.
            I have absolutely no doubt that when the disciples, in the safety of the upper room, said in unison that they would never disown the Lord, they meant exactly what they said.  I believe that in that moment, standing with one another, they were firmly resolved to die with the Lord if need be.  Especially so for Peter, James, and John! 
They had seen Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration and they knew that death was not the end.  They had seen the glory of the living God of the universe shine from the flesh of Jesus and they knew there was no limit to what he could do. 
If you were facing temptation, if you were struggling spiritually there is no one that you would rather have around you than these three men to encourage you and assure you and strengthen you.  And yet, Jesus said to them:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 
Keep watch.  There is no one who has ever lived who has seen what Peter, James, and John saw:  the fullness of God in the flesh of Jesus.  There is no one who has ever lived who heard what they heard:  the very voice of the living God.  There is no one who has ever lived that has been granted the spiritual blessings given to those three men. 
If there was any hope for human beings getting it right- and standing firm in their faith- and remaining steadfast in their devotion to Jesus, surely it was them.  And yet we know they didn’t.
And so did Jesus.  Here in these three men is what sin has done to all of us without exception.  Here in these three men is how far and deep and wide are the effects of sin.  And here in these three men is the complete lack of hope of mankind ever getting it right on their own.  And knowing this, Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow. 
His command was simple:  stay here and keep watch.  God himself has provided them with spiritual resources like no other men who had ever lived, spiritual resources to accomplish his will:  Stay here and keep watch. 
A simple command like the command to Adam and Eve to forgo only one tree in an entire world full of plenty:  “Do not eat of it” spoken to people who literally had everything.
And yet, Adam and Eve ate of the tree-- and Peter, James and John could not keep watch-- and you and I (after all these years of being Christians) still can’t get it right. 
And there in the garden—both Eden and Gethsemane—we see the truth about ourselves and so did Jesus.  And he was overwhelmed with sorrow like he was just days before standing before the tomb of Lazarus.
This is what sin has done—this disobedience again and again.  This is what sin has done—this death for those we love and for us.  This is what sin requires, the wrath of a holy, righteous God and the sorrow and suffering of his own Son who bears it.  The Bible says that:
Going a little farther, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 
            Under the WEIGHT of our sin our Lord Jesus Christ falls to the ground in Gethsemane and in just a few short hours it would drag him under the earth into a cold, dark grave. 
Under the WRATH of his heavenly Father our Lord Jesus Christ falls to the ground and in just a few short hours it would drag him under the earth into a cold, dark grave.
That is the cup of which our Lord speaks, the cup that he would avoid if there was any other way for us to be saved from sin and death. 
I want you to just reflect on that for a moment—that such is the greatness of our sin and such is the power of God’s wrath on account of that sin-- that it causes Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, to beg his heavenly Father to take it away and not make him drink of it.
This cup of God’s wrath is spoken of throughout salvation history.  It is filled with God’s wrath over sin; filled with God’s wrath for every time we have given into temptation, filled with God’s wrath when we have thought more highly of ourselves than others; filled with God’s wrath over all our sins of thought, word and deed.
That cup would be filled to overflowing if it were only filled by us—but in that cup is God’s wrath earned by every sin of every person who has ever lived. 
There in that cup is God’s wrath over Adam and Eve’s sin of weakness and Noah’s sin of drunkenness and Abraham’s sin of fear and Moses’ sin of anger and David’s sin of lust.  There in that cup of God’s wrath is Peter’s pride and Thomas’ doubt and Judas’ betrayal.  And there in that cup is the one hour of weakness that keeps Peter James and John from doing what the Lord asks of them.  Can you imagine the horrors found in that cup?
The wrath of God over every sin of every sinner is found there and Jesus must take it in his hands and drain every last drop.  Is it any wonder that even in that late hour, he falls to the ground under that terrible burden and begs his Father for another way to be found? 
And yet, bearing that burden and taking that cup in his hands, he submitted his will to that of his heavenly Father. 
What no other human being had ever done before—what no other human being would ever do afterwards—Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane and submitted his will to that of his Father in an act of perfect obedience that is the salvation of the world.  The Bible says that:
Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
            To Adam and Eve he said, “Where are you?”  And then their answer and ours:  we have wandered away from and are hiding in guilt and shame.
To Simon the Pharisee he said, “Do you see this woman?”  And his answer and ours:  yes, Lord, I see my lack of love and humility and my need for your great forgiveness.
To Peter the Apostle, he said:  “Are you sleeping?”  And his answer and ours:  yes Lord, my best intentions and sincere resolutions have failed me again.
These are questions that provide us with opportunities to come to grips with our sin.  They are God-given opportunities to realize our weakness and our wandering—opportunities to confess our pride and our prejudice—opportunities to learn again and again the truth of what Jesus says:  The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
And so it is.  We are children of God.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ.  By God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit we do have willing spirits. 

But we also have to contend with a flesh that is broken by sin.  That is why Jesus tells us that we must watch and pray.  He means that we are to keep watch over our souls and guard ourselves from the hour of trial and pray for his help, realizing our weakness and then look to him and know that his faithfulness and his obedience is our salvation.  Amen.