Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As Thou hast promised, draw us all to Thee" (LSB 837:4)…words we sing in the hymn "Lift High the Cross." The cross has a most prominent place in the worship life of the Church. The cross is central in the liturgy, hymnody, and preachment of the Church. Why is it so important? The One who died to take away our sins was crucified—nailed to a cross to die. In many Christian congregations, the cross is front and center and up high…lifted up, if you will. Take a look at the cross that graces our chancel. It is big; there's no denying that. It is also elevated, above eye level, so that we would lift up our eyes and behold the means upon which our Lord bled and died in our place. When we enter for Divine Service, our eyes are drawn to that giant cross. We also have a processional cross. When it is used to lead a procession at the beginning of the Divine Service, it is lifted up for all to see. This is an ancient practice in the Church. In the early days of the Church, as she moved from house churches to larger venues like basilicas, there was no room for seating; everyone stood, but not all were able to see everything that was happening. So a cross was lifted up at the back of the nave, and all were able to see it and knew then that the Divine Service was about to begin, as it would with the Introit, the Entrance Psalm. The worshipers were drawn to the cross, and their focus was on the gifts won on the cross of Calvary and given in Word and Sacraments. For this reason, it is also a common practice in the Church for the worshipers to bow in reverence toward the processional cross as it passes by them.
We recall the account in Numbers 21 of the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole. All who were bitten by serpents and looked up to the bronze serpent on the pole would be spared. They would see it and live. Likewise, all who are bitten by sin and look up to the beloved Son of God once on the cross will be saved. This is no mere optical exercise, for the promise is for all who look to the crucified Christ in faith, for we walk by faith and not by sight, and, seeing with the eyes of faith, we behold our Lord lifted up on the cross and coming down to us, hidden in His Means of Grace, using His Word and Sacraments to draw us to Him, that we would receive the gifts Christ freely gives to you and me, the gifts He won for us on the cross and the means by which He lifts us and draws us to Himself.
Our Lord dearly desires to draw us to Himself because we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. We are unable to believe in Him or come to Him because we would rather run away from Him. Our sinful nature wants nothing to do with the Christ, His cross, or His gifts. We live in fear because we do not want our sins exposed in the light of God's Word—namely, His Law. We would much rather walk in the valley of the shadow of death—our death—our eternal death. To us sinners who are perishing, the message of the cross is foolishness. We who are by nature sinful and unclean, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, would rather seek the Lord, if ever, where He has not promised to be found. Put me on the highway. Show me a sign. We want to see the glitz and glamour that we think God will bring. We want special effects. We expect God to give a big production of His presence, about who He is and what He gives. We expect something grand like what we have seen in the movies The Ten Commandments and The Passion of the Christ. We look for Him in the earthquakes, fires, and windstorms of our lives. We expect, and even demand, an extraordinary God to come in extraordinary ways to do His extraordinary things.
Our God, the Triune God, is most extraordinary. Yet we think He acts in ways that are ordinary, that are beneath Him; instead of being lifted up, we think He thinks He has to stoop down and act. We are only partially correct. Our Lord does indeed act in ways we deem ordinary, but He does not have to do so. He does so because He loves us. We try to rationalize God, to try to make Him fit what we think of Him, as if we finite creatures can quantify or contain the infinite God, as He was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. He does come down…to us. He comes down to our level, sending His Son, Jesus Christ, from heaven down to earth to live in human flesh—as one of us. The sinless Son of God came down from heaven to be lifted up on the cross, that we would be drawn to Him and His redemptive work of taking away the sin of the world, that we would receive this forgiveness He has dispensed from the cross and gives to us at the font, the pulpit, and the altar.
In our texts, both from John 3 and from John 12, the Greek word used for "lifted up" is the same. It can also mean "exalted." We can say, therefore, that our Lord was exalted on the cross. The cross served as the throne of the King of kings and Lord of lords. His was not a crown of jewels but a crown of thorns. There He was on the throne of His cross: stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He descended from heaven down to earth, down to our level, to be exalted on the cross—where we should have been to die the death that we by our sins deserve. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil, the same Jesus who said to Nicodemus and says to us: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (3:14-17), and again He says: "'Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.' This He said, signifying by what death He would die" (12:31-33). St. Paul tells us by what death our Lord died: "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Our Lord humbled Himself and came down in human flesh to be one of us—He who knew no sin and became our sin—and was lifted up—exalted—on the cross, drawing all peoples to Himself, that the world through Him might be saved, by giving His body and shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins, for the forgiveness of your sins and mine, so that you would not perish but have everlasting life.
This all-atoning work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the center of our preaching. What you hear from this pulpit is the same message, whether it is preached by Pastor Poppe, Pastor Berndt, Pastor Russert, or Pastor Schlamann: "we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23a, 24b). Yes, we preach a bloody, crucified, and dead Christ, but we preach not only Christ crucified, we preach Christ risen. We preach Christ ascended, lifted up—exalted—into heaven. We preach Christ descending and coming to us in His Word read and proclaimed, coming to us in Holy Baptism, in Holy Absolution, and in Holy Communion, the means by which our Lord descends to us to lift us up and draw us to Himself. "Beloved in the Lord, let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to grant us forgiveness" (LSB, p. 184), so that forgiven, renewed, refreshed, and lifted up in the forgiveness of sins, we would "Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim Till all the world adore His sacred Name" (LSB 837:refrain).
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.