Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
What do you think of when you hear the word slaughter? What does the word mean? Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary gives three definitions of the verb: "to kill (animals) for food"; "to kill in a bloody or violent manner"; and "to discredit, defeat, or demolish completely." So what comes to your mind when you hear the word slaughter? Do you think of a chicken, a cow, or a pig eventually becoming your dinner? Does the image of genocide, terrorism, or abortion predominate your thinking? Or are you hoping the Big Red will slaughter the rest of the Big Ten, starting this fall? What comes to mind? The synonyms given for each respective definition are butcher, slay, and massacre. Tonight we'll focus not on the use of slaughter as "butcher" but as "slay" and "massacre," as these two words best fit the use of slaughter in our text for this evening.
Our text tells us of a slaughter about to take place. The prophet Jeremiah was on the verge of being martyred on account of his faith and on account of his message. The Jews were greatly displeased with Jeremiah. They didn't like what he was saying to them. But it was not his own words that Jeremiah was speaking. He was speaking the very words God gave him to speak against the Israelites. Why was God speaking against His chosen people? They chose to forsake Him. They chose to abandon the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—and follow false gods. They chose to break the covenant that God made with them—again! This was not the first time the God's people shunned Him. It wasn't the second time, nor the third. This falling away from God was part of a cyclical pattern. God establishes His covenant with the Israelites. They agree to abide by it, and they worship Him. After a couple of generations, they forget the covenant He made with their forefathers, and they follow false gods. God sends prophets to preach repentance, that they might be saved. The proclamations go for naught, and God carries through with His wrath, giving them over to their enemies, who slaughtered many of them and enslaved the rest. Many Israelites were killed in battle, and others were part of what we would call today "collateral damage" or by the more familiar "raping and pillaging." The Israelites' enemies were savages. They were ruthless. They were bloodthirsty. Many Jews shed their blood at the hands of their enemies, victors, and oppressors. After a time in slavery, the Israelites remember the covenant God made with their ancestors and the words of the prophets God sent, and they finally repent. They confess their sin to God and beg for His deliverance. God forgives them, delivers them, and re-establishes His covenant with them—namely, that He is their God and they are His people. They agree to His terms, and they confess Him as their God. He forgives them and restores them as His people. And the cycle begins anew. They follow Him. Then they ditch Him. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But God is a loving and gracious God. He dearly wants His people to repent of their sins so that He would forgive them and restore them. For this reason He sent prophets to the Israelites, to preach a message of repentance, lest they incur the wrath of God. It is never His desire to have sinners in the hands of an angry God, for His proper work is to be loving and forgiving. That's what He wants to do, to give His gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation to His people. But sometimes God has to do what He doesn't want to do—namely, to bring His wrath upon the unrepentant sinner and His condemnation upon those who do not confess Christ by the time they've died. This is God's alien work, for it's alien to what He wants to do. But He wants His people to repent; for this reason He sent prophets to the Israelites. "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1). Jeremiah was one of those prophets. God sent Him to the Israelites, that they would repent of their sin of apostasy, falling away from God. Through him God threatened them with His wrath if they did not confess their sin and confess Him as their God. God spoke His Law in all its truth and boldness. Did they repent? Did they shun their evil ways and return to the Lord as their God? Nope. What did they do? They conspired to kill the messenger. They wanted to slaughter Jeremiah for the words of wrath and condemnation that God gave him to speak. This is certainly nothing new. The so-called people of God have sought to do damage to the men God has sent to them. The Lord Himself said:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." [Mt. 23:29-36]
The Lord warned His disciples that their ministry would not be a bed of roses, either. It was to be more like the crown of thorns He would soon wear. He warned them of what was to come on account of Him and the message He sent them to deliver. All of the apostles, except John, were martyred, as was Paul. Their blood was shed. They were slaughtered. The Lord revealed to Jeremiah that the Israelites were seeking to shed his blood, like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. They wanted to blot him from their memories forever, that his name be remembered no more. The devil was hard at work in the hearts of the Israelites. He is just as hard at work today in the Church. Satan has turned the hearts of many of the faithful against God and against His called and ordained servants of the Word. He has caused them to reject the faithful preaching and teaching of God's called pastors in their midst. These wolves in sheep's clothing gnash their teeth at the shepherds God has given them, and they hate them. So what do these disgruntled parishioners do? They try to get rid of their pastor. They gossip about him, spreading rumors that would hurt his reputation and damage his good name, perhaps permanently. They don't put nearly as much in the offering plate as they used to because they want him to do their bidding, conveniently forgetting that he is a called and ordained servant of Christ, not some lackey or punching bag. They withhold their offerings to "teach him a lesson." As a result they starve him out because the poor congregation can't afford to pay her pastor. They try to make his life so miserable that he supposedly has no choice but to resign as their pastor. If that doesn't work, they go after the pastor's family and intimidate them. Some members have even threatened their pastors with physical violence. One way or another, these malcontents, these enemies of the Gospel, these enemies of God want to get rid of their pastor one way or another and hope that no one remembers them anymore. One way or another, they want to slaughter the prophets God has placed in their midst.
Why do they hate their pastors so much? They hate their pastors because they also hate God. They don't like to hear what God has to say to them. It doesn't matter if the pastor is a nice guy. If he is faithful, many will not like him or the message he brings. You see, when you hear the pastor preaching the sermon, proclaiming God's Law and God's Gospel, the message might be considered unfriendly and unloving because it's not all about you, but it's all about what God has done for you—for me—in Christ. God's Word takes us completely out of the equation. They shall know the truth, and the truth shall make them mad. But the faithful pastor cannot be so "friendly" that he literally loves a person straight into hell, for he cannot, in good conscience or on account of his divine call, gloss over or even ignore what God has to say in His Word. There are times when we get mad, too. We get mad at what we hear the pastor say, and our sinful pride gets in the way. We can't stand hearing how we don't measure up against the Ten Commandments, because we do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. We get mad at the pastor because we hate God. We in our sinful nature are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. So when we get mad and decide to "get even," as it were, who gets hurt? The pastor? God? We do, because we place our souls in peril since we despise preaching and God's Word, we do not hold it sacred, and we do not gladly hear and learn it. We sin. We sin a lot. We daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but God's temporal and eternal punishment. We deserve to die for our sins. We deserve to be slaughtered, to have our blood shed on account of our sins.
The payment for sin is indeed blood, "for," God says, "the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life" (Lev. 17:11). God commanded the sacrifice of animals to pay for the sins of His people. The priest would take the required animals and slaughter them on the altar, and the blood would gush forth. On the Day of Atonement, the temple, and Jerusalem itself, would be one bloody mess on account of all the sacrifices made to atone for, to pay for, the sins of the people. For our sins to be atoned for, it is necessary to have blood shed on our behalf as well. But it isn't our blood or the blood of some animal. St. Peter reminds us:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. [1 Pet. 1:18-21 NIV]
St. Paul reminds us that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor. 5:7b). The sacrifice—the slaughter—for our sins has already been made by Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, has mercy on us, and grants us His peace, the peace the world cannot give, the peace that far surpasses all understanding. He is our great High Priest and our Sacrifice. His sacred head was wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, bearing the crown of thorns upon His brow, taking the beating and the whipping we deserve. He bled as His flesh was torn into. "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:4-5). What the Israelites had conspired against Jeremiah, the Jews carried out against Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah said, "The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then You showed me their deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, 'Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more'" (vv. 18-19). This was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as God spoke through the prophet Isaiah concerning the Suffering Servant—that is, Jesus, "He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of My people?" (Is. 53:7-8).
In a few days, on Good Friday, we will remember the slaughter of the Lamb of God, the death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The temple for this once-for-all-time sacrifice was atop Mt. Calvary, and the altar upon which Christ was sacrificed was the cross. The Lord said in our Gospel for this evening, "'Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.' He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die" (Jn. 12:31-33). Jeremiah spoke of his persecutors, who said of him, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit." The Early Church Fathers translated that sentence like this: "Come, let us put wood into his bread." One of those Fathers, Tertullian, said this:
Christ Jesus, alone reared "on His shoulder" His own novel glory, and power, and sublimity,—the cross, to wit; that, according to the former prophecy, the Lord thenceforth "might reign from the tree." For of this tree likewise it is that God hints, through Jeremiah, that you would say, "Come, let us put wood into his bread, and let us wear him away out of the land of the living; and his name shall no more be remembered." Of course on His body that "wood" was put; [i.e., when they laid on Him the crossbeam to carry.] for so Christ has revealed, calling His body "bread," [and the various accounts of the institution of the Holy Supper.] whose body the prophet in bygone days announced under the term "bread."
The Early Church Fathers wanted to draw their hearers to the sacramental reality of Christ's body and blood, given to us in the Lord's Supper, in, with and under the bread and wine. It is here, with God's other Means of Grace, that Christ's sacrifice, His slaughter, is made real and personal for us, for "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). You see, here in our Lord's house there is a slaughter taking place. No, it's not our offering up a sacrifice to God, but it's His coming down to us through His Word and Sacraments. Think of it this way: This sanctuary is God's slaughterhouse. Yes, we are in God's slaughterhouse, and we are on the killing floor. Who is doing the killing? God is doing the killing. He is killing our sinful nature, the Old Adam that is in us. God is the One who kills and the One who restores us, His people. He slaughters us and saves us. That's the nature of the Means of Grace, the instruments by which He gives us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.
The first time many of us were slaughtered happened at the baptismal font. As the pastor poured that water with God's Word over us, we became baptized in and into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "for," as Martin Luther says, "to be baptized in the Name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself" (LC IV 10), and we drowned—we drowned in the blood of Christ, whose blood takes away our sin. Baptism "signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die [to be slaughtered] with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever," as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 6: "We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Here at the font we are slaughtered, and we are restored in the blood of Christ, bearing on our brows the seal of Him who died, being marked with the sign of the cross upon our foreheads and upon our hearts, to mark us as redeemed by Christ the crucified.
That slaughter is ongoing as we get to live our Baptism each day in the confession and forgiveness of our sins, as we get to come before God, whether here in the Divine Service or in our private devotions or in private confession and absolution, to confess our sins and receive the assurance that our heavenly Father forgives us for His Son's sake. Luther reminds us, "Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism" (LC IV 79a). God sees you through His Son's blood and declares you forgiven.
Your Old Adam is killed again, this time through your ears as you hear the promise that God has forgiven you. The Old Adam is once again slain when the Word is read and proclaimed in your hearing. Again, God comes to you through the Readings and the sermon. He comes to destroy the sinner through His Law and to restore the saint through His Gospel, as you get to hear that Christ gave His body and shed His blood on the cross to win the forgiveness of your sins, the forgiveness He gives to you in Baptism, Holy Absolution, the Gospel read and proclaimed, and the Lord's Supper, where He gives you the very body He gave on the cross and the true blood He shed there and gives in His holy meal.
Here at the Lord's altar, the sinner is slaughtered once again, and blood is poured out. But it is not your blood that comes out; it is the blood of Christ touching your lips as you eat His body and drink His blood. At this meal, our Lord invites us to feast on Him who died for us and now lives, for He is risen from the dead, as we will get to celebrate in five days, on Easter Sunday. He lives, has ascended into heaven, and comes back to us in Word, water, wafer, and wine, giving us a foretaste of the Feast to come.
So here we are at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Here we are in God's slaughterhouse. But, unlike the animals loaded up in the truck, we're not going to Farmland. No, God is preparing us to enter into the Promised Land of heaven, where we will be seated around our Lord's heavenly banquet table, forever singing His praises. By God's grace, we will one day join St. John, to whom Jesus revealed heaven, and John said:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev. 5:11-14)
God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake. 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.