IN NOMINE JESU
One of my favorite pieces of artwork comes from an altarpiece at St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany, produced by Reformation-era artist named Lucas Cranach. The artwork is called “Luther Preaching.” It depicts Martin Luther preaching to the congregation. Between the pulpit and the people stands a cross with a crucified Jesus on it. While Luther is preaching to his hearers, he is pointing to the cross. Luther is directing his hearers to the crucified Christ. What Luther did in his preaching is nothing other than what any other faithful preacher would do: point his hearers not to himself but to Christ and Him crucified. This is why many faithful pastors preach from the pulpit, guarded by wood or stone, and wear vestments: to direct the hearers’ attention away from the pastor and toward Jesus. You see me in the pulpit. You hear my voice. The word I proclaim is not mine; it is the Lord’s. The Sacraments are not mine to administer; they are the Lord’s. The Means of Grace are not the pastor’s playthings to give out willy-nilly. The apostle St. Paul writes, also in 1 Corinthians, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (4:1-2). The word mysteries comes from the Greek and can be translated into Latin as sacramentum, from which we get the word sacrament. Pastors are stewards—caretakers—of the Sacraments, as well as the Word of God. Pastors are to guard and protect the Word of God by their faithful preaching and teaching. St. Paul writes to the young pastor, St. Timothy: Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. [2 Tim. 1:8-14] Guard the good deposit, pastors like me are told. Preach and teach the Word of God faithfully, not adding anything to it or taking anything away from it. Preach the Law. Preach the Gospel. Preach repentance. Preach the forgiveness of sins. Preach Christ crucified. Preach the cross. Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. [2 Tim. 4:2-5] Yet, not everyone has heard the preaching of the cross, and not everyone who has heard the preaching of the cross has believed it. This is why the cross is offensive. The cross is offensive because the Gospel is offensive. More literally, the preaching of the cross is scandalous. It is a message that kills the unbeliever. In the most literal sense of the word scandal, which comes directly from the Greek, the scandal was the stick used to prop open a trap. When an animal tripped the stick and sprang the trap, it would become scandalized, fatally ensnared. It would bleed to death, unable to free itself. This is what happens to someone who hears the preaching of the cross and is offended by it, considering it foolishness. The unbeliever is caught in his own trap, the religion of the Law, the religion of works. This is the same trap that scandalizes us. We who believe we are good-hearted and loving are in reality hard-hearted and loathsome toward the preaching of the cross. We think it is foolishness. We want to hear something better. Instead of singing, "In the cross of Christ I glory," we would rather sing, "Give me that old-time religion," a religion that is all works-oriented. This so-called "old-time religion" has been a plague upon the American landscape for over 150 years. It is a plague that eats away at our souls because its basic tenet is that we can get to heaven if we are good enough, if we have performed enough good works. This is offensive to Christ, for this false teaching seeks to rob the cross of its power, desiring to reduce the work of Christ the crucified to a nice story. We think we are wise, looking for something greater. But we are made foolish by the foolishness of the preaching of the cross, for it is how the Triune God in His far superior and infinite wisdom communicates His Word and His will to us. But, rather than looking to God's Word, we look to ourselves, looking for a sign outside the divinely-ordained signs of God's grace: His Word and Sacraments. We are offended at such ordinary words and ordinary elements, and God is extraordinarily offended at us. We live in an increasingly intolerant and hostile society that is also offended by the cross. The world has no use for the cross. The world has no use for Christ—or anyone who preaches or confesses Him. Take a look at our own nation. We heard a lot of “God Bless the U.S.A.” this weekend as we celebrated our nation’s independence from Great Britain. But ask yourself if God is pleased with a nation whose highest court legalized abortion over 40 years ago, legalizing the slaughter of more than 55,000,000 innocent children within the sacred temples of their mothers’ wombs. God Himself says, “You shall not murder.” Jesus wants the little children to come to Him. The Psalmist praises God for making him, saying, “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Ps. 139:13-15). One of the Church’s earliest documents, the Didache, written around 100 A.D., reflecting the teaching of the Apostles, says, “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born” (Ch. 2). Yet God’s will and the sanctity of human life are trampled underfoot in favor of the rights of the individual, except of those yet to be born. And have we as Christians—as the Church—been bold in our confession of God’s will for life, or have we sat on the sidelines waiting for someone else to do our duty? Ask yourself if God is pleased with a society that has cheapened the holy estate of marriage, as God ordained it to be: between a man and a woman and for life. What God has brought together, let not man rip asunder. Do not let humankind destroy what God has created. God hates divorce; that’s why He only permits it in very few circumstances. However, as a society, we embrace it, as if we expect people to get a divorce, as if it’s merely something one can throw away. The singer Cher and rock legend Gregg Allman were married back in the 1970s for a total of eight days. Britney Spears was in a marriage that lasted a whopping 55 hours, just over two days. Some divorces come about because of adultery, abuse, or money. My personal unfavorite is one I heard of several years ago over how the toilet paper was hung! God’s holy estate of marriage was profaned yet again just over a week ago by our nation’s highest court who voted to allow homosexuals to marry, and a license for such was granted in Beatrice just a few days ago—a union detestable to the God who calls homosexuality an abomination and whose Holy Spirit says through St. Paul that those who practice it and do not repent will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Himself reasserts His order for the marriage of a man and a woman, quoting Moses as he was inspired the Holy Spirit, saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The Hebrew from the Old Testament and the Greek New Testament make this abundantly clear. And to say that Jesus never spoke of homosexuality or homosexual marriage is a fraudulent argument, for He speaks through His Holy Spirit in Scripture. Any attempts to pit Jesus against the Holy Spirit are sinful attempts to divide the Triune God against Himself, who is indivisible, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed: “But the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal, so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped. Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity.” Yet the loudest voices opposing God on this issue demand that we change our thinking, that we become more “loving” in accepting such sinful behavior; but in doing so we would literally “love” sinners straight to hell, and we would be complicit in their condemnation. They call us hateful, but God has taught us to love the sinner but hate the sin, regardless of which commandment has been broken. Sin is sin in the eyes of God, whether it’s abortion, homosexuality, or gossip. Abortion and homosexual marriage may be legal, but they are still sins. So is hatred. So is gossip and rumormongering. Oh, yes, they are sinners who need to repent. Guess what! So are we; we admitted that this morning when we confessed OUR SINS! That’s why we all need the preaching of God’s Law, so that we would repent—that we would repent and believe the Gospel. And the good news is that there is still time to repent and continue asking for God’s forgiveness. The good news is that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He died on the cross, the cross I preach to you this day! Luther once preached: “To believe that Christ was crucified for us, that He died and was damned for us, requires the power of God. Thus St. Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). And yet this proclamation penetrates the heart; for ‘it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith’” (Sermon on John 3:14). Despite the best efforts of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, the cross is still the enduring symbol of the hope that we have, the hope that is ours in Christ. Our hope endures, for the preaching of the cross has endured for 2000 years. This preaching has endured since Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame. He endured by being obedient unto death, even death on the cross. Jesus, the holy One, became the lowly One for us and was lifted up on the cross, as the bronze serpent was lifted up on the pole in Moses' day. The Israelites were punished for their rebellion, being bitten by snakes. God commended Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole, and all who looked to it would live. The Word who became flesh was lifted up on the cross, and all who look to Christ the crucified receive forgiveness of all their sins. Look at the cross and remember what the Lord won there for you: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus paid the entire debt of your sins. Your slate has been wiped clean by the blood of Jesus. Your heavenly Father sees you through His only-begotten Son's blood and declares you righteous for Jesus' sake, for the very life He gave on the cross. That is the reason for our joy. This is why the cross is so beautiful to us! It is important, though, that we not remain stationary at the cross. We dare not cling to the old rugged cross because our Lord is no longer there. After He died, His body, once lifted up, was taken down and laid in the tomb. We hasten early to the tomb and see where our Lord once lay. Yet we do not remain there, either, for His body is no longer there as well. He is not there. He is risen! The cross could not hold Him. The tomb could not contain Him. Death has no power over Him. Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith would be in vain. But now is Christ arisen! The resurrection of our Lord gives the preaching of the cross its power, and it is power for us who are being saved, as St. Paul tells us in our text. This message is offensive to the devil and our sinful world. It is sheer foolishness to them who are perishing. But for us...we are being saved through the apostolic preaching of the cross. We cherish the preaching of the cross, but we do not remain at the cross because God does not offer His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation from the cross. Our Lord won our forgiveness there, but we, by the Holy Spirit, look to the font, lectern, pulpit, and altar, where our Lord gives His gifts to us. While we do not cling to the old rugged cross, we lift high the cross, thanking our Lord for winning our forgiveness there. We lift high the cross to tell others what He has done. We lift high the cross since we are marked with the sign of the cross, for we and all newborn soldiers of the Crucified bear on their brows the seal of Him who died. We bear on our brows and on our hearts the sign of the cross that marks us as redeemed by Christ the crucified. We have borne the sign of the cross from the day of our Baptism, where we became children of God, where our God, the one true God, has given us His forgiveness, as He continues to give to us through absolution and preaching, body and blood. We lift high the cross as we bear the sign of the cross on our brows, telling others the message of the cross, so that they too, by the Holy Spirit, would no longer be offended—scandalized—but set free to be people of God, that they too would receive the gifts the Lord won on the cross and gives in His Word and Sacraments. This is the true old-time religion, for our Lord presents His truth to us in His Word, the word of the cross. This is the message I preach, the word you hear, fellow redeemed, the good news we get to tell others. We are a Good Friday-and-Easter people, for without our Lord's all-atoning work and His bleeding and death on the cross for us, there would be no resurrection on Easter. The story continues; it continues to be told, told to all corners of the earth. As we sang, "Lift High the cross, the love of Christ proclaim Till all the world adore His sacred Name. O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, As Thou hast promised, draw us all to Thee. Lift high the cross...." To aid us in this great task, our Lord will place His Trinitarian Name upon us, the Name into which we became baptized. With this Name we will receive the sign of the cross to remind us of His great love for us and for all the world, that we may all adore His sacred Name. This is the great triumph of the cross, that we will live into all eternity with Christ the crucified...and risen! In a few moments we will get to taste this preaching of the cross on our lips when our Lord feeds us on His body and blood, the very body and blood He gave and shed on the cross FOR YOU, for the forgiveness of sins. Christ crucified. Christ risen. Christ ascended. Christ to you. Christ in you. Christ for you—that’s the preaching of the cross. Amen. SOLI DEO GLORIA
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