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Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

Wed, Mar 1, 2006 

Words mean things.  That is what Rush Limbaugh is always saying.  He borrowed that mantra from theologians.  That is the truth that underlies all efforts at teaching.  Words mean things - although their meaning can and does change over time.  Sometimes the change is apparently unintentional, and sometimes it seems that meanings are deliberately changed and communication undermined to disable the truth and stop the Gospel from working in the hearts and minds of men and women.

And, yes.  I do believe that most everything that happens in culture and society are part of that battle between the hoards of Satan, trying to destroy what God would build and save, and God at work to rescue and claim us from sin and death and hell.  Language changes, I suspect, as part of the game plan of the devil to keep us from easily proclaiming the love of God in Christ Jesus in a way which people can hear with comprehension.  That is why the Church is always busy with the task of expressing the Gospel, and explaining it ever more carefully and clearly.  We have to do so in the face of the assault of the Old Evil Foe on the linguistic front.

Just because the meanings of words shift, however, does not mean that we cannot use them.  We just need to explain them, and reclaim them for holy purpose as we go about using them.  The theological task is a task of definition and making distinctions.  Good theology never creates anything.  It merely explains, defining terms and making distinctions between things and ideas so as to make the truth more obvious, and error more easily identifiable as error.  God has revealed the truth to us.  We find it in the Bible.  Naturally, then, the devil also starts there, with Scripture, to sow confusion and to make what is clear seem less so.  He is very good at his chosen task.  One tool he uses is false doctrine, and another is shifting the meaning of words, so people cannot follow the same paths to the same old truths.

A good example of this principle is the word "Passion."  The definition of "passion" in the dictionary is about three inches long, where many words are merely a line or two (less than a quarter inch in my dictionary).  The root of the word is both the Latin and the Greek words for "to suffer".  Of course, "suffer" means "to undergo, to endure, to allow, permit, or tolerate".  Only in relatively recent times has "suffer" come to mean primarily the experience of pain and other unpleasant things.

So we come to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Mel Gibson made his statement about it in a movie, and it was quite a powerful statement.  The Passion of Jesus, and the need for it is the consuming topic of Lent.  That Passion, however, is more than just what Jesus endured in pain and death.  In a sense, it is everything that Jesus experienced.

Jesus 'suffered' Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary and to take on Human nature and human flesh and blood and become one of us, "Immanuel, God with us."  He endured it - and I suspect that it was an experience beyond our comprehension.  He is God, omnipotent and omnipresent, and He permitted Himself to be poured into human existence and a specific human being.  Jesus was conceived and born without sin, but now, in His incarnation, He is united inseparably with human-ness.  He now sees as a human sees, and experiences thought as a human thinks.  It is without sin, and so it is not just like we think, or limited by natural evil as we often are, but as God tells us in Isaiah 55, " My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD.  "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."  In Jesus, however, God experienced what it is to think like a human being.

Now, God knows everything, and so, He knew what a man would think, and how.  Still, there is a difference between 'knowing' something and experiencing it.  The Greek of the Bible even reflects this difference.  There is the word gignw,skw, which means "I know", as in I have learned it or read about it kind of learning.  Then there is the word oi;da, which means "I know" - but whose meaning comes from the word "to see" literally it means "I have seen".  Perhaps it makes no difference for God to experience something as opposed to His knowing about it, I just do not know, but for us, it means that God understands and empathizes with us in all of our troubles and in every situation including both good and bad.

The point is that Jesus suffered all that it is to be human.  For us it is not automatically "suffering", it is existence.  For God it was and is something other than just being God.  Some have tried to liken it to one of us becoming an ant or another insect for the sake of saving those other insects.  The analogy is good in so far as we cannot actually imagine what it would be like to step 'down' into a Hymenoptera Formicidae.  It fails in that the differences between God and man are far greater, and of entirely different character than the differences between us and the ant.  And by the way, there is really no such thing as 'the ant' - one website I encountered indicated that in the Bay Area of California alone, there were over 100 species of ants - each strikingly different from the others in appearance and behaviors.  And God thought them all up and created them, each for their niche in His world.

Having crossed the great divide between the divine and the human, Jesus Christ lived among us.  He "tabernacled" - KJV - among us sinful men.  Sin is first the rejection of God and His will and His plan for man.  It leads to despising God and all that is holy, and terror of Him.  The divine response to sin is wrath.  Jesus, the Holy One, lived among men with all their flaws and sins.  It would seem to be a continuously caustic experience for one to whom sin is antithetical.  Jesus endured that for over thirty years.  He endured it for us because the only way to redeem us was to live under the Law without failure or sin, and then take our place under the justice of God and suffer the penalty we have earned by our sins - death of body and soul, rejection by and separation from God and all that is good and holy, and eternal torment.

The term "Passion" could be applied to His patient enduring of sinful men and women as He grew to manhood and lived the portion of His adult life about which the Scriptures are completely silent.  He "tolerated" the society of man as He participated in daily human life.  He suffered Himself to be and do all that men of His area did with the exception of sin.  He had to learn.  As God, He knew all things, but as Jesus He chose to limit himself to the limitations to which you and I and all other people are bound.  He needed to learn.  He had to develop skills and vocabulary.  He needed to eat and drink, and to do those things necessary to possess food and drink, such as work.  The Bible sums up this self-limiting with just one short phrase in Luke 2:52, "And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

The Bible doesn't make much of His life between the birth narratives and His public ministry.  There is the one event when Jesus was at the age for a bar mitzvah, the approximate age at which we do confirmation.  In that event, Jesus evidenced a great deal of learning already, and an awareness of who He was as the Son of God.  Other than that, we have only silence, probably because we need nothing else about His life for the Christian faith.  Human curiosity would like more, and at times in the history of the Christian Church, people have tried to invent "more" to satisfy that curiosity.  Nothing more is really of value to the faith until Jesus begins His public ministry with His Baptism and the announcement of God from heaven that Jesus is both His beloved Son, and entirely pleasing to Him.  If all of the facts were known, we would likely discover that Jesus led an entirely ordinary life for a citizen of Galilee in those days - with the exception of having no vices or sins common to the young men of His community, whatever they may have been.  Nevertheless, those long silent decades were a form of passion - a passive enduring of the human condition and human sin and hostility toward Himself as true God (although most everyone was unaware of that part of who Jesus was).

Now Jesus comes to His public ministry.  He goes about teaching.  He teaches the truth and draws the ire of the authorities of the church in His days.  He faced a great deal of what faithful teachers today encounter when the "experts" say, "Of course, that's what the Scriptures say, but that isn't what they mean."  His teachings were mainstream, Scriptural, and entirely comforting, for those who wrestled with sin, guilt, and uncertainty about God in relationship to them.  Those who wished to use religion to manipulate others, or to take advantage of them - or just wanted to use their religion as a springboard to respect and personal advancement - the teachings of Jesus were neither useful nor welcome.  They are still neither useful or welcome to such in the "Christian" community today.  They probably would have been tolerated as a harmless aberration if Jesus had simply stuck to teaching quietly.  There were many "rabbi's" who taught their own peculiar ideas, and some, like John the Baptist, who taught exactly what Jesus was teaching.  They drew crowds, and some public attention, but were largely ignored by the establishment.  John seems to have been an exception, and His attention came from directly addressing the rulers with the Law of God.

Jesus, however, began to draw attention to His teaching with miracles.  He healed the sick.  He underlined the lessons that He taught with miracles appropriate to the situation and the lessons.  He proclaimed who He was, and what He had come to do, and demonstrated that He was telling the truth by doing things that only the Messiah - God come in the flesh - could do.  He forgave sins, and then showed everyone that He had the authority to do it by healing a paralyzed man.  He fed thousands with a single sack lunch.  He challenged the false teachers of His day with unassailable clarity and truth, and turned their best attempts to "spin" the situation against Him back on them.  He even raised the dead a couple of times.  With each step the hostility of officialdom increased and focused on Him more sharply.  He was the ultimate pastor (shepherd) under assault by the influential of His flock.  He demonstrated with grace and gentleness how the under-shepherds of every age should similarly conduct themselves when they find themselves in the same sort of predicament.  All of His patient endurance must also be reckoned as "passion", although not generally included in the Passion.  Read the Scriptures and you will find that He suffered.

Then came the heart of it - the Passion.  He suffered, that is patiently endured, an outrageous miscarriage of justice.  He suffered lies, mocking, beatings.  He stood silent when almost anything said would have served to free Him, and spoke when silence was His best - or most useful for getting out of His passion - tool.  He endured, tolerated, allowed, and permitted a great many indignities passively, and suffered pain and torment well-illustrated in the recent movie.  Then He died a particularly grisly death.  It was a death designed by the twisted minds of Rome to frighten and discourage rebellion or sedition among those they conquered.

Jesus endured all of that for us, because each one of us deserve from God no better than Jesus received from His fellow-man on account of our sins.  He was wounded for our transgressions.  He was bruised for our iniquities.  The chastisement of our peace fell upon Him, and with His stripes, we are healed.  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself - not counting their trespasses against them.  He counted them against Christ instead.  And He has committed to us the word of this reconciliation.  On account of the Passion of Jesus, your sins are forgiven, and God counts you as holy and precious and beloved, just like His Son.

I am very passionate about the Passion, because in it is the sum and substance of my salvation - and yours.  This is what Lent is about, and Easter - and, in fact, the whole of the Christian faith.  He who believes and is Baptized shall be saved.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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