Thursday, April 23, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ: who is your shepherd? That seems to be a strange question, as we gather here in the sanctuary of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. If a visitor is paying any attention at all, they don’t have to spend much time in this place to get the impression that your shepherd is the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. The symbol of a shepherd dominates this space: the familiar shape of the shepherd’s staff adorns the end of each and every pew, and the front of the lectern. The beautiful stained glass window to my left proclaims the most important words of our text: “I am the Good Shepherd.” And it is that very name that adorns the sign on the street, our letterhead, envelopes, and the cards in my pocket. When this congregation was founded, you decided to name this assembly of God’s saints after the words of Jesus in John chapter ten, to deliberately grasp onto the image that Jesus paints by words, the image that we have now enshrined in glass. More than any congregation around, it should be obviously that this gathering of saints knows exactly who their shepherd is: the Good Shepherd, Jesus. But do we truly know His voice? I ask you again: who is your shepherd? To whose voice do you listen?

Here, in this place, on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, and every other time that we gather for study, worship, or prayer, you hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. Here, I am bold to say, you hear God’s Word taught in its truth and purity, here the sacraments are administered according to the Good Shepherd’s institution. Here Jesus speaks through His instruments, and the flock is fed. But then the flock goes home, and so often they give themselves into the care of hired hands, they listen to the voices of other so-called ‘shepherds.’ These voices speak in the pages of best-selling books, they cry out in top-rated television programs, they preach in pulpits where the Good Shepherd’s voice has been substituted for the power of positive thinking. Here in this place you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd; do you fill your ears with the voices of others when you leave? Who really is your shepherd? On May twenty-ninth, one of the most famous ‘shepherds’ in our land, the man who some have called ‘America’s pastor,’ Joel Osteen, will be coming to this very city, bringing, as he says, “an inspirational night of hope, worship, and encouragement.” Will the flock of the Good Shepherd listen to this voice?

The hired hands do not know the sheep; they do not know what the sheep need. They fill the ears of the flock with religious ideas, with secular ideas; odd interpretations of Scripture and enticing philosophies of man. Hired hands are found in the church and outside of it, and they draw the flock away in a thousand different directions. The sheep are scattered, divided one from another; separated from the Good Shepherd’s voice, they wander aimlessly following all kinds of voices. Only one thing do these voices, these hired hands, have in common: they have no power over wolves.

“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because He is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” The hired hands talk a good game; they boast, they exhort, they encourage, but when the wolf comes, they flee. Joel Osteen’s theology of glory, that if you believe hard enough and pray the right things God will give you material blessings, may work well when you have the beautiful wife, expensive car, and magnificent house you want, but when the wolf comes, when death draws near, it flees; Joel has nothing to say to you other than ‘pray harder, believe better.’ The syrupy sweet theology found in too many Christian books today may help you feel better about yourself, but when the wolf comes, when you are about to die, Hallmark phrases are little comfort. Making life all about personal pleasure and your own fulfillment, as countless voices, religious and secular, tell you, may make your days a lot of fun, but when you lie on your deathbed, pleasure will not save your life.

Judge your shepherds by their reaction to the wolves! The hired hands flee when the wolf comes into view, because hired hands have nothing to combat the wolf—they are as terrified of wolves as the sheep are! The test of any theology or philosophy, the test of any voice that calls to the flock, is whether they are any good when the wolf comes for your throat, whether they can give any real comfort in the face of death. A so-called ‘shepherd’ that has nothing to say when death draws near is a false teacher, a hired hand. The wolf may be our enemy, our greatest and most ancient foe, but it reveals the hired hands for who they are, false and impotent: they flee, the wolf attacks, and the flock is left alone to die.

The shepherds over God’s beloved people were found to be unfaithful hired hands, who scattered the flock and left them exposed to the ravages of the wolves. But God promised that He would act: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” God will not leave His flock to others anymore, He Himself will shepherd the sheep; for that very reason His Son took flesh: He is the Good Shepherd. The hired hands flee, they leave the flock to be easy prey of the wolves, but Jesus does not run. The shepherd’s staff is a weapon, but Jesus does not strike the wolf. Instead, He places Himself between His flock and the wolf and gives Himself up into its jaws. “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He allows the wolf to devour Him, He permits the wolf to fill its belly with the Messiah. Having finished such a feast, the wolf is delighted; He stands there, panting, ready to taste some sheep. He was alarmed at first when the Good Shepherd showed up; this one did not flee as the hired men did. But it was so easy; the Good Shepherd gave Himself into his sharp teeth. And for three days, it appears that Jesus hasn’t accomplished anything but putting more meat in the wolf’s belly.

But something is wrong; terribly wrong. On the morning of the third day, the wolf’s stomach starts to rumble; then it begins to hurt; soon the pain is excruciating, and just when the wolf cannot take it anymore, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, bursts forth from its gullet and leaves it in pieces behind Him. “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Alleluia, the Good Shepherd is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! The wolf’s belly is destroyed; he will never again devour one of the Good Shepherd’s sheep. He encountered the wolf, and He destroyed it, by laying down His life for the sheep.

Judge your shepherds by their reaction to the wolves! Any theology or philosophy that flees when the wolf approaches, when death is near, is no good; it isn’t worth your time. Only the Good Shepherd has defeated the wolf, and He has only done so by giving Himself up into its jaws. Risen in victory from the dead, He goes forth to gather those scattered by the unfaithfulness of hired hands and the violence of wolves. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” He gathers in His flock, seeking them out through His Church, through faithful under-shepherds who speak His voice, not their own, and He gives the only real comfort that suffices in the face of death, when one hears the howling of wolves: His death, His resurrection, for you. He gives what no hired man can: victory over the wolves. Only because He hangs on a cross, only because He went into the belly of the wolf, can the Good Shepherd proclaim the sure and certain hope of life in the midst of death; that as He was raised, so His sheep too will rise.

His victory is your victory, for He made you His own in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your Good Shepherd knows you; He knows you by name, He knows you as He knows, and is known by, the Father. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” He knows each and every sorrow and trouble, He knows each and every joy. He knows His sheep, He knows you, He knows that the comfort you need in the face of death is His death, His resurrection. He is your Good Shepherd, your true Shepherd, your fitting Shepherd, the only Shepherd that saves sheep like you and me.

Who is your shepherd? In this place we have a comforting, gentle picture of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But Jesus would not have us look first to that beautiful window to see Him as our Good Shepherd. There is another image in this sanctuary that proclaims His shepherding love, and it stands where the voice of the Shepherd is heard. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus is your Good Shepherd, your comforting shepherd, your humble shepherd. He carries you in His arms as a shepherd carries a little lamb. In patience, He guides you back to Himself, and He uses the staff of His Word to beat back those who would mislead His flock. But He only is and He only does those things because He went into the belly of the wolf, because He hung upon a cross for you.

Who is your shepherd—the window or the crucifix? Both; He is your Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep, only to take it up again in victory on the third day, and He is your Good Shepherd who truly gives you comfort in this life, when the pastures are bare and the wind is harsh, when the wolves howl and you have been scattered by the false promises of hired hands. Every shepherd’s staff on every pew in this place is also a cross. It is on the cross that Jesus is your Good Shepherd, for there the wolf is defeated, there it swallowed a meal that would be its undoing. And on the Last Day, the Good Shepherd’s voice will sound forth again, and His sheep, seemingly trapped in the wolf’s belly, will burst his gullet through the power of His Word, they will follow their Shepherd in victory. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Easter Day (First Commandment; Mark 16:1-8)

You thought He was God. You’re ‘you shall have no other Gods before me’ God. Him you feared. Him you loved. Him you trusted. For you, there was no other God than the man Jesus. Luther teaches us: “To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by ‘god.’ To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in Him from the heart.” You believed in Jesus, you trusted Him. You believed that He was who He said He was, that He truly was the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. You believed that the one God of Israel had taken human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He said words that only God could say, forgiving sins, rebuking storms, commanding demons to depart and the dead to rise. He did things that only God could do, multiplying loaves, walking on water, casting out disease and opening the eyes of the blind. You were amazed, astonished, even afraid of the great events you witnessed. He healed a paralytic and forgave his sins, shocking everyone. He stilled the storm, and you asked one another, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” Astonishment is hardly adequate to describe your reaction when Jairus’ dead daughter was brought back to life, and when He was transfigured on the mountain, showing forth His glory, you cowered on the ground in fear. Could He really be who He said He was? You certainly thought so—you were convinced He was God.

But then He started a new sermon series about going to Jerusalem. He had a ‘Jerusalem fixation,’ Jerusalem on the brain. He was obsessed with Jerusalem. This seemed strange for a person who cared little for the powers and principalities of this world, but you were even more shocked to hear what He planned to do there. Three times He boldly and defiantly preached that He was going to Jerusalem to be handed over, arrested, beaten, spit upon, and ridiculed. He wouldn’t quit preaching that in Jerusalem He would be condemned, flogged, and killed, that in Jerusalem He would meet a humiliating end. He said something, too, about rising again after three days, but you were too alarmed to pay much attention. You were terrified by His words. These things just don’t happen to Messiahs; they don’t happen to God. You thought, you hoped, that He would get over it, that this Jerusalem obsession was simply a fad, like almost every other sermon series, that He would soon get back to teaching the children and healing disease.

But you were wrong. He was serious—dead serious. And now He is just dead. Betrayed, just like He said. Condemned, just like He said. Crucified, just like He said. What good is a dead Jesus? You thought He was the Son of God, God Himself in the flesh, and now He is laying in a tomb. You saw His side pierced by the spear, you saw them take the corpse down. You watched as they laid Him in a new tomb, unstained by death no more. The one you trusted as your God is now dead. Where does that leave you? Once again, Luther teaches: “It is the trust and faith of the heart, nothing else, that make both God and an idol. If your faith and confidence are of the right kind, then your God is the true God. If, on the other hand, your trust is false, if it is misdirected, then you do not have the true God.” This is much worse than simply losing a good friend. You trusted Jesus as your God, and if He is dead, then you must have had the wrong God; you are an idolater. You have lied about God; if Jesus lays in the tomb, then you, of all people, are most to be pitied. That is why you cower in fear: what good is a dead Jesus? Can you fear, love, and trust in Him anymore? Can you!?

Three days later, a few brave women, who cared for Jesus while He lived, set out to care for Him in His death. What they find is as shocking as a man walking on water or a few loaves and fish feeding five thousand people. “And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.” The stone—rolled back! The tomb—empty! Nothing is as you expected it to be; you are terrified, astonished, looking for an explanation, and fortunately, this young man, this angel, has one. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Look, see the empty place as the first eyewitnesses, and then go from here, for a Christian should not remain in a place where Christ is not; and the one place Christ will never be again is this tomb. He has risen! “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Just as He told you. Can it be? You remember long-forgotten promises, the declaration that just as He would certainly suffer and die, so also He would certainly rise. Nothing has shocked you more. “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Fear. Trembling. Astonishment. You are overwhelmed to the point of silence by the shocking events of this morning. But as you leave the tomb with mouth firmly shut, you are haunted by the command of the angel. “Go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.” Will you tell the disciples? Will you tell Peter? Will you go to Galilee to meet your risen Lord? You’re a bit reluctant, aren’t you? Of course you are; you have a guilty conscience. You know what you have done, what you have failed to do, and now you are a bit hesitant to meet the glorified, risen Jesus. You claimed that Jesus was your God, that the First Commandment applied to Him: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” But have you feared Jesus above all things? Have you loved Jesus above all things? Have you trusted Jesus above all things? You know that you haven’t.

With Judas, you have betrayed Jesus, handing Him over for a bag of money, or your car, or your sports team. With Peter, you have denied Jesus, failing to confess Him when the world called on you to speak, hiding or watering down your Christian faith to fit in with friends, co-workers, or relatives. With the disciples, you have abandoned Jesus, leaving Him high and dry when the cross came into view, shrinking away from the suffering, ridicule, and persecution that comes from bearing His Name. What do you expect to find in Galilee? The same Jesus you betrayed, denied, and abandoned, the same Jesus you claimed as your God but failed to fear, love, and trust above all things. What will He have for you? You expect nothing but payback, retribution, and divine judgment, summed up in one word: death. What else do you deserve?

But Jesus has not risen from the dead to give you what you deserve. Listen again to the message of the angel. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.” Do not be alarmed, do not be afraid. The time for fear is over. Why? The tomb is empty, He is not here. Christ is risen, and all fear of God’s wrath has ended. Christ is risen, and He gives you not what you deserve, but what He won for you. Christ is risen, and He meets you not as an angry judge, but as your loving Savior. Do not be alarmed. Jesus is the crucified One, the One who bore all sin to the cross: Judas’ betrayal and yours, Peter’s denial and yours, the disciples’ abandonment and yours. Every violation of every commandment that we have examined this Lenten season was paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. He suffers and dies in your place, and He rises in your place.

His ‘Jerusalem fixation’ was for your forgiveness, your life, your salvation. He was obsessed with the cross, because there He would die bearing your sin; He took them with Himself into death. And your sins are left behind in the grave; by raising Him up, God declares that the penalty has been paid, He will not demand their price from you. Christ is risen, and you are forgiven. Christ is risen, and His victory is yours. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth.” Look into the tomb, examine every empty nook and cranny, fill your heart with joy at its barrenness. Your Redeemer lives, and as His grave stands empty, as the stone is rolled away, so your grave too will be vacated when He returns to stand upon the earth.

“And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? You are defeated, triumphed over, conquered. You tried to take Jesus, you swallowed Him up, but you swallowed your own destruction. For our Lord has burst your gullet and you are destroyed; we lay the saints into the ground not in defeat, but in anticipation of victory. You could not hold Him; you will not hold us. His grave is empty; He is not here, for He has risen. He is the God of the living and the dead, and all who believe in Him will live, even though they die. Not one will you snatch out of His hands, we belong to Him forever. You have lost.

The crucified and risen Jesus is our God, the one true God. Your defeat is our victory. He died for us and He lives for us as our God, pouring out His forgiveness, life, and salvation. He is not our opponent, our enemy any longer; He does not seek vengeance, but He rose to speak words of forgiveness. He has risen, as He said, and every promise is true. He has risen, as He said, and we can trust the Absolution. He has risen, as He said, and He gives His very Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins in the Supper. He has risen, as He said, and all who are baptized into His Name will be raised up on the Last Day. You have lost, O death, and this day and every day, we will cry out, proclaiming His victory which is our victory:
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! Amen.

Good Friday (Second Commandment; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9)

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Good Friday comes from the fourth and fifth chapters of the letter to the Hebrews. Dear friends in Christ: the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is preceded, in every Gospel, with prayer. Fervent prayer. Desperate prayer. Sweat-like-blood prayer. The history of the world is approaching its climax, the decisive moment is coming, the next hours will determine the eternal fate of humanity, and Jesus, true God and true man, will not embark on His great task before He prays. He is the obedient Son of His Father, the One who fulfills every word, every command of the Lord, including the command, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Jesus places Himself into the hands of His Father; that is what prayer is: handing our troubles, our worries and our needs, over to the only One who can fulfill them. The life of prayer is a life of dependence upon the God who gives every good gift. This is what God’s Name is for: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Jesus calls upon the Name of the Father in this hour of trouble, clinging to the promise that He will be heard. While still in the upper room, with the cup of suffering staring Him in the face, Jesus prays first for you. That is His task, His vocation, for He is our great High Priest and the calling of a high priest is to intercede for those entrusted to him, to stand between God and the people, holding up the people before their Lord in prayer. He prays that you would be preserved in the faith that He has given you in trial and tribulation, that you would be one with the body of believers, just as you are one with the Holy Trinity. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” He prays that the disciples would take the message of the Gospel out into a hostile world, that this message would be passed down from generation to generation until it sounds forth in your ears. In His hour of need, Jesus is thinking of you, He is praying for you. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” He is true man, and thus able to sympathize with your weaknesses; He knows the enemy you face, the trials that will come. He knows them because He is about to face them Himself.

From the upper room Jesus travels to the Garden of Gethsemane; and in this place, like another garden so long ago, Satan dwells. The cup of suffering is held before His eyes; the Father’s command is to drink it down to the dregs. Satan’s forked tongue keeps spinning lies and half-truths. Glory without the cross; all the riches and power of this world are contrasted with the awful horror that Judas’ betrayal will bring. Jesus tells His disciples: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” The weight of the world’s sin, the horror of the cup, bears down upon His shoulders. In desperation, Jesus cries out: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He begs for the cup to pass from Him; let it be done some other way, any other way. But Jesus is the obedient Son; He casts His prayer on the Lord and leaves it to His Father’s will. He knows that His Father will vindicate Him. “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.”

Jesus stands at the end of His wrestling match with the Father’s will having conquered all of Satan’s temptations. He has overcome and will resolutely drink the cup; He will boldly go to the cross. His life of prayer will sustain Him to the very end; He will live by faith, totally and completely dependent upon the Father’s will and the Father’s promise. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” Trusting in His Father’s promise, He will fulfill the Father’s will. The high priests appointed from among men interceded for the people by offering up bulls and goats; Jesus, the great High Priest, offers up Himself. Isaiah sings: “He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” He bore the sin of many; He bore the sin of all, and He makes intercession by His own blood for the transgressors, for you and me. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Your sin. My sin. Every last sin, committed against every last commandment. All placed upon Christ; their deserved punishment given to Him to drink. And He does drink, down to the dregs. He does the Father’s will trusting in the Father’s promise.

The Father did hear His Jesus’ cries; He did vindicate His Son. “He was heard because of His reverence.” Jesus’ reverence, His total dependence on the Father, was vindicated three days later. Jesus is the great High Priest “who has passed through the heavens;” He has passed through death itself and emerged again on the other side alive and victorious. The Father’s will was fulfilled this night with His sacrificial suffering and death; the Father’s promise was fulfilled three days later. He lives, even though He died, and He lives to continue His high priestly work, interceding for you and me before His Father’s throne for eternity.

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” He is the source, the origin, the basis of your salvation. By His shed blood you are declared ‘not guilty’ in the courtroom of God’s justice. His blood pleads for your innocence, His blood pleads for your release, His blood pleads for life in the place of death. Jesus lives, and He lives to make intercession for you on the basis of His shed blood. He was obedient, completely dependent upon His Father’s will and promise, and that obedience is counted as yours through His gracious intercession. Jesus still prays for you! When you fall into sin, Jesus is interceding for you, placing His blood, His death, His righteousness before His Father’s eyes. We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. His intercession is your forgiveness; His intercession is your salvation, because His intercession is rooted in His shed blood. His death, His resurrection suffice in God’s courtroom; your high priest, your advocate, your Savior, is the One who hung on a cross for you. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The throne of God’s grace is opened to you; you have access to your Father through the shed blood of His Son. You can boldly, with the confidence found in your redemption by Christ, draw near to the throne of grace, receiving the very gifts of heaven in this place: the pardoning Word of forgiveness, the washing of the water with the Word and the bread and wine which are His Body and Blood. You will boldly draw near to the throne of grace on the Last Day, for you wear the baptismal robes of Christ’s own righteousness. And you even now draw near with confidence to the throne of grace in prayer. The shed blood of Jesus gives you boldness and confidence to fulfill the Second Commandment. Because of Jesus, you can boldly call upon the Holy Name of your God in every trouble of this life, casting your cares on the Lord, trusting His will, knowing that He will vindicate you—if not in this life, then in the life to come. Because of Jesus, you can praise and give thanks to Him for all that He has given to you, especially for the cross and empty tomb, the death and resurrection of your Savior. You are heard because Jesus was heard; because He was vindicated, so you too will be. You are heard not because you are worthy, but because He is, and He died, and He lives, to intercede for you. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

Holy Tuesday (Jeremiah 11:18-20)

“O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Holy Tuesday comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the eleventh chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? We scheme, we conspire, we plan. We set out to arrange things to our own advantage, we connive to get what we want. We think we’re so clever. We think we can make our plans apart from God, out of His sight. We actually believe that the schemes of the darkness, hidden from prying eyes, are hidden from God as well. “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray Him to them. And when they heard it, they were glad and promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray Him.” Men plot against other men, they plot against God; hiding their thoughts in darkness, hoping to operate behind their Creator’s back. Fools! God knows the hearts of men; He knows their plans. Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? God knows the conspiracies that form in the darkness, the plots that arrange themselves against His throne and His people, as the prophet confesses: “The Lord made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds.”

God knows that the plans of men are evil; He sees and knows all. He sees and knows that brother betrays brother, and a mother her daughter, that all betray all. He knows that in this sinful world, friendship and the bonds of family are no barriers to the schemes of darkness. “Here comes this dreamer,” the brothers of Joseph said. “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” We cannot be betrayed unless there is first trust. We cannot betray others unless we have some intimate connection with them. “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” Jeremiah laments, a domesticated lamb, a trusting lamb. He trusted, and he was betrayed. We trust, and we are betrayed. Others trust us, and we betray them. Confidences are broken, rumors are started, money is taken, affairs spring up, marriages shatter, friendships are destroyed. Those we trusted the deepest hurt us the most. On those closest to us we inflict the greatest pain. “And when [Judas] came, he went up to Him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ And he kissed Him. And they laid hands on Him and seized Him.” The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, enlisting His most intimate companions against Him.
They seek His destruction; their plotting, their scheming has as its goal the silencing of Jesus, once and for all. Jeremiah laments, “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.’” They seek to cut off the fruitful tree, to take their axes to its roots. Their goal is death, to permanently put an end to God’s Word going forth from his lips. They even intend to erase his memory from the minds of men. Total destruction is planned for God’s prophet; slaughtered like an animal, cut down like a tree. Jeremiah did not know the plots that formed against Him, but God did, and Jesus, God in the flesh, knew His betrayer and tried to call him to repentance at the Supper. “One of you will betray me,” is an accusation but also a plea. Judas thought that he could hide, that his plots and schemes were shrouded in darkness, but Jesus knew. We cannot escape the light of God’s Law; He knows the deeds you do in darkness, He knows your hidden plots, He knows how you have betrayed those closest to you in thought, word, and deed. God knows the hearts of men, and at the Supper, God in the flesh pulled back the veil on Judas’ evil scheming, shining the light of God’s Law on his sinful heart, desperately calling him to repentance. It is no good for Judas to hide, no good for you or me. God knows the hearts and minds of men, and He calls on us to repent.
Joseph’s brothers were driven to repentance; the harshness of his treatment showed the severity of God’s Law. But when they repented, Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The evil plots of men were used in the hands of almighty God to bring about salvation for many. God does not only know the plans of men, He has His own plans. Men think they can plan apart from Him, but He will use their evil for His own purposes. Judas plotted to hand Jesus over into death; the Sanhedrin conspired to condemn an innocent man, but God will use their violence against His Son for the salvation of the world. He will vindicate His Son, and He will vindicate His sinful people, those who betray and those who are betrayed. Jeremiah cries out to the Lord, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” The prophet hands His cause over to the Lord; He calls on His God to vindicate him. In the Garden, Jesus does the same: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

God’s will, His plan will be done despite the evil plans of men, indeed through their evil He will accomplish His purposes. For He will vindicate His Son, His obedient Son who has committed His cause into the hands of His Father. Like a gentle lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Jesus will go to His death trusting in His Father’s will and the promised vindication to come. “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.” The plots of men will run their course; Jesus will be betrayed, falsely accused, and handed over to death, but God will use the evil of men for the good of mankind. The schemes of men take place in the darkness, but the dawn in coming, when the light of God’s glory will shine forth from an empty tomb. God knows the plots of men, He knows what they intend. They want to blot the memory of Jesus from the earth; but in putting Him to death, they are ensuring that His Name will never be forgotten, that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For Jesus will be put to death; He will suffer the humiliation of the cross, but on the third day God raised His Son up in triumph over all of His enemies. Jesus lives, even though He died; the plots of men came to nothing—even death itself could not conquer the Son of God. He committed His cause to His Father, and when the Father vindicated Him, He vindicated, He justified the entire world, declaring sinners righteous. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the trusting, gentle Lamb of God who was lead to slaughter in the place of Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, you and me. God does not slay you because He slaughtered the Lamb; His blood marks your door and death passes over. Jesus takes up your cause in the courtroom of God’s justice, and it is His shed blood that pleads on your behalf. When Saint John peers into heaven, He sees the Lamb of God, slaughtered for the sin of the world, seated on the throne, interceding for you and for me with His shed blood.

God knows the hearts of men; He knows your heart. He knows your sin, your betrayals; He knows the pain inflicted upon you by the betrayal of others. The harsh light of God’s Law has shown on your sinful heart; repent and commit your cause to Christ! Men meant evil against Him, but God meant it for good; His blood atones for all of your sin—you are forgiven! And as the Father vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the grave, so you too will be vindicated. Even though you die, even though your enemies seem to triumph over you, you are marked with the shed blood of the Lamb, and you will live even though you die, you will be vindicated at your resurrection as He was at His. He pleads for you before the very throne of God, holding His sacrifice before His Father, and God will hear His Son, the Lamb of God, your Savior. God knows all, and He knows that you are marked with blood of the Lamb, now and for eternity. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.