Anxious Bondage vs. Confident Trust
“You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24–34), for they require two contrary forms of service. Worry is the worship given to the false god of mammon, an unbelieving anxiousness and focus on the things of this world. Faith is the worship of the true God, a confident trust that He is a loving Father who will care for all of our needs in both body and soul. The widow of Zarephath served God—that is, she believed the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah that the bin of flour would not be used up nor would the jar of oil run dry (1 Kings 17:8–16). He who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers will certainly provide for our daily needs. For He has already provided for our eternal needs, clothing us with Christ’s righteousness in Baptism and feeding us His body and blood for our forgiveness. With such confidence we are liberated from worry and freed to do good with our material resources, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 5:25–6:10).
The Cry of Faith: Lord, Have Mercy
The ten lepers cried out from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11–19). Their condition cut them off from God and others. So also do the works of the flesh cut us off from God and others. “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:16–24). Thus we cry out with the lepers, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy,” eagerly seeking His good gifts. Jesus said to the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. So too, we walk by faith and not by sight, being confident of Jesus’ help before we see any evidence of it, trusting that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection. Let us be as the one leper who returned to the true High Priest to give Him thanks and glory. For Jesus bore our infirmities in His sacrifice at Calvary. His words are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh (Prov. 4:10–23).
Jesus is Our Good Samaritan
The Law cannot help us or give us life. Rather, it confines everyone under sin as wounded and naked before God (Gal. 3:15–22). So it is that two figures of the Law, the priest and the Levite, passed by the injured man on the side of the road (Luke 10:23–37). Only the promised Seed of Abraham can rescue us and make us righteous before God. Only the Samaritan, our Lord Jesus, had compassion, as did the Samaritans of old (2 Chronicles 28:8–15). He came down to us in our lost and dying condition, pouring on the oil and wine of the Sacraments. He placed us on His own animal, bearing our sin and brokenness in His body on the cross to restore us. Jesus brought us to the inn, that is, the Church, and gave the innkeeper two denarii, that His double forgiveness might continue to be ministered to us. In this way the Lord, by whose Law we are torn and stricken, heals us and revives us by His Gospel and raises us up with Himself.
Faith Comes from Hearing
A man who was deaf and therefore also had an impediment in his speech was brought to Jesus (Mark 7:31–37). In the same way, all are by nature deaf toward God and therefore also unable to confess the faith rightly. For “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:9–17). Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears, and He spat and touched His tongue. Even so in Holy Baptism, water sanctified by the words of Jesus’ mouth is applied to us; and the finger of God, that is, the life–giving Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:4–11) is put into our ears in the hearing of the baptismal Gospel. Jesus’ sighing “Ephphatha” opened the man’s ears, and his tongue was loosed to speak plainly as Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book” (Is. 29:18–24) So also, He who sighed and breathed His last on the cross for us has given us to hear and believe in Him and has opened our lips that our mouths may declare His praise.
The Lord Lifts Up the Lowly
“And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Gen. 4:1–15). For unlike Abel, Cain’s offering did not proceed from a heart that revered and trusted in the Lord. Thus, the lowly tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” was the one who went down to his house justified before God, not the respectable, outwardly righteous Pharisee who trusted in himself and his own good living (Luke 18:9–14). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:1–10). The one who penitently despairs of his own righteousness and relies completely on the atoning mercy of God in Christ is the one who is declared righteous. For Christ died for our sins and rose again the third day (1 Cor. 15:1–10). Therefore, “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus Weeps for Jerusalem
Our Lord wept over Jerusalem for the destruction that would soon come upon her. For she did not recognize the time of God’s visitation in Christ, who had come to bring her peace (Luke 19:41–48). Through His prophets God had consistently called His people to turn from their deceit and false worship. “But My people do not know the judgments of the Lord” (Jer. 8:4–12). They sought to establish their own righteousness rather than receive Christ’s righteousness through faith (Rom. 9:30–10:4). So it was that God was in His temple to cleanse it, a precursor to the once-for-all cleansing from sin which He would accomplish in the temple of His own body on the cross. God grant us to know the things that make for our peace—His visitation in the Word and Sacraments—that by the Holy Spirit we may penitently confess “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:1–11).
Those Who Have Christ Share Him
In the forefront of those sharing the Savior by sharing his Word are those that he has specifically called into that office. What should we expect of them? We should expect that they are ready for some to receive and some to reject that word. Notice that he sends them to share only what they have received; he does not give them permission to fudge the message when many or most reject it. For Jesus does not come through false doctrine to create or strengthen faith. It is in faithfulness to the message and reliance on his promise that repentance is worked which both confesses sin and rejoices in absolution. He will keep his promise when and how it pleases him without the “help” of our opinions, our compromises of the truth, our eagerness to be popular and always successful.
While we can take no credit for the success of the gospel, we can certainly throw obstacles in its path. There is a danger that we degenerate into a certain professionalism that ends up making the assumptions of Amaziah in the first lesson not all that wide of the mark. There is a danger that in a godless age we see ourselves even at our worst as better than the common herd. But God wants us to take his Word seriously before we tell others to do so. Have we become so cocky, so arrogant, so self righteous and self confident that we imagine that these words are dead letters to us and apply only to someone else. May it not be! So noble is our task, so holy our vocation! May we not cheapen it by contempt for its solemn and saving essence!
Christ’s Resurrection Brings Us Life
“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). By the shed blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, eternal death has passed over us. Now we pass with Christ through death into life everlasting. For Christ the crucified One is risen! The stone has been rolled away from the tomb, revealing that the tomb could not hold Him (Mk. 16:1–8). Now our Redeemer lives eternally to save us from sin and Satan and the grave, and we can live in the sure hope of our own bodily resurrection with Christ. “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). Feasting on the living Christ, who is our meat and drink indeed, we boldly say: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?…But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54–55, 57).
The Paschal Candle is a special candle used at every service during the Easter season and at baptisms and funerals year-round. The Paschal Candle—rededicated last evening in our Easter Vigil service—symbolizes the resurrection victory over the darkness of sin and death. It emphasizes the presence of the resurrected Christ and the link between a believer’s baptism and the resurrection (Romans 6).
The name Paschal comes from the Greek, pascha. Before the time of Christ, this word was used for Passover; after Christ, Christians took to using the word when referring to the Festival of the Resurrection (The term Easter came into use in later centuries). On the Paschal Candle are nails, symbolizing the wounds of Christ; a cross, the means by which we are saved through our baptism; two Greek letters, an Alpha [Α] and an Omega [Ω], which remind us of Jesus’ words in St. John’s Revelation (1:8; 22:13), and that he is the beginning and the end; and finally, the candle has the current year, the year of our Lord (“anno domini"; A.D.) 2017.
Throughout the fifty days of Easter, the Paschal Candle traditionally stands near or in front of the altar as a symbol of resurrection. It is lighted for each service and is traditionally extinguished after the reading of the Gospel on Ascension. The Paschal Candle is of substantial size so its important symbolism speaks clearly. Even the stand in which it sits is of great size. As the Ad-vent candles bring wonderful meaning to the celebration of Advent, so the Paschal Candle is intended to add meaningful symbolism to our celebration of Easter, Baptisms, and Christian funerals.
The Cross and Passion of Our Lord are the Hour of His Glory
Our Lord enters Jerusalem triumphantly, by joyful shout and palm branches. But that triumph is soon eclipsed by His suffering and death, where His true Triumph is found. “The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Historic Introit). The deliverance He brings comes through His riding in, through His Incarnation and death on your behalf (Epistle). It is yours this day to hear the account of His Passion, His willing suffering and death, His active and passive obedience, by which He earns for you salvation (Gospel). That salvation is won by His drinking of the cup (Communion), that He bring you the Cup of Salvation, that you enter heaven triumphantly (Processional Gospel). May His victory be your consolation this day as you see through His Passion to His entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Today is often called “Palm Sunday.” But today also sets the stage for Holy Week. It’s not a week of mourning, but there are notes of joy and victory throughout, a realization that Christ’s sacred Passion was the path to Easter glory. This is why we read the account of our Lord’s Passion in its entirety today. We will not understand this week unless we keep these events in mind. That is true even today as we hear of His death, but receive him alive in the Supper.
The seeing are blind, while the one who is blind can see (Luke 18:31–43). Jesus tells the twelve that He is going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again, but they cannot understand or grasp what He is saying. The meaning of His words is hidden from their sight. However, as Jesus makes His way up to Jerusalem, a blind man calls out to Him for mercy. This blind man sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior, for he calls Him “Son of David.” Indeed, Jesus is the Lord’s anointed, the keeper of sheep (1 Sam. 16:1–13) who goes to lay down His life for the sheep. He is the incarnate love of the Father who suffers long and is kind, who is not puffed up, who never fails us (1 Cor. 13:1–13). Jesus opens the eyes of the blind (Is. 35:3–7) to see Him not according to outward appearances of lowliness, but according to His heart of mercy and compassion. Those who behold Him thus by faith follow Him to the cross through death into life.