In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now, we see laid in the grave the One who built the earth’s foundation. To us, thinking in earthly terms, this seems like an ending. Death is final. If all we think about is the death of a mere mortal, then, yes. Death is the end, until the Last Day, the day when Jesus brings about the bodily resurrection of all flesh. But this death, the death of Jesus, is different. For Him, His death is part of recreation, part of the giving of life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” On the cross Jesus declares that He has finished this work, He has given to us the life He came to win.
One of the better known Psalm verses is from Psalm 118. The Psalmist writes “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” It’s a very pious thought, a good Christian expression. God has made this day, and I will rejoice in what He sends me. However, to leave the verse’s meaning at that misses its context. If you read all of Psalm 118 you find the cry of Hosanna and “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.” The Psalmist writes things like, “All nations…surrounded me like bees.” “You pushed me violently that I might fall.” “The Lord has chastened me severely.” “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” “Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” Psalm 118 is all about Holy Week, especially Good Friday. So when we say “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it,” we’re talking about today, the day on which Jesus Christ tasted death for our sin.
O Death, where is your sing? O Hades, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55) Death, hell, and their master, Satan, have no victory, no power. They thought they did. Jesus died and they rejoiced. For a time, it looked like Death had taken the victory, swallowing up the Author of Life. It stopped His breath, it spilled His precious Blood. Death finally ate its fill on Good Friday as it devoured Christ as He bore the sins of the world.
St. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote these profound Words: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks these Words of Himself. Not one of us meets this list of the characteristics of the blessed. That’s the whole point of this day. We have not been pure in heart. We are not peacemakers. We are not meek. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus has the perfect hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This is how St. John describes Jesus’ last hours before His Crucifixion. Everything Jesus does, He does in love. He does it to show what love truly is, what it does, what it looks like.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.