Sin and the Word of God cannot peaceably coexist. Sin will stop at no length to silence those who preach the Word, desiring ultimately to exterminate it. The pages of Holy Scripture and the countless volumes on Church History show where men have sought to destroy the Word and Christ’s Church. From the third chapter of Genesis to this very day we can see Satan undermining the Word by stirring up doubt in our minds, inspiring critics of Scripture rather than students, and raising up leaders who endorse heresy and governments which label the clear Word of God as hate speech.
When the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity it shines the brightest light on our sins. It exposes our false religions and brings to the fore our idols. No one likes having their hypocrisy shown to the world around them. So when sin is condemned in the public preaching of the Word, you see those who advocate for it come together to plot and scheme. Angry at the one who has touched a nerve, they determine to “Destroy the tree with its fruit, and…cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more.” For many of God’s sent messengers, this plot has resulted in death. But today it appears in many different forms like imprisonment, marginalization, slander, gossip circles, and pay and benefit decreases.
While none of us have ever reported sermons to civil liberties groups, hoping to have a Pastor put in jail and we may not vote to cut his pay in an effort to get back at him, our reaction to the Word is just as bad. We allow our minds to wander. We become frustrated and stop listening. We self-justify.
But in this most holy week in the Church’s year, we are confronted with Our Lord’s Passion. We are drawn by faith to meditate on a bloody scene from which we would rather run. We are drawn to His death not because it is a horrible death but because every stripe, blasphemy, injury, and indignity Our Lord suffered He suffered for us. We see in the Passion account what we have deserved.
Faith confesses that our sins are horrible. How horrible they are we see in the Words of St. Mark as he recounts what Jesus suffered for us. The innocence of Our Lord shines the brightest revealing light on the darkness of our sinful hearts. Jeremiah writes that Jesus, knowing full-well what lay ahead, went forth “like a docile lamb brought to slaughter.” Those who hated Jesus desired to destroy the tree with its fruit. They attempted to take the Kingdom of God by force, desiring to put to death both the King and His subjects. That’s what sin does.
And sinfully, Peter, James and John fell asleep at Gethsemane. Their flesh made them unsuspecting participants in Satan’s plan. And we have been just as sleepy as they with regard to the things of faith. We too have slept instead of praying. We have failed to do what God commands we do. We have daily done what God forbids. We have deserved every stripe Jesus received. The lusts of our flesh have prevailed over the desires of our spirit. The flesh is weak. How sleepy we have been!
More, the darkness He endured, and the separation from the Father is the darkness and separation we have earned. But thanks be to God, Jesus did not sleep. He endured every blow, every curse, every physical suffering, every spiritual torment to spare you. He refused the wine mixed with myrrh, that His senses and mind not be dulled, so that He could endure every last agony—for you.
So faith hears the account of the Passion, and confesses with Jeremiah: “Now the Lord gave me knowledge of it, and I know it…” You have heard the words of the Passion. Faith receives and knows that they are fact. As terrible as the account is, it is true. But still, in the face of this horrible report, faith rejoices, for faith knows that Jesus’ suffering and death are for you. His Passion is for all men of all time.
Thanks be to God, neither the Tree nor its fruit are destroyed. The Seed had to die. The Seed had to fall to the ground and be buried to bring forth fruit. The Righteous Branch, the Shoot from Jesse’s stump, lives. So do those live who are given faith in Him. And the fruit multiplies a hundred fold unto the ends of the earth. A harvest of righteousness is reaped because of the Blood of Jesus. So in joy you eat and drink the fruit of the cross. This is earth’s greatest joy because it delivers to you the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This Fruit makes you holy, for by it your sins are removed and your faith is strengthened.
Faith never forgets the Passion of Our Lord. As often as we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. St. Mark’s Words strengthen your faith. And so too the Words of the Prophet Jeremiah “O Lord of hosts, You who judge righteously…” For in His righteous judgment, the Lord of hosts has judged you innocent in the Blood of the crucified and risen Christ.
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.