You did not choose Him, but Christ the Lord has chosen you; and He has called you to Himself by the preaching of His Holy Cross, that you should follow Him through death into life, in order to be with Him where He is, and that you should bear much fruit to the Glory of His Holy Name.
It is in Christ Jesus that you come up to worship at this Feast, that is, the Feast of His Holy Cross, the celebration of His servant Pastor Loughran’s anniversary, and the Eucharist of His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you and for the many. You come up to worship the Lord in this Feast by the way and the means of Christ the Crucified, as He, the incarnate Son of God, is glorified in His flesh and goes to the Father on your behalf by the way and means of His Cross.
Now is the Hour of His Glory, which here unfolds for you against the backdrop of this Feast in the Holy Gospel from St. John. As per the Word of the Lord in Leviticus, the crowds have come up to Jerusalem for the Passover, and for the Feast of Unleavened Bread that follows immediately afterwards for a full week. It is one of several pilgrim festivals, in which the people are gathered together in the place where the Lord has caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among them.
It is also during these celebrations, on the day following the Sabbath in the week of Unleavened Bread, that the first fruits of the year are offered and consecrated to the Lord on behalf of Israel. If you do the math, you’ll realize that these first fruits are offered on that Easter Sunday when our Lord Jesus rises from the dead. It involves the waving of a sheaf of grain before the Lord in His Temple, the sacrifice of a one-year-old male lamb without defect as a whole burnt offering, as well as a grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and a quantity of wine as a drink offering. Until then, the people are not to eat anything made from the grain of the new year’s harvest; but after the harvest is dedicated to the Lord with this offering of the first fruits, then they are able to enjoy the produce of the good Land, which the Lord gives to His people according to His promise.
So, I want you to think about this Old Testament Feast with its God-given rites and ceremonies in light of the Word that Jesus speaks to you this morning: The grain that was buried in the ground has now, by the grace of God, brought forth a great harvest; and with the returning of the first fruits back to Him, He opens up His hand to satisfy His people with the bounty of the Land, flowing with its milk and honey, abundant with its bread and wine; so also to provide for the poor and needy, for the widows and orphans in distress, and for the strangers, as well, in order that all might feast.
Now, then, is the Hour when the Son of Man is to be glorified, when the Christ is to be lifted up as the Sacrifice of the Lord in fulfillment of the entire Feast. He is the Passover Lamb, and He is the Whole Burnt Offering, the Grain and Drink Offering, and the First Fruits of the New Creation. He is the Grain which is buried in the dust of the earth, who by the Tree of His Cross now bears much fruit after His own kind — fruits including you and your life, in, with, and under His Cross.
It is in and with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in His death upon the Cross, in His Body crucified and risen, that you are buried to this world and born again from death to a new life, and that you now bring forth the good fruits of His Cross within your own vocation and stations in life.
That Holy Cross of Christ, which you now bear and carry after Him as a disciple, is such a foolish and offensive scandal in the eyes of the world, and no less so in your own fallen and perishing flesh, in your native way of thinking, and in your feelings and emotions. Even so, that scandalous Cross is the very power and wisdom of God for the reconciliation, resurrection, and righteousness of the whole world; and for your salvation, too; all because of the crucifixion of Christ. It is His Body that sanctifies the Tree with its hard branches; His Blood that stains it a royal purple.
Pastor Loughran may recall from our days together in Fort Wayne, some twenty-four years ago now, that the children of the seminary students were given little ceramic crosses that a women’s group had made for them. My daughter DoRena, who was three at the time, received one of those crosses, which featured spring flowers in the center, no doubt in celebration of the Resurrection. Well, it was shortly after she received that gift, that she was with me shopping for a crucifix for our home. As I was looking at the variety of crosses, she got my attention and pointed to one of them, telling me that she wanted one for herself. When I pointed out that she had just gotten a new cross, she immediately answered, “That cross has flowers on it, Daddy. But flowers didn’t die for me! Jesus died for me! I want a cross with Jesus on it.” Needless to say, I got her one that day.
My three-year-old DoRena had it exactly right: It is the Body of Jesus, nothing else and nothing less, that makes the Cross holy. Not suffering and death for its own sake, but the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, His Cross and Passion, for your sake! That is what sanctifies, not only His Cross then, but the Cross and suffering that you bear in His Name.
His Cross is the power and wisdom of God, and the Glory of God in Christ Jesus, because His death upon the Cross is the defeat of death and the devil, and the judgment of God for the salvation of sinners. Because sin is condemned in the Body of Christ, and atonement is made by His Blood, so that man is reconciled to God and justified in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ.
The Father is thus glorified in Christ, His beloved and well-pleasing Son, by the way and means of His Cross, by His obedience even unto death. And the Father glorifies and honors His Son by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. As the Son of God thus returns to the Father by the way of the Cross, so do all those who follow after Him.
The Father honors those disciples from all nations, whatever their genealogy may be, who follow Christ and serve Him in life and death, in faith and love. The same is true for you, who have been called to repentance and faith, to take up the Cross and follow Jesus through the waters of your Holy Baptism, through death and the grave into the Resurrection and the Life. Whereas clinging to your life in this world can only end in death, because the whole world is perishing, yet, dying with Christ Jesus brings you into life everlasting with Him in both body and soul.
This dying and rising of repentant faith in Christ is what it means to have the Lord as your God, and to worship Him above all other gods: Namely, that you look to Him and trust Him for all that you need and for every good thing; that you entrust yourself entirely to Him, to the point of death; and that you gladly receive all things from His hand, both the Cross and the Resurrection.
Dying to yourself and to all of your selfish ambitions, you live unto God and unto righteousness in Christ, and you bear much fruit for the benefit of others, to the Glory of His Holy Name. Or, to say it better, it is Christ who bears the good fruits of His Cross in your body and life on earth.
They are the fruits of His Cross, because it is by His Cross, by the proclamation of His Cross, that Christ calls you to Himself, and draws you to Himself, and brings you to the Father in Himself.
There is this attractive power to His Cross. Certainly not for those who are perishing in unbelief, but for all those who are being saved by grace through faith in Christ. I’ve noticed this especially in the case of very small children, such as the Lord Jesus described in last Sunday’s Holy Gospel.
If you’ll indulge me another example from our bygone seminary days: I remember my eldest son, Zachary — he’s in his mid-twenties now, but he was just a little guy then, barely a toddler at the time I’m thinking of — whenever I’d have him with me on campus, each time we’d go in and out of the Seminary library, there was this large crucifix right by the door, and he’d make me stop and get close to it, so that he could lean forward in my arms to kiss Jesus’ ouchies. Like his big sister, he recognized the power and significance of the Body of Jesus on the wood. He was so drawn to that crucifix, so captivated by it, and so moved with love for his dear Lord Jesus on the Cross.
Thankfully, it is not only little children who have been taught to love the Lord Jesus. You also, by the grace of God, have become like a little child and are drawn to Christ the Crucified by the preaching of His Cross. As He was lifted up and His Father was glorified in that Hour, so is He now lifted up and glorified through the Ministry of the Gospel of His Cross. It is by that Ministry that He draws all people to Himself, even from the ends of the earth, and even you. Which is how that one Grain which died and was buried now brings forth a great harvest from all the nations.
The Cross bears good fruits after its own kind, both for you and in you, in this life and in death, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Christ Jesus.
That is true for every Christian within his own vocation and stations in life. All the more so for those servants of the Word who follow in the footsteps of Christ and His Apostles, so that you may see Christ portrayed before your eyes as the Crucified One in the preaching of His Gospel.
The preaching of the Cross is not only news and information about the Cross. It is itself the fruit of the Cross, and it bears the Cross in the world. The preaching and the preacher alike suffer the ridicule and rejection of the world, even as the Word of the Cross calls the whole world of sinners to die the death of repentance. The same preaching must put the preacher himself to death, as well.
So it is that your Pastor Loughran is a fruit of the Cross, in whom the Lord bears good fruits for your benefit, and through whom the Lord brings forth good fruits in you for the benefit of others.
He was and could have been a salesman. Or a professional musician, perhaps, playing his trumpet in a metropolitan symphony somewhere. Maybe even a golfer on the pro circuit. The fact that you can’t picture Pastor Loughran actually doing any of those things for a living is not due to a lack of ability or aptitude on his part; not really. It is because you have learned to know the calling and compassion of his heart, which has been conformed to the Image of God by the Cross of Christ.
The truth is that Pastor Loughran has been called and ordained by God to preach and administer the Gospel of the Cross. And that calling of the Lord, that ordering of this man’s life in the world, crucifies and puts to death the frailties of his flesh, and whatever other ambitions and aspirations would compete with the Ministry of the Gospel. He is put to death and raised up to preach.
The Lord your God is thus glorified in the Ministry of your Pastor. And the same Lord glorifies you by your Pastor’s preaching of the Gospel in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.
This Voice is for your sake! The rolling thunder of the Law and the sweet message of the Gospel are the ways and means of the Cross by which the Lord calls you to repentance and faith, that is, to die and to rise with Christ Jesus. As Pastor Loughran preaches the crucified and risen Christ; as he serves the Lord by serving you with Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ, by hearing your confession and absolving you in Jesus’ Name; and as he celebrates the Sacrament of the Altar with praise and thanksgiving, for the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ and the proclamation of His death until He comes — by each and all of these fruits and benefits of the Cross (for that is what they are), sin and death are defeated; the devil with his assaults and accusations is cast out of your conscience; and you are drawn to Christ in faith, and to the Father in Him, in the Peace and reconciliation of His Spirit and the righteousness of His Resurrection.
For as surely as the Son of Man is now lifted up in the Ministry of His Gospel, so are you lifted up and exalted in Him, in His Body crucified and risen, by the life-giving fruits of His Holy Cross.
So does the Father glorify His Name in you. And He glorifies you in Christ Jesus, wherever He has called you to be. He does not promise to protect you from pain and suffering, nor to preserve your body and life in this perishing world. But He does protect your faith and life in Christ, in order to preserve your body and soul for the Life everlasting with Him. He draws you to His Son, and He brings you to Himself in Him, in the Body and the Blood that were given into death upon the Holy Cross for your atonement, which are also given and poured out for you here in this Feast for the forgiveness of all your sins, that you may see Jesus face to face, now and forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.