“Life is tough, and then you die.” That’s a bit cynical, maybe even snarky. But, apart from Christ, that is all the reality that you would ever know: a tough life, then death. And as you confess, that is all that you have earned and deserved by your sins — both temporal and eternal punishment.
Christ Jesus really is the one and only solution to that brutal reality. Remarkably, though, He has brought about the remedy by making the same reality His own. His Life was tough, and then He died. In the footsteps of the Prophets He suffered persecution, rejection, and ridicule, and then He laid down His Body and Life in the Holy City of Jerusalem. He offered Himself up in sacrifice upon the Cross, confident that by His death He would obtain the victory of life with God. Not for His own benefit, but for you and all people. His Cross is not the end, but the beginning of a life with no more suffering, no more sorrow, no more sickness, and no more death.
Now, in the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke there are three definitive milestone points on the journey of Christ Jesus from the Father in heaven and back to the Father again: His Baptism in the Jordan River, His Transfiguration on the Mountain, and His Cross and Resurrection in Jerusalem. Connecting these three points in seamless continuity is the Ministry of Jesus in His preaching and His miracles, in all that He began to do and teach for the salvation of the world.
All of this is really of one piece, a single event comprising the passage of Jesus from heaven to earth, to the Cross and Tomb, and from death into life in His Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father. It is all summed up already in His Baptism. As He says to His disciples at one point, refering to His Cross and Passion, He had a “Baptism” that He must undergo.
That “Baptism” was confirmed in His Transfiguration. And from that point onward Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem. He came down and made a bee-line, as it were, to His sacrificial death. It was on that leg of His journey that the Pharisees approached Him to warn Him about Herod.
What they were thinking is rather beside the point. Regardless of their intentions, on the surface at least the Pharisee’s advice presented yet another temptation to our Lord Jesus Christ. They were urging Him to avoid suffering and death, to seek protection and safety instead of following the Way that had been set before Him, and to rely upon Himself instead of trusting His Father alone.
Jesus recognized the temptation for what it was, and He rejected it out of hand. His first concern, in any case, was never His own safety but the salvation of the world. He knew why He had come, and what He would necessarily do and suffer for the Word and Will of God. His Ministry would lead inevitably to His death upon the Cross in Jerusalem. So neither Satan nor Herod, neither the Pharisees nor anyone else would alter His course. But on the way, as He journeyed to His Cross and Passion, He anticipated in His Life and Ministry the salvation that He had come to bring.
We often speak of “giving things up for Lent” in memory of our Lord, and in repentance, as a kind of self-discipline. But as for Christ Jesus, on His way to the Cross He was “taking things on.” He took on the demons who possessed the people He had come to save. He took on the curse of sin and sin itself. He took on sickness and disease, suffering and sorrow, and finally death itself.
The Lord Jesus Christ was like a giant sponge sweeping across the land on His Way to Jerusalem, soaking up all the stuff that separated His creatures from their Creator, absorbing it into Himself, into His own flesh, until He should finally wring Himself out and put it all to death in His Body.
And the miracles of Christ testify to the gracious presence of God in the flesh of this Man. They are the evidence and realization of His Gospel, of forgiveness and life and salvation in Christ. For He does what He does because of who He is, the Lord your God who has come to be your Savior.
The healings He accomplishes, both then and now, embrace both the healing of physical ailments and illnesses and the spiritual healing of forgiveness. He restores the creation, both inside and out, in its relationship to the Holy Triune God. All things are set free and made brand new in Him.
And all of this is made possible by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. That is the perfection of who He is and what He does. He assumes the world’s bondage on the Cross, He buries it all with Himself in the tomb, and He releases all of creation into life by His Resurrection on the Third Day.
Ah, yes, there it is: The “Third Day” is when He will reach His goal, when He will be perfected for the sake of the salvation of the world. Two more days of travel, of healing, and then He will enter Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday,” on the cusp of Holy Week. He will enter the city as the King of the Jews, the Blessed One who comes in the Name of the Lord to reign from His Tree of death.
And that Third Day becomes an entire week, the work of the New Creation, comprehending His Cross and Tomb, His Exodus through death into life, and His Resurrection from the dead on the following Sunday. In retrospect, that Day of the Resurrection is the “Third Day” above all others, as you know from the Holy Gospels and as you confess with the Church in the Creeds. Yet, we dare not separate Easter from Good Friday, nor the Resurrection from the Cross and Passion.
As the Lord’s entire life and ministry was one long Baptism into His own Cross and Resurrection, so all of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday into Easter, is one long Day by which the Lord Jesus Christ reaches His goal and returns to the Father. From the waters of the Jordan, from the heights of the Mountain, He comes in the Name of the Lord to His Cross and Passion, to death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the life everlasting, in order to bring you with Him into Paradise. He delivers you from sin, death, and hell, and He brings you into the Holy of Holies in Himself.
Because it was for this purpose that He had come, Jesus could not just go away and conduct His business elsewhere or otherwise. His entire life was governed and guided entirely by the Word and Will of God. Just as you are also called to live and die by faith in the Word and promises of God.
Though you are often faithless and unbelieving — cowardly when you ought to be courageous, and bold and belligerent when you ought to be humble and kind — Jesus Christ remains faithful at all times and in all places, even unto death. And like the Prophets before Him and the Apostles who would follow, His faithfulness brings Him persecution, rejection, suffering, and the Cross.
Take note that it is the Holy City of God, Jerusalem, His Old Testament Church, which rejects and puts to death the Prophets and Apostles. And be on guard against that same wicked temptation and sinful proclivity within your own heart, mind, and life — church-going Christian though you are. Do not reject the Lord Jesus Himself as He now comes to you in the Ministry of His Gospel.
It’s easy enough to point fingers at the “world,” at those outside the Church, at those who never come. And to be sure, they will be held accountable by God for their rejection of His Word, for their false belief and blasphemy. Nevertheless, it was not the world but the Church that rejected the Lord Jesus and handed Him over to death; that stoned His Prophets and killed His Apostles.
Beginning with the synagogue of His own hometown of Nazareth, and ending with Jerusalem itself, it was those who were called and chosen to be God’s people who rejected Him in the flesh.
Guard yourself, then, again such tragic rejection of your Savior and Lord. Stop placing your trust and confidence in your own plans and purposes, and submit yourself instead to His Word. Call upon His Name, as He has taught you how to pray. Give thanks and confess Him bravely in the face of the Cross. Remember that you are baptized, and that your Baptism into Christ is also for life, even unto death. Repent and believe the Gospel. Every day. Confess your sins, and seek His Absolution. Do not make a god out of your belly by working for the food that perishes, by glutting yourself with more than your body needs, or by medicating yourself with alcohol. Fast in the fear and faith of the Lord. Discipline yourself. Let your true Feast be the Body and Blood of Christ.
You will not save yourself, not by any means. You cannot even receive the Lord Jesus in faith by your own efforts or striving. Neither will you reach the goal for which you have been created by sinning. Indeed, all of your sins, from the inside out, are a rejection of the Lord and His gracious gifts of Life. Your salvation is found, not in yourself, not even in your piety and prayers, but solely in the Ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. And that Ministry of His is rooted in this fact, that He has voluntarily taken all of your sins upon Himself and has suffered your death and damnation.
In fulfillment of the entire Old Testament, of all the Law and Prophets, He suffered and died in Jerusalem. For He is the One who is greater than Moses and Elijah and all who came before Him, as we have already heard from the Voice of the Father on the majestic Mountain. He is the great High Priest above all others. His Body and Blood are the Sacrifice that atones for the sins of the world and reconciles man to God. His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God among men.
The Word of Jesus this morning thus anticipates what He will soon accomplish in Jerusalem by His innocent suffering and death — and what His Cross will then mean for that once great city.
The crown jewel of Jerusalem was the Temple, and the whole purpose of that Temple of stone was to prepare the people for the coming of Christ, their Savior. Once He had come in the flesh and accomplished His great Salvation by the Priesthood and Sacrifice of His Cross, the role and reason for the Temple were completed. The early Jewish Christians still praised God in the Temple while it stood, but they did so with thanks for the Word fulfilled in the flesh of Christ. For His Sacrifice, His Blood, the Altar of His Cross, the Incense of His prayer and intercession, and the Temple of His Body — these are now the Sacred Things of Yahweh Sabaoth. His Name and Glory abide wherever in the world Christ is preached and His Supper is celebrated in remembrance of Him.
So it was that, after thirty-something years of transition from the Old Testament to the New, the Lord brought about His divine judgment upon Jerusalem by means of the Roman army. The city and the temple were destroyed. And though the city was eventually rebuilt, the temple has not been. Indeed, to restore the temple and its services would be a further blasphemy against Christ.
Again, the point and purpose of the Temple in the first place, and the point to its destruction, is that Christ alone is the true House of God. He is the true Priest, the true Sacrifice, and the true Temple, because He is both God and Man, the Word of God made Flesh, who now dwells among us in His Body and Blood. The old temple was destroyed because the new Temple has been established in the Person of Christ Jesus. He is the House that is left to all the sons and daughters of Jerusalem, that is to say, to all the people of God, His Holy Church in heaven and on earth, forevermore.
All the more profound and mysterious is that Jesus has become the House of God, for you and for all, by first of all submitting Himself to become the Desolate One upon the Cross. It is the priestly Sacrifice of Himself in Jerusalem that constitutes His identity as the true Temple. Indeed, it is only in His desolation that “Jerusalem” is saved and able to dwell in safety under the wings of the Lord.
St. Luke writes that all of this occurred “in that very Hour.” He thus connects the Word of Jesus on this occasion to what He has just said concerning the heavenly Banquet, to which disciples from all nations will be invited, although many of the biological children of Abraham will tragically exclude themselves in unbelief. Elsewhere in the Gospel, the “Hour” also refers significantly to the Banquet of the Lord’s Supper, especially in its close connection to the Cross and Resurrection.
Which is to say that, here and now for you, the Ministry of Jesus — His healing and release of your body and soul from sin and death, His Word of forgiveness and life, and the Fruits of His Cross and Passion — all of this is handed over to you, it is perfected for you, in this banqueting Hour of His Holy Communion. This is the Third Day in which He reaches His goal in giving Himself to you, that you should be forgiven all your sins, rescued from death and the devil, and made brand new in His Body and His Blood. Here at His Altar He comes into His Holy City, on earth in His Supper as it in heaven at the Right Hand of His Father. So it truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should thus sing: Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.