March 21, 2012

Five Flesh Wounds - Mar 21, 2012

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Grace and Lenten peace be multiplied to you, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. This evening's text comes from two sections of John chapter 19, as follows:
[Verses 17-18:] And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, 18 where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.

[Verses 31-37:] Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, "Not one of His bones shall be broken." 37 And again another Scripture says, "They shall look on Him whom they pierced."
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who was wounded for our transgressions, Dear Fellow-Redeemed,

Nowadays when people use the term “flesh wounds,” they’re usually talking about wounds that aren’t fatal, and in most cases aren’t even particularly dangerous. Gunshot wounds, for instance, that merely crease the flesh, or that pass through without harming any major organs. In our day we take it for granted that, given modern medical care, wounds like that pose no great danger. But it wasn’t always that way. Before the advent of the sulfa drugs in the 1930s, and penicillin in the 1940s, There was technically no such thing as a “non-fatal wound.” Any wound – even a flesh wound – can and often did kill its victim. In the Civil War, e.g., many more soldiers died from gangrene or infectionof so-called flesh wounds than from any other cause. Those people took flesh wounds seriously, and for good reason.

We do too. Because tonight the subject before us is wounds. To be specific, the five wounds in the hands, feet and side of our Savior. None of those wounds by themselves caused His death; indeed, the final wound wasn’t given until after His death. But whose wounds had great meaning, both when they were inflicted on Jesus and to us Christians today. Join me tonight was we fill in another portion of the Portrait of our Suffering Savior, Painted by Numbers:

They serve to remind us -
I. That Jesus really did die.
II. That the prophesies concerning Him really were fulfilled.
III. That you and I really are cleansed through His blood.
Interestingly, the first brief text I read you says nothing of nails. It simply says they crucified Him. Crosses on which criminals were put to death could be X-shaped or T-shaped. The victims could be fastened with ropes or nails or both.We know that Jesus was fastened with nails, though the word “nails” only occurs once in the Gospels, and that’safter Jesus’ resurrection. Do you remember when? It was when doubting Thomas said, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe John 20:25. We know what kind of nails they used in crucifixions, by the way. That particular Greek word doesn’t refer to the kind of nails you’d use, say, to shingle a roof or to build a birdhouse. It refers to large iron spikes.The kind that had to be driven in with force, and with force wrenched out again when their purpose was accomplished.

As for the spear wound. The spear of a Roman legionary was a formidable and intimidating weapon. It was typically twelve feet long, twice the height of a man. Its shaft was made of ash, an inch and a half thick. The iron spear head was triangular or spade-shaped, eight inches to a foot long, weighing over two pounds. Honed to a razor's sharpness, the spear was the weapon most feared by the enemies of Rome. One such enemy commander, after the Battle of Balaclava, wrote in his diary, "I don't care about their swords. They use them so slowly and only cut. But I am terrified of their spears".

We don't know if the soldiers who were detailed to carry out Jesus' execution carried swords. They may have. But they did have spears. And they had other grisly tools of their trade–a hammer to drive in the nails, and a mallet or iron bar to break the legs of the crucified in order to hasten their deaths. The Jews had requested that this be done to Jesus and the two malefactors, so that the bodies might be taken down before the Sabbath. It was even more urgent because this was a special Sabbath, occurring as it did during the holy Feast of Passover.

As we know, Jesus endured a long litany of suffering at the hands of the Jews and Romans. The blows, the mockery, the scourging and finally the crucifixion. Given that fact, the wounds He received in His hands, feet and side may relatively unimportant, a sort of footnote to His Passion. But that's not so. The events that I read to you a moment ago are important for us Christians on a number of levels. The first is so obvious that you might tend to overlook it. The FIVE FLESH WOUNDS remind us that Jesus really did die.

Well, you might ask, who would ever contest that? Who would ever say that Jesus didn't die on the cross? You'd be surprised. Skeptics and unbelievers over the years have combated the resurrection account by speculating that Jesus may never really have died in the first place. That he merely fainted on the cross. That he was near death. Near enough to convince the detail of soldiers. But that he didn't actually die, and that he was later resuscitated. If you don't believe in the resurrection then you have to say something like that, or else it's pretty hard to explain the over 500 witnesses who saw Jesus alive after Easter Sunday.

But our account for tonight leaves no room for doubt. Jesus really did die, as John records: Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear.This, by the way, really can’t be called a “flesh wound.” For the word for "pierced" indicates not just a glancing cut, but to forcefully penetrate, to thrust through with a death blow. One writer remarked that, had Jesus not been dead already, this blow would have killed Him.

The second truth that the soldier's spear reminds us of is that all the Old Testament prophesies concerning the Christ really were fulfilled in Jesus. For you see, if these prophesies were fulfilled, then we may trust that all the others were fulfilled as well.

God was making sure that all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ would be fulfilled to the letter. And that's just about the only way to explain this very strange crucifixion! For it was strange, in many ways. Consider: it normally took the victims as long as two to three days to die. But Jesus died in just six hours. Normally the bodies of the victims were left on the cross to rot, and be eaten by birds of prey. But God could not allow this to happen, for the prophecy said that …He would not suffer His holy One to see corruption. It was common for a victim's legs to be broken in order to bring about a swifter death. But this could not happen to Jesus, for the Old Testament prophecy said that, like the original Passover lamb, not one of his bones should be broken. It was very unusual for a crucifixion victim - dead or alive - to be stabbed. Certainly Pilate had not ordered it so, and Roman soldiers were not known for their initiative. But again, the Scriptures had to be fulfilled, and there was an Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah that said They will look on Me whom they pierced. -- Zech 12:10.

The scriptures must be fulfilled. God would not allow a single syllable of Old Testament prophecy to go unfulfilled. How comforting for us! For we know that if the prophesies concerning His bones and His wounds came true to the letter, then there are other wonderful prophecies that we can be confident were all fulfilled as well. Then we can have confidence that Jesus was and is our Savior. That He was and is the Lamb of God so long foretold, the One who takes away the sins of the world. Then there are so many other wonderful prophesies that we can confidently believe in, like the one in Isaiah chapter 53, All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. -- 53:6-7 How fitting that Jesus, the Paschal Lamb, should give His life on the very eve of the Passover Sabbath. For Jesus is our Passover! Paul says, For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. -- I Cor 5:7-8.

Water and blood flowed from the wound in Jesus' side. John, the eyewitness, states it simply, One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. It need not have been a miracle, by the way. In cases of extreme physical stress, congestive heart failure does sometimes cause water to build up in the lungs and around the heart. A sharp, slicing thrust with a spear going through the lungs and then the heart would naturally release water and then blood. What is the significance of these two elements? Well, in reading this account many are reminded of the Sacraments of the Church - the water in which we receive the covenant of God's grace in Baptism, and the blood of our Savior which we receive in, with and under the wine in the Lord's Supper. But surely this account holds an even more basic reminder than that. For the episode of the soldier's spear reminds us of the simple fact that you and I really are cleansed through Jesus' blood.

John writes, And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth. Why is this important? John answers, So that you may believe. John wants you to believe in Jesus as your Savior! There was a heresy called docetism that was already spreading at the time of John. It said that Jesus didn't really have a human body. According to the false teachers, what looked like a human body was nothing more than a phantom, an apparition. The Apostle puts paid to that notion immediately. "Listen," says John. "you docetics are wrong. Jesus was true human as well as true God, for blood and water flowed from that spear wound! I was there, and I saw it with my own eyes!" And that is so important for our faith, too! For you see, Jesus had to be true man as well as true God. If he had not truly been a man, with flesh and blood and thoughts and feelings and emotions, that he couldn't have redeemed us. His whole mission was to become truly human. To come here to earth and take our place. To succeed where we had failed. To step into our shoes and keep the commandments of God in all those places where we have broken them. To offer to God the perfect righteousness and obedience that you and I could never give. We read in Galatians, When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. -- Gal 3:4-5.

And that's exactly what Jesus did. He redeemed us. That precious blood that flowed from the wounds in His hands, His feet and His side is for you and me the elixir of life! It is this same John who in his first epistle states it so simply and beautifully, The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. That's John's whole point. Jesus is our Redeemer. The blood did flow. It flowed for us. It flowed to cleanse us and give us life!

The idea of cleansing or cleaning hits home with most of us, I think. Most of us know how enjoyable it is to relax in a clean house, but how difficult it is to get the house clean in the first place. And even when you have worked as hard as you can on your cleaning job, it still isn't completely clean. Even if your guests can’t see it, you always know the nooks and crannies that remain dirty and cluttered. When I was a bachelor and company was coming, I used to tidy up my kitchen by a shoving the dirty dishes inside the oven. The kitchen looked clean, but I knew better.

My friends, you all know where your dirty dishes are. You know your history of sin. You know the nooks and crannies in your soul that have harbored sin and lust and shame. God knows them too. But God has provided this miraculous cleansing agent! He has poured out the blood of His Son Jesus Christ! He did it to solve your problem of sin, and make you truly clean inside and out. What a miracle! The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. Maybe you feel like I do sometimes, the way the Apostle Paul felt when he said he was the "chief of sinners," the worst sinner there ever was. I feel that way a lot. But that doesn't change anything. For the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. We can't but regret that our sins contributed to the death of God's son. But we can't help rejoicing that the precious blood flowed, and that the universal cleansing agent of the blood of Jesus Christ was shed to cover our sins, too! Well might we sing with the hymnist,

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
My beauty are, my glorious dress.
Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head!

Did you know that there are people who say that the nails and spear are still in existence today? Nails supposedly exist in various Catholic churches in Italy and Germany. There are three artifacts claiming to be the spear. One is on display in Armenia, one in Krakow Poland, and one in the Vatican in Rome. Like other purported relics of the Passion, such as the holy grail or the shroud of Turin, the nails and spear are surrounded by mystery. There are legends of astounding miracles performed by or upon people who have come into contact with them. Of course, such mythical claims are little more than superstition. Carried too far, they can even become idolatry, a fatal distraction from the real meaning of Christ's Passion. That's not where our focus is. Our focus is on Jesus. The nails and the spear are just reminders of Him. Reminders that He really did die, that the prophesies really were fulfilled and, most important, you and I really are saved through his cleansing blood. John himself says it best near the end of his Gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." -- Jn 20:31.


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