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First President of the LCMS and it's Grandfather CFW Walther
Here is a list of Pastor Wagner's sermons. Most of them have been preached at Christ Our Savior; however, some of the earlier ones were preached at other locations.
You might notice that some of of the sermons do not have an audio player. These sermons were not recorded. However, all of the sermons do have a link to the manuscript on Pastor Wagner's website.
Attacks from without are probably easier to defend against. They’re certainly easier to identify, and the sheep are generally more likely to keep in line with the shepherd’s defense. An event or person who might otherwise have a detrimental effect on a congregation, who is speaking against or making unorthodox demands on the congregation, must be rebutted, and the shepherd is the lead agent in that rebuttal, and the sheep usually follow their shepherd in this defense.
Attacks from within, however, are different. Here is how the wolves in sheep’s clothing act. Some new program or Bible Study series or songs are suggested to the pastor. He reviews them, even seeking input from colleagues, and rejects them because they are not clear enough or heterodox or even heretical. Of course, that’s going to cause waves through the congregation, so maybe he acquiesces instead. Now, his flock scatters from the truth, having gone down the road of false or unclear teaching.
That is the method of the hireling. He cares more for his well-being, and that of his family, than the salvation of his flock. I suppose, in part, you can’t blame him for his concern, but Jesus did say, “[D]o not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” and, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:28, 32-33) This modern hireling might think he’s caring for the sheep, but he does them a great disservice. He has allowed the wolf entry in to the sheep pen; the sheep will then deny the true Christ.
The frightening thing about the attacks from within is that they are equal in number, if not more numerous, than the attacks from without. A Christian may cry, “I am persecuted,” as they feel the attacks from without, but the truth of the matter is that even in their very being—their fallen nature—they are always attacking the same faith that they espouse and which they claim is under persecution from the attacks from without.
Dear people—deer sheep of the Shepherd’s pasture, at any moment, any one of you could act out as the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The devil, the world, and your sinful nature are always at work to destroy you and the fellowship in which you have a part. And you are a means by which these seek your overthrow. The wolf is always at work, and the hireling would rather flee, seeing the wolf coming, than confront it; this fleeing is from the true Christ and His doctrine.
A good shepherd, however, kills the wolf. A good shepherds stands upon the truth, teaching the sheep the truth, and proclaims the Law of God to kill the sin within you and the Gospel to give you the forgiveness of sins.
Even at the expense of his own life, a good shepherd will defend the sheep against the attacks of wolves. And that is exactly what THE Good Shepherd did.
The wolf has attacked God’s church from the very beginning. In the beginning, as Adam and the woman gathered around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—their church, as Luther put it—the wolf was there, though his presence was more crafty than that as a wolf. The serpent spoke to the woman and tricked her. Her husband, much like a hireling, remained silent, let her eat, then took some himself and ate; Adam should have crushed the serpent, instead of allowing it to lie to Eve.
But the New Adam came along at just the right time. Jesus was conceived and born, the perfect man, everything Adam was supposed to be, and more, for He is also very God. After three decades of roaming the regions of Galilee and Judea, teaching and healing and raising the dead, Jesus makes His way to Jerusalem, the city of the Temple and the sacrifices. There, He would be crucified, the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep, but He didn’t simply just die. His death destroyed death; His sacrifice, while it bruised His heal, crushed the head of the serpent (cf. Genesis 3:15), and the wolf was killed. The devil, the world, and your sinful flesh are still always at work to confound you, to destroy you, and to break the bonds of fellowship with the other sheep in this place, but Jesus has over come that by His death and resurrection.
Oh, yes, Jesus rose again from the grave on the third day. He overcame the sharpness of death for the sheep, even as He had removed the fangs from the wolf of death. And He has overcome the sting of the grave. The sheep still plot against him, the hirelings still flee, but the Good Shepherd is ever true. By His blood, He has defeated the wolf—whether that is the attacks from without, within, the devil, the world, and even your own sinful flesh—and given you the victory. That is to say, He has forgiven you for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now while [the women] were going, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, “Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’” And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.” So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)
Falling asleep on the job is bad enough for a guard. To say, then, that while you slept, someone came and stole that which you were guarding was borderline treasonous. It was a dangerous thing to admit it to the governor, but the price was right, and the assurance of appeasement and security sweet enough.
So the report was made, “The disciples stole the body.” And like the chief priests were able to convince the crowds to shout for Jesus’ crucifixion, they were also able to convince many that His disciples stole His body.
It sounds like something out of today’s headlines, doesn’t it? “The accounts of Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead are fake news. What really happened was that his disciples stole his body.” And like misled little sheep, the people soak it up.
Is it any wonder, then, that the evening of the Resurrection, 10 of Jesus disciples are in the upper room with the doors lock, cowering in fear? That morning, things were beginning to look up. They heard about the empty tomb, two of them saw the empty tomb, and surely Mary Magdalene or one of the other women had told them by now that Jesus had risen and that they saw Him. By sunset, they were regarded as grave robbers. Who wouldn’t be afraid?
So, Jesus appears in the midst of them, and gives them peace. He shows them His hands and side. He gives them peace again, and they are glad. He breathes on them and gives them the authority to forgive sins in His stead, sending them out as sheep among wolves.
Who knows where Thomas is in all of this? He’s likely just as afraid, if not more, than the others and hiding by himself somewhere. In a moment of bravery, the others find him and tell him that they have seen Jesus, just as the women had. Thomas wants more. He also wants to touch Jesus and feel His wounds—prove to himself (and the others) that this Jesus is who He really says He is.
A week later, He gets the chance. He’s with the others this time, again behind locked doors, probably fearing for their lives again. And Jesus appears to them again and gives them peace. Then He reaches for Thomas and plunges his hand into His side. “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
“My Lord and my God!”
So, this whole fake news business is nothing new. Those in power have been using the media to control people for as long as there was news to be told. And the people, expecting the news to be trustworthy, rarely know what not to regard as true.
So it is that to this day, the report of grave-robbing disciples abides. Other fake news also makes the rounds. Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God. The miracles of Jesus didn’t happen because the miraculous cannot happen. Jesus was a crazy man who claimed to be God. Jesus wasn’t even a real person. These, among other things, are what you have to contend with beyond these walls. In fact, you’ll be accused of things much like the disciples were, not the least of which is being backwards, old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and even dangerous.
But remember the truth: Christ is risen!
It is the risen Christ who appeared to the women. It is the risen Christ who appeared to the disciples. It is the risen Christ into whom Thomas’ hand was thrust. It is the risen Christ who appeared to the disciples on the Emmaus road, to seven disciples again on the Sea of Tiberias, to over 500 disciples, and to Paul on the Damascus road. These all have witnessed the resurrection, and they all testify to it. They are all witnesses for you.
And what more do they tell you? That which Jesus told them before He was taken into heaven. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Hear His promise again: “I am with you always.”
You see, Thomas and the disciples are the perfect representations of you. It’s a wonder the doors here aren’t locked for fear of the masses of unbelievers out there. Who wouldn’t be afraid when threats are made against your sanity and even your very life? But, these are things which you were warned against, and things that you, at one time, vowed to endure, by the grace of God, rather than to fall away from the faith.
But it goes beyond that. What is your life like beyond these walls? Are you closed in at your own homes? When you do go out and encounter people, do you speak about your faith, your God, your Savior and theirs, or are you afraid to for fear of being condemned? For the disciples, the walls were genuine, brick and mortar obstacles. Those walls have become more psychological for you.
Take heart, dear hearers, for your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not abandon you to your fears. He comes to you here behind these closed doors just as certainly as He appeared to Thomas. He breathes on you, gives you the Spirit, forgives your sins, and grants you peace. You have a peace that surpasses all human understanding that is able to quash all human fear. Your God is man like you, descended to earth for you, gave His life for your ransom, rose from the dead to give you victory over death, and ascended into heaven with the promise to return to bring you to Himself in eternity.
Like Thomas, He takes your hand to thrust it toward His own flesh and blood. And, you take that body and eat it as He bids you to do. You take that blood and drink it as He bids you to do. And as you believe, you receive the Savior’s body and blood for your forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Your sins are forgiven, your faith is strengthened, and you are reminded of the God and Lord who has the whole world in His hands. He even has the power over life and death, having freed you from slavery to death and hell. Your God and Christ is in control. It’s a wonder, then, that Christians, who should be the most emboldened and joyful people in the world, are some of the most unhappiest and afraid, at least as far as it appears in western civilization.
Therefore take for your example, those disciples and Thomas. Following their meeting with the resurrected Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon them at Pentecost, they went into that world with a message that could bring life to those who heard it, and would bring death to them who told it, spare John. And they did it anyway, knowing the peril, because in the end the peril didn’t matter, as even St. Paul, a later addition to that crew, wrote,
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. (Philippians 1:19-23)
Peter and Paul, John and Thomas, Andrew, Jude, and James all spoke with a confidence that is yours—Jesus Christ—a confidence which sustained them in the face of any and every danger.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. (1 John 5:4-10)
“[T]hese 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.”
Nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus Christ, your Savior, who gave Himself for you, sacrifice, body and blood, resurrection, ascension, and all. By faith in Him, you overcome the world, because this world is only temporary. And He is here, now, for you, flesh and blood like yours, with His Spirit and breath, in His Word and Sacraments, to strengthen your faith, to persuade you that He is in control and with you always and nothing nor no one can separate you from Him, to give you life even in the face of death, even as He has in these means forgiven you for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the curse that you bear, pronounced on you in the Garden of Eden before Adam and the woman were expelled. And though the woman would be given the name Eve—Mother of the Living—still the snares of death surrounded them. They were sinners, and the wages of sin is death. Centuries later, the earth received that which it had once given for the man to be created. Graciously, you might say, you don’t have to wait centuries for the same to happen to you, but because you are sinners like your father Adam before you, the earth will one day receive you, too. You are dust and to dust you shall return.
No, there’s no way out by your own works or merit. You are met with the snares of death at every turn. This is your lot in this fallen life because the wages of sin is death, and they are always payable upon demand!
“From whom can we seek help?” “Who shall help us in the strife lest the foe confound us?” “From You alone, O Lord, who by our sins are justly angered.” “Thou only, Lord, Thou only! We mourn that we have greatly erred, that our sin Thy wrath have stirred.” Jesus is your only Help in this strife against sin. How?
In order to be your Help, He became your Substitute, and in order to become your Substitute, He first became one with you. He was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. He was formed in a womb like you were! He was born, grew in stature and wisdom, and even acquired a trade. All the while, He remained who He always has been, the omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal God and Creator of the universe. Jesus, being in very nature God, was a man in every respect as you were. He had flesh and bones, ate, drank, learned and grew, and worked just like you do! However, though He was man after the substance of His father Adam—your father Adam—He was sinless, as is the very nature of His Father in heaven.
Now, come as man, Jesus becomes your Substitute. He was baptized, sanctifying water as a washing of regeneration. He ministered to people of all sorts and conditions, healing them, raising them from the dead, giving them the wisdom of the ages if they had the ears to hear. He made His way to Jerusalem where He would stand before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, silently and innocently receiving the accusations of sinfulness, and the guilt that goes along with it. Then, dripping with the guilt and shame of your sins and sinfulness, He was led to a hill outside the city, where He was nailed to a cross like a common Roman criminal. Ecce homo! Behold the man! See the Victim. And He died.
In the midst of earthly life, you are in death. It is there, hanging from the cross, that you see the condemnation for your sins. Look closely, dear hearers, for it is only found there. That means, Jesus being your substitute, that the condemnation for your sins lies not with you!
Joseph and Nicodemus bury the body of Jesus. He rested in the tomb and so sanctified the graves of all believers as sepulchers which will keep these mortal remains until the days of immortality. Because, here’s where your help comes from, dear hearers: the grave did not hold the Son of God. It could not. He burst forth from those bindings, leaving death and sin and destruction behind. He rose—the Victim is the Victor.
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. (John 11:25-26)
Never die? But, “In the midst of life we are in death.” Yes, death surrounds you on all side, reminding you of your mortality. Though sanctified and washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, confessing faith in Jesus Christ as your only Savior, your bodies will see death. However, for the sake of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, your Savior, death is a conquered enemy, no longer to be feared, but to be met as the portal to life immortal. (cf. Philippians 1:21)
The death of Jesus Christ your Lord is the shedding of His blood as your atonement. The resurrection of Jesus Christ your Lord is your victory over death and the grave. For the sake of Christ, you are forgiven. For the sake of Christ, you will live forever, even though you may die.
Therefore, hallelujah, Christ is risen! [Let the congregation respond.] Shouts of Christ is risen have been ringing out the world over. It started centuries ago at the grave of Jesus, as the angels said to the woman, and it has been continuing for those centuries since, Sunday after Sunday, as Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen is proclaimed. Even among families who have lost love ones—whether an elderly parent, a stillborn child, or anything in between—the greeting is made, “Christ is risen!” In those places that have suffered terrorist bombings, such as in Tanta and Alexandria, Egypt, where the blood of martyrs stained the face of Christ just one week ago, the greeting is made, “Christ is risen!”
The death of loved ones and the loss of the martyrs is mourned, but you rejoice in the life that they have been given in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You will be mourned, too, on the day that God deems to call you from this earthly life, but there will also be much rejoicing that day, bittersweet that it may be, because of the eternal life that you have been given for the sake of Jesus Christ.
A man who was at one of the Coptic churches bombed on Palm Sunday was interviewed. This man lost his wife and daughter to the heinous act. When asked how he felt, he responded,
I am not sad, but happy that they have received the crown of glory the Lord has promised them. They are safer now than if they were with me. I have my limits but Christ has no limitations. I rejoice that the Lord has made this possible for them to spend it with Him ALWAYS. Is there anything sweeter or better than being with Your Lord and God? The prophet David said, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
Praise God for the death of His saints—rejoice at the death of the martyrs. They have that for which you still endeavor. “By them are chanted songs that ne’er to mortal ears were granted.” They have received the crown of life which Jesus Himself promised: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10b) This you look forward to, especially as you cry out, “Hallelujah, Christ is risen!” [Let the congregation respond.]
Christ has no limits, as the father confessed on Egyptian TV! He is the author of Life, and death is no limit for it—not for Doris Bissitt, not for Sebastian, not for the Egyptian martyrs, and not for any of His saints who have gone before you with the sign of faith and now rest in their hallowed chambers. And His grace and life are limitless for you, He has promised to you the same crown of life which they now wear. It’s a reversal of that 14th century hymn: in the midst of death, you are in life, the life given you for the sake of Jesus Christ, for whose sake also, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I know that my Redeemer lives.” It’s not so strange in this day and age, however. The church lives in the post-ascension age. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ is ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. Christ will come again. So, sitting there now, having come through Holy Week, to this most holy night, it might not be on the tip of your tongue to proclaim the resurrection, but it has happened.
It is your hope, and this night is all about that hope. This is the first opportunity to celebrate that Christ is risen; hallelujah! It is an acknowledgment of what the church looks forward to—of what you look forward to. For when Christ comes again, the dead will rise in a resurrection like His.
Therefore, on this most holy of nights, the church historically has celebrated Holy Baptism. Catechumens who received instruction before being baptized, like the Ethiopian Eunuch (cf. Acts 8:26-40), were baptized this night. Imagine that, if you would, a service at which dozens, if not hundreds, of people were baptized and added to the church.
What is done today is a remembrance of baptism—of your baptism. Throughout Lent, the font was in the back of the church so that the first thing you saw upon entering was water to remind you that you are baptized. A note accompanied the font, reminding you of your dustiness—your fallen earthiness to which you will someday return—but also of the fact that you are bought with a price. Last night was a stark reminder of the price for your salvation. Finally, you were reminded that you are baptized—that Christ’s death and resurrection are yours personally, given to you with the faith to believe it in that most blessed flood.
So, tonight, you recited the rite of Holy Baptism. No one was baptized tonight, but you were all reminded of the vows made in your stead (or perhaps you said them yourselves later in life) as you were brought to that font or one like it, drowned with all sin and evil desire, and a New Man emerged to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. You were asked the same questions that were asked the first time you visited the font. Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? Do you believe in God the Father Almighty? In Jesus Christ? In the Holy Ghost? You were told, once again, that the flood corresponds to baptism, that by water, the world was purged of sin, and that the righteous were saved by grace in the church of the ark.
You were reminded of your vows, mostly likely spoken for you. Have you lived up to them? Not in the slightest. You have said that you renounce the devil and his works and his ways, yet you still sin against your brother and against God. You know the Ten Commandments—in these you have been catechized and, hopefully, reminded of again and again. To a letter, not one of you has kept a single one of them. What was said of the Jews who had believe in Jesus can be said of you, “You are of your father the devil...he is a liar and the father of it.” (cf. John 8:31, 44) Yes, dear hearers, you have spoken these things, but you have not kept to them—you have lied.
And you said them tonight, again, affirming your rejection of the devil, his works, and his ways. You were probably here last year, saying the same thing. Yet, as it has been in the days since last year’s Vigil, so it will be again in the days following this year’s Vigil. You speak with your mouth, but your actions betray you.
On top of that, tonight, you have heard further affirmation of baptismal vows as two young men confirmed the vows made for them at their baptisms, having been prepared for reception of the Lord’s Supper. These are the same vows you have made. They acknowledge the gifts that God gave them in baptism—forgiveness, life, and salvation. The confessed the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God. The confessed the Small Catechism to be faithful and true with regard to Scripture. They vowed to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. They confessed an intention to remain faithful to the Triune God until death. They confessed—and this is the big one, right?—rather to suffer death than fall away from the faith that they have been taught and confessed.
How many who have been confirmed have kept to these vows? Not many. The joke—sad joke that it is—is that confirmation is often viewed as graduation, and that after being confirmed, you can be done with church until it is time to have your own children baptized and confirmed. Did they even hear the words that they said? But that’s not the only thing. How many can confess to hearing the Word of God and receiving the Sacrament faithfully, week-in-and-week-out, since they have been confirmed? Other than illness or the call of one’s vocation, have any of you done anything or been anywhere when you could otherwise have been here or a place just like this? So, as you heard the young men speak tonight, be reminded that you have said the same things in years past, and again, you have spoken with your mouths, but your actions betray you.
In fact, your actions proclaim the sinfulness of your flesh. They demonstrate the sin and trouble of this world. They confess the temptations of the devil.
However, there is that Lord’s Supper. For what purpose did Jesus institute this Holy Sacrament of His very body and true blood? In his Lutheran Catechesis, Rev. Peter Bender wrote, “The Lord’s Supper gives us Christ’s body and blood as medicine against our sinful flesh, the sin and trouble of this world, and the temptations of the devil. This sacrament is given so that we might learn to believe that Christ, out of great love, died for our sin, and also learn from Him to love God and our neighbor.”
Given your broken vows, you may want to ask, “Am I worthy to receive the Sacrament?” Well, who receives the Sacrament worthily? As I have tried to drive home with those young men, he who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Do you believe those words? If yes, then you are worthy.
Revel in the present tense of that—you ARE worthy. It works in so many other ways, too. You ARE baptized. You ARE forgiven. You ARE faithful. Revel, also, in the passive voice, for these things are done to you, externally, outside from yourself, apart from any worth or merit in yourself. Therefore, you are MADE worthy by the grace and mercy of God, who has given you faith to believe those words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Therefore, you see the table prepared. Jesus Christ, who has died, is risen and ascended, and is present among you with His grace to work in you His righteousness and forgiveness. Come to the feast, the feast is ready. Come, you who labor and are heavy laden, because here is your rest. Jesus rested in His tomb for a time, whom you know to be alive again, now bids you come and rest in Him who finished it all for you. Yes, your Redeemer lives, and He gives you that life in the Sacrament of His body and blood. Come, you redeemed of the Lord, this feast is for you, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And it was one of those creatures that was found to be the craftiest of all that God had made—the serpent. Satan used this serpent to trick Adam and the woman, and by his cunning, they doubted what God had really said, even though the man had heard it directly from the lips of God. They saw each other differently. No longer was their nakedness something for which they need not be ashamed, but it now revealed one to be evil to the other. God’s curse confirmed this, and life was never the same again for the two of them and their progeny; death had entered the picture. It is begun!
They also saw God as evil. After all, they did hide themselves from Him, as if that were even possible, because they were naked and afraid. Their physical appearance didn’t bother them, but they feared what God would do when He would look upon them and see their wickedness.
There’s a saying uttered by those who deny any sort of moral authority: “Only God can judge me.” If they really believed that, they should be sorely afraid, like Adam and the woman. While you have little authority to judge your fellow man by any standard that is your own, God has the ultimate and final judgment on all mankind, and it isn’t pretty or even bearable.
For instance, as His own people were being led out of Egypt to their own land, they rejected the moral authority of God. They cried out against Him, blaming Him for all of their troubles, grumbling that He had brought them out of Egypt and into the wilderness to die, and even rejected the bread from heaven—the manna sent from God—as worthless. In God’s infinite judgment, He sent fiery serpents into the camp; many people were bitten and died. That crafty creature was used against the people as an agent of God’s wrath; it wasn’t pretty, nor could the people bear it.
They cried to Moses to plead with God to bring an end to the serpents. The serpents had laid bare the sins of the people, and they confessed their sins against God and Moses. God heard their cries for mercy and instructed Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:8) Moses did as he was instructed. When someone from the People of Israel was bitten, he would look upon the bronze serpent and live. The agent of death was placed on a pole, and when the strike of death came upon a person, he could look at this representation and live.
Jesus pointed this out when He met with Nicodemus at night. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up...” (John 3:14) This evening, you have heard of the Son of Man’s being lifted up. You have heard of His trial, His conviction, His sentence. You have heard of His being beaten and scourged, being crowned with thorns, being pierced with nails, and finally being driven through with a spear.
This is the wrath of God for the sins of the world! For there on the cross is the fullest measure of God’s wrath being exacted against the fullest measure of the sin of man. Into His own flesh did Jesus assume every sin and all sinfulness. Behold the Lamb of God! Look at Him, if you dare, for there is no greater sinner than the Man hanging on the cross. It’s a gruesome sight, more than a mere snakebite.
There is no greater proclamation of the Law than Jesus Christ crucified. Behold the Lamb of God! Look at Him, seeing Him hanging on the tree of the cross. You should be there. There’s no sense in denying it. You are the sinner, and He is the innocent Man, yet He dies, and you live.
Yes, you are snake-bitten with sin. You are inclined to evil like your father, Adam. Naturally, in this fallen state, you see everyone else as evil and your God—your Creator and Father in heaven—as wicked. You should fear Him, as only He can judge you. But there is an antidote to this snake-bite: the Son of Man being lifted up.
And so, the greatest proclamation of the Law becomes for you the Gospel. Do not think that you crucified Jesus; though your sins are the cause for Him being on the cross, He still chose to die for you. He chose to take upon Himself your sin and the punishment you deserve so that you would not have to. There, on the cross, He carries the full weight of your sin, and that of your neighbor. He suffers the full wrath of God in your stead, so that you may look upon Him and live. You live for His sake because the full wrath of God was exercised against His Son, and there is none left for you.
That is, of course, unless you deign remain in your trespasses and sins. For, if you deny the moral authority of the Father, then you also deny the grace and mercy that is the Son and His all-atoning sacrifice. The Law declares you a sinner; the Gospel declares you forgiven for the sake of Christ.
Behold Him, look on Him and live. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness So Jesus, the Son of Man is lifted up, so that all who look on Him will live. He is the antiserum of death, He has taken the sting of death into Himself He has absorbed the killing power of sin—the Law. Behold the Lamb. (Anonymous)
“Behold the Man,” Pilate said. “Behold the Lamb,” said John. They are one and the same. The Man who is the Lamb who is your sin, your propitiation, your death, your life, your atonement. He breathed His last, giving His life as your ransom, and the sting of the snake-bite of death is removed from you. And He died.