Misericordias Domini, The Second Sunday After Easter April 18, 1999
Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? So far the Holy Word.
In Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
There is a crisis of Biblical illiteracy in our country today. I’m not talking, now, about the millions of adults who can’t read. I’m talking about the millions of adults—including Christians—who can and do read just about everything—except the Bible. In a survey, only 18% of Christians said they read the Bible every day. On the other end of the scale, a full 25% of Christians admitted that they never read the Bible at all.
Unfortunately, that unwillingness to read the Bible shows up in Scriptural ignorance. For instance, a third of all Christians surveyed thought that there was a “Book of Thomas” in the Bible. Almost half weren’t sure whether Jonah was a book of the Bible or not. 30% couldn’t name the town in which Christ was born. A quarter of Christians didn’t even know that Jesus had 12 disciples; guesses ranged from as few as two, to over 20.
How good is your Bible literacy? For instance, what would you answer if I asked you how many Commandments there are? Well that’s easy—you’d say ten, of course, and you’d be right. Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, written on tablets of stone. But did you know that there was an Eleventh Commandment, too? This was a special commandment that God the Father didn’t give to everybody—this commandment He gave only to His Son, Jesus Christ. And our text for today shows us that—in the words of our theme—
Of course, we know that Jesus obeyed the Ten Commandments down to the last detail. He loved and served His heavenly Father perfectly. He truly “loved His neighbor as He loved Himself;” in fact, more that He loved Himself!
In contrast, you and I have to admit that we haven’t kept the Ten Commandments. Every day we fail to love God and our neighbor as we should. James reminds us that “…Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” —Js 2:10. And each of us has stumbled in many points. We’ve dug ourselves into a hole of sin that we’d never be able to get out of on our own. That’s where what I call "The Eleventh Commandment" comes in. In order to provide us a way out of our transgressions, the Father gave His beloved Son a special commandment to carry out. Even though Jesus had kept the other ten perfectly, God gave Him an Eleventh Commandment.
What was the Eleventh Commandment? Jesus describes it in our text. He says, Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again… This commandment have I received of my Father. This was Father’s plan—that a perfect, holy sacrifice would be given to atone for the sins of the world. This was the reason He sent Jesus into the world. Jesus drew the assignment of fulfilling that special commandment. Jesus would offer His own innocent life on the cross to pay the price of sin, “that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” —Heb 2:9.
—That was part of the plan. But the plan included Easter Sunday as well as Good Friday, the empty tomb as well as the cross of suffering. If Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead on the third day, then Paul says we Christians would be the most miserable people on earth. The plan was never that Jesus would simply give up His life, but that He would emerge from His battle with Satan alive, with a triumphant victory for Him and for us! From the very beginning, Jesus predicted, “I lay down my life that I might take it again.” That was the Eleventh Commandment—that Jesus should die for the sins of the world and rise again. That was the commandment Jesus received from His Father, and that was the commandment He obeyed!
How did He obey it? He obeyed it voluntarily, of His own choice. Jesus stresses that in our text. He says, I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
I knew a guy once who was a Viet Nam vet. He was part of a large group of men from his area who volunteered together. When the group was divided up for processing, he saw that most of them were joining the army, and a number were joining the air force. He was the only one volunteering for the marines! Later on he found out why—the marines drew the toughest duty in Viet Nam, and suffered the highest casualty rates. At that time, people generally thought it was amazing that anyone would volunteer to join the marines!
More amazing still is the fact that Jesus volunteered to carry out God’s will in redeeming us. I’m afraid we don’t often think about the voluntary nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, and how much pain that must have caused Him. We know that Jesus came to suffer and die to redeem us, so it seems to us to be kind of automatic—as though He didn’t have any choice. But Jesus did have a choice. He could have passed up the bitter cup of suffering without drinking it to the bottom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He had a choice. He even prayed that, if possible, that cup might pass from Him—but He qualified that prayer by saying, “Father, Thy will, not mine, be done.” No wonder the sweat stood out on his face “…as it were like great drops of blood”! How hard it must have been to make that choice! When the soldiers came to arrest Him He had a choice. He told Peter, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” —Mat 26:54.
Yes, Jesus had a choice whether or not to obey that Eleventh Commandment. The Father’s will was that He die for the sins of the world and rise again, but He had the power to disobey the Father’s will, if He chose to. We’ve got that same power, don’t we? —The power to disobey God’s will for our lives, break His commandments, and go our own way. And much too often, that’s exactly what we do! It’s precisely for this reason Jesus could not allow Himself to disobey. Because we were disobedient, Jesus had to obey. Because we were rebellious, Jesus had to submit. Because we were weak, Jesus had to be strong. Because all of had failed, Jesus could not afford to fail. And praise the Lord, He did not fail! He obeyed His Father’s will, and carried out the plan to completion!
Jesus was “delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification.” With His death on the cross, Jesus wiped out our sins; with His resurrection on Easter Sunday, He announced a verdict of “not guilty” for each of us. Ever since that day, Christians have been spreading the Good News, telling people around the world that forgiveness of sins and life eternal is available in Christ. But a funny thing seems to happen whenever that Gospel is preached—it causes division. It happened in our text, and it’s still happening today!
In our text, Jesus tells the Jews plainly that He is the Son of God, and he’s come to do the Father’s will by laying down His life for the world. Notice how they react: There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
They thought Jesus was crazy! And it does seem crazy, when you think about it. For instance, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” -Does that sound normal to you? In my previous parish I had several members who kept sheep. They took pretty good care of them, so that they could make a good profit. But no sheep rancher in his right mind would even think of sacrificing his own life for the sake of his sheep! It doesn’t make sense! And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus did for us.
Why does the message of the cross always cause division? Because to the unbelievers, that message is just crazy. Paul tells us that “The Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.” It doesn’t make sense to them, and they get angry when people like us hold onto the Gospel as our most precious possession we’ve got. Dear members, if you haven’t felt that anger in your life up till now, believe me, you will! Oh, people won’t mind if you call yourself a Christian. They won’t even care that you’re a Lutheran, as long as you don’t stand up for the Gospel. But as soon as you insist that all of God’s Word is true, look out! As soon as you confess that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved, and that every other path leads directly to hell, people are going to get angry. As soon as you show in your life that you’re not going to compromise a single one of the pure doctrines of Scripture—then get ready for a fight, because you are definitely going to have a fight on your hands! Jesus told us to expect it when He said, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” —Lk 12:51.
That day, Jesus told the Jews about the Eleventh Commandment. His Father’s commandment was that He lay down His life for the sins of the world, and rise again. And as always, these words caused a division. Some of them thought He was crazy, or even demon-possessed. But …others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind? Many of them had seen the miracles Jesus performed, and they knew He wasn’t insane or possessed. Some of them asked, Is not this the Christ? When the Christ comes, could He do more powerful miracles than this Man does?
My friends, you and I have seen the miracles of Jesus, too. Isn’t it true? If you examine your life, each of you will find miracles, miracles that could only have come from a loving God. At the top of the list is the miracle that the Holy Ghost has worked in your heart—the miracle of faith. By faith you believe that, because Jesus kept all God’s commandments for you—including the Eleventh!—you can now claim perfect holiness in God’s sight. Through Christ, the doors of heaven stand wide open to sinners like you and me! And if that’s not a miracle, if that’s not “opening the eyes of the blind,” I’d like to know what is!
As long as the world endures, there will continue to be division. People will continue to think that the Gospel is crazy. They may even call us crazy to believe it. But let us, as Paul said, “…continue to hold fast the confession of our faith without wavering.” We haven’t kept the commandments, and we know it. So let’s make sure we hang on tight to Jesus Christ, who did keep all the commandments for us. At this Easter season, let us rejoice that He even kept the Eleventh Commandment—He laid down His life for our sins, and rose again for our justification! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.