Good Friday 2018


Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
This I do merit.

O wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded,
That brought Thee here, by foes and thieves surrounded!
All worldly pleasures, heedless, I was trying
While Thou wert dying.

O mighty King, no time can dim Thy glory!
How shall I spread abroad Thy wondrous story?
How shall I find some worthy gifts to proffer?
What dare I offer?

But worthless is my sacrifice, I own it;
Yet, Lord, for love’s sake Thou wilt not disown it;
Thou wilt accept my gift in Thy great meekness
Nor shame my weakness.

And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.

— “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken?”
LSB 439:3, 7-8, 14-15.


Good Friday 2017


He took our bad, and replaced it with his good.  This Friday is good.

How blest shall be, Eternally
Who oft in faith will ponder
Why the glorious Prince of life
Should be buried yonder.

O Jesus blest, My Help and Rest,
With tears I now entreat you:
Make me love you to the last
Till in heaven I greet you.

— “Oh, Darkest Woe,” CW 137:4-5.

The colors and light in the photograph are soft and heavenly because the harsh cross that Christ endured is the way to heaven.  Good Friday is the way to Resurrection Sunday.

“It is finished!”

The Religion of Conan the Barbarian

He [Conan] had entered the part of the city reserved for the temples.  On all sides of him they glittered white in the starlight—snowy marble pillars and golden domes and silver arches, shrines of Zamora’s myriad strange gods.  He did not trouble his head about them; he knew that Zamora’s religion, like all things of a civilized, long-settled people, was intricate and complex, and had lost most of the pristine essence in a maze of formulas and rituals.  He had squatted for hours in the courtyards of the philosophers, listening to the arguments of theologians and teachers, and come away in a haze of bewilderment, sure of only one thing, and that, that they were all touched in the head.

His [Conan’s] gods were simple and understandable; Crom was their chief, and he lived on a great mountain, whence he sent forth dooms and death.  It was useless to call on Crom, because he was a gloomy, savage god, and he hated weaklings.  But he gave a man courage at birth, and the will and might to kill his enemies, which, in the Cimmerian’s mind, was all any god should be expected to do.

(The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard, pages 64-65).

I enjoy Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories, and usually rue the fact that Howard committed suicide at age 30.  He lived from 1906 to 1936 A.D., and that’s a life too short.  I’ve never seen any evidence of Christianity in his writings, and all lives whether they be 30 years or 80 years are far too short compared to an eternity in Christ.

The reason I enjoy Howard’s Conan stories is because there is something elemental to human nature in them, or in Conan.  He believes in the gods, but is wise enough to reject the mysteries and secret powers of complex man-made religions and philosophies; instinctively knowing that the physically weak priests and philosophers use those “formulas and rituals” to attain power, just as he would use his sword to attain power.  A complex man-made religion is simply a tool of the hierocracy.  A simple religion is better for Conan, and yet, who can understand Crom?  Any god that could be fully understood by any man would be no god at all.  Truth and wonder cannot be separated.

In his fallen nature, which is barbarism, man can grope toward the real God of the Law: a God of “dooms and death” who hates sinners and weaklings.  That would all be true.  But thankfully someone came to add to the truth, to be truth himself: Jesus Christ.  Only through the revelation of Jesus Christ can we see the mercy of God.  He is the truth, both simple and complex, both fully man and fully God.  Only the Holy Spirit can give us the sight to see his cross as not just more “dooms and death,” but mercy and life.

Spring Fire

I took this picture in an attempt to capture a tongue of flame image for Pentecost.  This picture may not be suitable for Pentecost, but I do think it is a pleasing image.  Fire has its own sort of beauty.

I often wonder what the fires of Pentecost and the Old Testament were.  Moses saw a burning bush that did not burn.  What kind of fire does not burn or consume?  Will there be fire in heaven?  Instead of burning and consuming, will heaven’s fire build and heal?  If so, that would not be the first time God used something that was known to destroy, to heal.  The cross.

Death came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But life came from a tree of death: the cross.

On the cross, Christ suffered the fire of hell and death.  But the cross and death of Christ were like the burning bush of Moses, they did not consume.  By his cross, he heals.

Good Friday

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Mark 15:16-24:

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace … and called together the whole company of soldiers.  They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!”  Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him.  Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him.  And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him.  Then they led him out to crucify him…

They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull).  Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.  And they crucified him.

In Psalm 22:16 the prophet wrote of the coming Messiah:

Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.

About 700 years B.C. (Before Christ), the Prophet Isaiah wrote (in chapter 53) about the coming Messiah:

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth…

After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

“It is finished.”  — Jesus

What does the Cross Symbolize?

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The cross symbolizes man’s evil and God’s mercy.

Did Jesus want to die on the cross?  No.  He wanted there to be another way:  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  (Luke 22:42).  He accepted the Father’s will, and died for our sins.

Did God want Jesus to die on the cross?  No.  He wanted another way.  (Luke 22:42).  God’s original plan was that man would not sin at all.  However, Adam and Eve disobeyed him and broke his law.  He permitted sin in the garden, and at the cross.

If we had not killed the sinless Son of God, then we might have shown that we did not need a savior.  But it was God’s will that events should follow the natural course of our fallen nature, so that our true evil nature would be fully displayed.  Our rebellion in the garden reached its full fruition when we nailed God to a tree.

Some people believe that there is some good in some men that allow them to merit God’s favor.  But they forget that we are all related by blood, that like Cain we are all descendants from the first man, that we all share the same family tree.  In “Adam all die.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22).

You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, “If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”  So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets…  You snakes!  You brood of vipers!  How will you escape being condemned to hell?  [Matthew 23:29-33].

The cross is a symbol of our evil.  God did not invent the cross, we did.  God did not nail his Son to the tree, we did.  Yet through it, Christ overcame sin, death, and the devil.

Now, through faith we become brothers with Christ sharing both his blood and his triumph.  “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers … they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:10).  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The cross says much about us, but it says more about God.



This article was first published in my church’s 2001 May newsletter.  The picture is of the sun glinting off of the large metal cross on the steeple.

“It Matters” by R.J. Neuhaus

Today is Holy Cross Day.  The excerpts below were taken from Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on The Last Words of Jesus From the Cross, by Richard John Neuhaus (pages 8-11).  On the cross, Jesus atoned for the sins of the world.

“Atonement.”  It is a fine, solid, twelfth-century Middle English word, the kind of word one is inclined to trust.  Think of at-one-ment:  What was separated is now at one.  But after such a separation there can be no easy reunion.  Reconciliation must do justice to what went wrong.  It will not do to merely overlook the wrong.  We could not bear to live in a world where wrong is taken lightly, where right and wrong finally make no difference.  In such a world, we—what we do and what we are—would make no difference.  Spare me a gospel of easy love that makes of my life a thing without consequence.

Again, St. Paul says God was in Christ “not counting their trespasses against them.”  Atonement is not an accountant’s trick.  It is not a kindly overlooking; it is not a not counting of what must count if anything in heaven or on earth is to matter.  God could not simply decide not to count without declaring that we do not count…

Forgive and forget, they say, but that is surely wrong.  What is forgotten need not, indeed cannot be forgiven.  Love does not say to the beloved that it does not matter, for the beloved matters.  Spare me the sentimental love that tells me what I do and what I am does not matter.

Forgiveness costs.  Forgiveness costs dearly…  Forgiveness is not forgetfulness; not counting their trespasses is not a kindly accountant winking at what is wrong; it is not a benign cooking of the books.  In the world, in our own lives, something has gone dreadfully wrong, and it must be set right.  Recall when you were a little child and somebody—maybe you—did something very bad.  Maybe a lie was told, some money was stolen or the cookie jar lay shattered on the kitchen floor.  The bad thing has been found out, and now something must happen, something must be done about it.  The fear of punishment is terrible, but not as terrible as the thought that nothing will happen, that bad things don’t matter.  If bad things don’t matter, then good things don’t matter, and then nothing matters and the meaning of everything lies shattered like the cookie jar on the kitchen floor.

Trust that child’s intuition.  “Unless you become as little children,” Jesus said, “you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Unless we are stripped of our habits of forgetting, of our skillful making of excuses, of our jaded acceptance of a world in which bad things happen and it doesn’t matter.

This, then, is our circumstance.  Something has gone dreadfully wrong with the world, and with us in the world.

It matters.

“Something has gone dreadfully wrong with the world, and with us in the world.”  Once we fully realize the awful consequential truth of that statement, the question becomes, “Now what?”  The answer is Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead which paid for the sins of the world and brings his life into our human flesh.  The answer is the Atonement accomplished on the cross.  This Atonement was not easy.  It was not cheap.  He paid dearly for us.  This matters.

He matters.