Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we come to the last of our Wednesday midweek Lenten worship services for this year, let’s backtrack for a moment and review where we’ve been. Each week, we’ve encountered some “creatures of the cross.” That is, some animals—real or symbolic—which played a role in God’s plan to save us from our sins and bring us to eternal life in heaven.
In the first week, we met the serpent of death—Satan, who tempted Adam and Eve into disobeying God and falling under the death sentence of sin. We also learned about a serpent of life—the bronze serpent God had Moses make and hang on a pole so that those who looked on it in faith would be saved from the fiery serpents He had sent among them due to their rebellion. We also learned that Jesus could be considered both a serpent of death and a serpent of life. He was the serpent of death in that He took all the poison of our sin into His own body, becoming for a time the focus of all evil in creation so He could kill it on the cross. Yet He is also a Serpent of Life, the Son of Man lifted up on that cross so He could be looked upon in fear, love, and trust as our Savior from that sin.
In the second week, we spoke of the dove that departs, and the dove that abides. Noah sent forth a dove from the ark after the flood waters had destroyed the world, to see if it was safe for him, his family, and the animals to return to the new, cleansed earth. It eventually did not return, so Noah knew there were places for birds to land and animals and people to live, and they left the ark. We also learned how at Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove, visually confirming what the Father’s voice echoed from heaven: That Jesus was the Son of God, and that He was doing the Father’s will in proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, and how that kingdom would come about through His death. That same Holy Spirit not only abided with Jesus to uplift and support Him during His ministry, but also is sent to us and abides with us and with all believers when we become members of the family of God through the gift of faith.
In the third week, we met two donkeys. First, the donkey of the prophet Balaam, who was asked by a king to come and curse the people of Israel but was stopped from doing so through God’s use of that donkey. Second, the donkey used by Jesus to come into Jerusalem. He came as the King of God’s people, sent by our heavenly Father to become a curse for us, so that through His suffering and death we could be blessed for all time.
Then, last week, we heard about lions. David, who would become king of Israel, fought physical lions to protect the flocks of his father’s sheep. Jesus would come as the Lion out of the tribe of Judah to do cosmic battle with our age-old enemy, Satan, who prowls around as a spiritual lion, seeking to devour us through temptation, sin, and doubt. Jesus does not devour us, though, but feeds us Himself, both in His precious Word and in the Holy Sacrament of His Supper.
Today, finally, we encounter lambs. Long ago in Egypt, suffering under a heavy burden of slavery and ruled by a proud, merciless king, God’s people cry out to Him for help. He sends them a prophet, Moses, to confront their predicament, and supports him with mighty signs and wonders. When it is time for the people to be released from their captivity, God requires a perfect, innocent lamb to be killed. The lamb is to go through fire. The people are to be marked with the blood of the lamb. They are to eat the lamb. And they are to remember for all time the great mercy and power of God, which provided them protection and rescue while those who rejected His message die. They were “passed over” by the destruction and death, marked and counted as faithful by God.
Many centuries later, when all the world continued to live under the heavy burden of their sin, ruled by the oppression of Satan and our own sinfulness, God sent His Son. Like Moses, Jesus had to be rescued as an infant from death at the order of a selfish, maniacal king who feared a threat to his earthly rule. When He was grown, Jesus confronted evil and cruelty, just as Moses did when he killed the violent Egyptian. Jesus beat it back with miracles of healing and sustenance, and words of hope and wisdom. Like Moses, Jesus went off into the wilderness to be prepared to serve the purpose to which God called and sent Him. Like Moses, Jesus confronted earthly rulers and told them the dangers of rejecting God’s will.
But unlike Moses, Jesus didn’t simply order up the killing of lambs to provide blood for temporary protection and food for fleeting nourishment. As John the Baptist described Him, Jesus became the very Lamb of God Himself. He was the one who had no blemish, no spot, no stain, no flaw or sin of His own. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice.
Slaughtered on the cross, Jesus, the Lamb of God, spilled His blood so that it could mark us as God’s own, and form a shield of protection around us—a robe of righteousness in which God sees us covered by Jesus’ redemption. Jesus endured the flames of God’s wrath, prepared to be our Passover meal of nourishment and strengthening, preparing us for our journey away from the oppressive land of sin, through the stark, threatening wilderness of this world, and into the Promised Land of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Though you still struggle in this life with oppression, want, and threats, the kingdom is your certain possession; it will be fully realized in you when you experience your own visitation by death. But you will not die hopeless like those who reject God’s promises in Christ; you have been purchased and won by the precious blood of Jesus, which seals your safety not just for a one-night Passover, but for eternity.
In our final Bible lesson today, St. John communicates to us the magnificent wonder of heaven in beautiful, eloquent language. The Holy Spirit guides him to describe the indescribable, so that with our limited human comprehension, we might have some understanding of how spectacular is the future which awaits us with God. First, we, the Church, are the Bride of Jesus, the Lamb. We are the New Jerusalem, a city far more glorious than anything we have ever seen. Huge, perfect, symmetrical—everything exactly as it ought to be, radiant and shining with the glory of God.
Being here on earth with the promises fully ours but not yet fulfilled, we come into God’s presence to receive His gifts here in this place, this temple made with human hands. Yet in eternity, we are told, there will be no temple in the holy, heavenly city. We will continually be in God’s presence, so God the Father and Jesus, the Lamb of God will be our temple. Our fellowship with Him will be perfect, true, and serene—like that of Adam and Eve before the fall into sin, but even better! For there will be no night to darken our view of God’s glory; there will be no threats requiring the gates to be closed; there will be all the glory and honor of the world, and more.
Satan and all things harmful will be banished: No temptation, no sin, no disease, violence, injury or death. Nothing unclean or detestable, we are told. Instead, we will be surrounded by all those whom God has brought to faith, our names written in the Lamb’s book of life. The river of the water of life will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb, satisfying our every need in the food that it nourishes and the comfort it provides. We will reign with the Lamb forever and ever, and our joy will be perfect and complete.
In the holy (X) name of Jesus. Amen.