an old fable you’ve probably heard. I know it’s old, because it originated in
ancient Greece even before the time of Jesus. A fox is venturing through the
woods one day, and comes upon a lush vine, covered with large, juicy, succulent
grapes. There’s only one problem—the grapes are all hanging high in the air,
well out of the fox’s reach. Try as he might to jump up to reach them, strive
as he might to run up the nearby trees to snag a few pieces of that
delicious-looking fruit, they remain inaccessible to him. In frustration and
disgust, the fox finally gives up and goes on his way, saying to himself,
“Well, those grapes were probably sour, anyway.”
this fable, we get our phrase, “sour grapes,” referring to any situation where
someone degrades or criticizes something, just because it’s not available to him.
the final minutes of His horrible suffering, as His breath becomes shallow and even
His tongue fulfills the prophesy of sticking dryly to the roof of His mouth,
Jesus asks for something to drink.
this case, all that is available to the Creator of all good things is a jar of
sour grapes, or rather sour pressed grapes. Like the grapes to the fox, the
relief Jesus sought is somewhat out of His reach. It takes some assistance
from a nearby observer of the crucifixion to provide even this unsatisfying
moisture to the dying Savior. A sip of wine vinegar, and all is finished.
That’s it. That’s the end. He’s done for. He’s so far gone, so dead, that
the soldiers don’t even bother to break His legs like they do the others.
just to make absolutely certain He hasn’t just fainted or gone into a coma, one
of the soldiers took a spear and lances this vessel which had borne the filthy,
infectious, abscess of our sin. And what comes flowing forth from the
Messiah’s side is not the rancid pus of our deadly transgressions, the nekros
of our sin, but blood and water—the liquids of life.
had given the Israelites strict ceremonial dietary laws. A part of following
these laws was to refrain from eating meat that still had the blood in it, for God
said that the life was in the blood. And water; well… water is the very
essence of life, is it not? Ground with plenty of water is lush and green and
fresh and productive, and land without water is dry and dead and brown and
world looks upon Christ crucified, and says, like the fox, “Oh, that
Christianity; I can’t comprehend it. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve got
more important things to do. Who needs it? It’s nothing but sour grapes!”
in walking away in frustration and disgust, those who reject God’s gift of
salvation in Jesus turn their backs and leave behind the sweet and succulent
fruit of the tree of life. Perhaps, like the fox, they were going about it all
wrong. We can’t ask God, “How high are the grapes?” and jump that high. Nor
can we scale the tree of life to take hold of that precious nourishment which
grants us life eternal.
we can simply wait beneath the cross, beneath that glorious tree, and let Him
who scaled its height for us bring down the fruit which saves. It’s no sour
grapes, no dried-up bitter bunch, growing on parched land. This fruit is full
and sweet and delicious, irrigated by the rushing blood and water from His
pierced side, and fertilized by the very Bread of Life. “Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus said to His listeners
long before, “for they shall be satisfied.”
is yours, won on the cross by Him who partook of the sour grapes for you. Your
hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied in Christ Jesus. You are
moistened in the waters of the font, and more than just your palette is
cleansed. You are fed with the body and blood sacrificed on that precious
tree, and you receive more than just satisfaction. It is finished. The fully satisfying
meal of righteousness has been made yours…when they nailed Him to the tree.
very next line of that old Southern spiritual asks, “Were you there when
they laid Him in the tomb?” Like all the stanzas of that song, it repeats
that phrase twice before moving on to the next line: “Sometimes, it causes me
to tremble… tremble… tremble.” No, you and I weren’t there when they laid Him
in the tomb—but our sins were, and for that we ought to both tremble and give
of Arimathea was there, too. Nicodemus was there as well. They laid Jesus’
body in the tomb in fear and trembling, but also with dignity and with love,
for these men knew and believed in Jesus. But now, it seemed, their faith was
a curious mixture of courage and fear these two men possessed. Joseph of
Arimathea, we are told, was a disciple, but a secret one, because he feared the
Jews. A secret disciple, yet bold enough to go ask the Roman governor for the
body of a crucified criminal so it might be buried, usually an act reserved for
those closest to the deceased. In this, Joseph was placing himself at risk,
wasn’t he? Someone was bound to tell the religious leaders who it was that
claimed their enemy’s body, and that would surely put him in hot water.
Nicodemus, he had come to Jesus by night, not openly. Yet it was he who had
stood up for Jesus in the Sanhedrin and said that a man shouldn’t be condemned
without a hearing, only to be accused of being a follower of Jesus and
told—erroneously—that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.
strange pair indeed, these two. They loved Jesus enough to prepare His body
for burial, even with the prospect of persecution looming large. Yet, on the
other hand, they were using myrrh and aloes; substances which were intended to
embalm and preserve the body after death.
acted now, it seems, as if Jesus’ prior statement about arising from the dead
after three days was merely an idle boast. Their faith had become pale; their
recollection was cloudy.
we’re honest with ourselves, and with God, we could probably say the same thing
about our faith, too. We waver between courage and fear, between certainty and
doubt. We have a hard time believing all the miracles sometimes. We have a
problem with the virgin birth. We can believe that Jesus died on the cross,
but we wrestle continuously with the fact that He did it willingly. That He
did it for us. That in His death, He took the full punishment for our sins.
And, especially do we struggle with the incomprehensible truth and gift that
God looks upon Jesus’ suffering and death as full atonement for those sins.
our weaknesses and our wrestlings with those things, we often fear that we have
lost faith, that we have turned away from God and no longer willingly accept
His promises. We sometimes worry that we don’t possess faith in the way the
author of the book of Hebrews defines it: “being sure of what we hope
for and certain of what we do not see.”
want to cry out like the father of the demon-possessed boy: “Lord, I
believe; help my unbelief.”
we, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, feel our faith wavering, when the
promises of God seem to have slipped away from us and we no longer feel that
strong certainty we would like to have about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we
would do well to remember something very important: If you’re worried that you
might have lost your faith, you haven’t lost your faith.
worry is a sign that you still value the sacrifice Christ made for you on the
cross, even if you’ve often and seriously de-valued it. It shows that you
still want to repent of all your sins, including your unbelief. That you still
want to enjoy the blessings God has in store for you, both in this life and the
cling, then, to the objective reality of our baptism. To the objective reality
of our repentance and the absolution pronounced to us. To the objective
realities of the Lord’s body and blood, given to us in the Sacrament. And we
can cling to these because they themselves rest on a foundation of objective
realities, a foundation we confess regularly when we speak the words of the
creed: God the Father, creator of heaven and earth. God the Son, born of the
virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried.
Joseph and Nicodemus wavered, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
They may or may not have heard directly from Jesus that he would rise again on
the third day.
so, we have the benefit of historical perspective on our side. We have nearly two
thousand years of objective reality, two thousands years of Christians the
world over confessing their faith and conveying their confidence in the death
and resurrection of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and the bestowing of
then, from the book of Hebrews, chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are
surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that
hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and
perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,
scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not
grow weary and lose heart.”
is Good Friday, the day our Lord died for us. There have been nearly 2,000
remembrances of it since the day Jesus endured that cross for us. We may face
the same challenges and doubts and fears the Nicodemus and Joseph did that first
Good Friday. But there have also been nearly 2,000 Easters, and unless
something just as wondrous and wonderful as the first Easter takes place in the
next couple of days, there will be another one come Sunday. For now, though,
let us contemplate in word and song the journey that culminates in that stone being
rolled into place, sealing your sin in the ground with Him who bore it on the
cross. Fear not; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.