Beloved. Today we enter the most solemn part of the most solemn time of the Church Year. Tonight is the night we remember each week in the celebration of our Lord’s holy sacrament for tonight is the night in which He was betrayed. Tonight begins the immediate events that lead to Jesus’ suffering and death for the sin of the world. Again, as we so often say and need so often to be reminded of—this was all in fulfillment of prophecy, or put differently, this was all according to plan. God did not cause Judas to betray Jesus, Judas did that of his own free will; God did not cause the Jews to cry out for Jesus’ blood, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” But the all-knowing God knew of this evil from all eternity and used this evil that the devil was working, using it for His good, gracious and saving purposes.
Our text this evening comes from a wonderful section of prophecy from the OT prophet St. Zechariah. A few verses before our text is the Palm Sunday prophecy we heard the holy Evangelist quote saying that it was fulfilled in Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem [9.9]: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And then the prophecy continues, speaking about the Messiah’s kingdom, the Church and the perfect peace that is in it [9.10]: I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Although the kingdom of the Messiah, the Church, is one in which there is perfect peace—the forgiveness of sins and peace with God is given, proclaimed and enjoyed—its spread throughout the world is described in military imagery because the devil and his allies are working to oppose its spread—but in the verses right before our text we are assured of the victory of the Lord and His kingdom, His Church, against all that the devil and his allies can throw against her. It is a long, difficult battle but the victory is the Lord’s; it’s certain.
And this battle for the salvation of the world, for gathering people into the kingdom of the Church, into the kingdom of peace with God, we see beginning tonight with Maundy Thursday when Jesus begins the final struggle to bring about the salvation of the world. And we see Jesus’ triumph on the cross on Good Friday as in victory He cries out [John 19.30] It is finished, the work for the salvation of the world is done. On Easter Sunday we see the Father’s acceptance of Jesus’ work and His absolution pronounced on the world as Jesus rose from the dead.
It is this forgiveness that Jesus proclaims and gives in His Church; it is the spiritual and heavenly gifts He won for us by His life, suffering and death that Jesus pours out upon His Church, upon His dear Christians—and wants to pour out on all people by bringing them into His Church. And Jesus brings people into His Church by the word and baptism that He has given and entrusted to His Church, us.
And we Christians still need daily to receive these gifts anew and afresh—we who are already members of Christ’s kingdom the Church! Although we are our Lord’s dear Christian and enjoying fully His peace, the devil is always working to destroy our faith—that very faith which alone is the way that we receive the gifts of Jesus.
What do we read in our text? On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people. Notice that the prophet looks ahead to the time of the New Testament, the time after the Savior has come and set up His kingdom: On that day. And what will the Lord their God do? He will save them. Yes, Jesus has already come; He has rescued us from sin, death, devil and hell. That is an accomplished historical fact! That’s Easter’s announcement. But now to each of us personally and individually, to each of His dear Christians, the Lord [our] God gives the gifts and blessings of forgiveness of sin, peace, eternal life, joy, etc.—all these things Jesus won for us on the cross. How does He do it? He does it through His holy word and sacraments. Through the word and sacraments the blessed fruit of Jesus’ saving work is given to us. It’s not that Jesus suffered and died on the cross almost 2000 years ago and it’s a past event, buried in the past, with no connection to the present. Instead, through the word and sacrament, Jesus’ work is a present reality. As tonight we remember Jesus giving His Church the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood, we hear Him telling the disciples: This is my body, which is for you…. This cup is the new testament in my blood. That’s what He still says to us! This is My body! This is My blood which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26.28]. The very body that hung on the cross cursed by God, which the disciples received that first Maundy Thursday before in time it hung on the cross, we ourselves receive today, 2000 years later. That same blood that Jesus shed for the sins of the world and offered to the Father, which the disciples received that first Maundy Thursday before in time it poured from His sacred veins, we ourselves receive today, 2000 years later. It was as great a mystery that first Maundy Thursday for the disciples to eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood with the bread and wine as it is for us today to eat and drink it. By this, He strengthened their faith for the battles ahead for them and gave them the forgiveness of sin.
That’s the Lord [our] God [saving us], as the flock of his people. The Lord, as a faithful Shepherd gives us what need, exactly what we need in our battles against our spiritual enemies. He gives us strength in the battle and balm for our wounds—as in the holy word and sacrament He brings us the blessings Jesus won for us.
What happens as our good and gracious Lord in the word and sacraments brings us the blessings Jesus won for us on the cross? Our text: for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. As a faithful Shepherd, the Lord gives us everything we need in the word and sacrament and we receive the benefit. God honors and glorifies us. Because of our sin, we deserve none of these blessings of the Lord; we, instead, earn only His wrath and condemnation. Left to ourselves and our own devices, we would only be stones worthy of a sling shot—to be shot away. But because the Lord [our] God [saves us], as the flock of his people, always giving us in the Church in His word and Sacrament the blessings of forgiveness of sin Jesus won for us on the cross, we are now before Him like the jewels of a crown… [shining] on his land. We are holy and perfect in His sight. All our sin is forgiven us; we are covered with the holy perfection and radiance of Jesus; in fact, in baptism we are clothed with Jesus [Gal. 3.27].
We glitter and sparkle perfectly with the holiness of Christ, and by the Holy Spirit working in us and strengthening us, we also begin to glitter and sparkle, be it ever so feebly, with our own life of faith and good works. We glitter and sparkle as we praise and glorify our Lord for His gracious and saving work. We cannot praise Him enough now and our praise will continue forever one day in heaven perfectly.
Not only is this a beautiful image of each of our Lord’s dear Christians—because of Jesus’ work, because of His work on us personally in the word and sacrament that we are like the jewels of a crown … [shining] on his land, but it also serves as an image of the churches/ Christian congregations scattered throughout the world. When all around this world we see only the darkness of sin and Satan’s rule, there are these jewels of a crown … [shining] on his land—the churches, gatherings of Christians around our Lord’s holy word and sacrament/ gatherings of the sheep of the Good Shepherd, the flock of his people. Here the Christians, as they in faith hear the word and receive the holy Sacrament are cleansed, glistening, shining. And from here, these Christian congregations, the Lord’s saving word goes forth with the flock of his people, into the world and through the word that we share, by our life and our witness, others are rescued out of the devil’s kingdom and they too become jewels of a crown … [shining] on his land, all by His gracious working in the word and sacrament.
Because God’s word and sacrament do everything in the Church and so bring us the blessings Jesus won for us by His life, suffering and death they make us flourish spiritually. Just as little as we by our own reason or strength become a Christian but by the work of the Holy Spirit in the word and sacrament, so little can we remain in the faith, remain a Christian, remain as part of the flock of his people, without the Lord continuing to work through His word and sacrament. We cannot spiritually flourish apart from His holy word and sacrament. Our text: For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! The point? In the word and sacraments there we find out, [Ps. 34.8] taste and see that the Lord is good; we experience/ perceive it. After all, don’t we in the Gospel word and absolution hear Jesus forgiving us? Don’t we in baptism see/ feel the water—the very water with the word that washes away our sin? Don’t we in the Blessed Sacrament receive in our mouths the very body and blood of Jesus? As we, in faith, receive these gifts and blessings from the Lord, aren’t we seeing/ experiencing His goodness? Don’t we see the true beauty of the Lord? As we through the word and sacrament receive by faith our Lord’s gifts and blessings He won for us on the cross, don’t we then have that true joy and peace of conscience that is beyond all understanding [Ph 4.7]? And as our hearts are full of that joy and peace it continues to reveal His kindness, goodness and beauty. His beauty and kindness, and the sweetness of His word keep attracting us to Him to receive His gifts and blessings. The Lord saves us by His beauty and delight—as by faith we see His beauty as our kind loving God and Savior, as we see the beauty of His pierced side and nail pierced hands and delight in them and seek to grow in our love of Him who saved us.
How blessed we are that Jesus comes to us in the Holy Sacrament of His body and blood. It is no wonder that tonight, at this solemn time, we celebrate Jesus’ beginning and giving it to His Church for all time. Here we see Jesus’ true beauty as we recognize Him coming to us in it—in the communion liturgy we join the Palm Sunday crowds welcoming Jesus: Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; in the communion liturgy, as we see Jesus on the altar with the bread and wine, with St. John the Baptizer, we point with our finger and say [Jhn 1.29]: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; with St. Thomas after the resurrection, we recognize that Jesus is there with the bread and wine on the altar and say [Jhn 20.28]: My Lord and my God.
Our text concludes, reminding us on this Maundy Thursday, of the Sacrament of the Altar: Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women. The grain—the bread, the wine—that’s our spiritual food, not as mere bread and wine but as our Lord’s body and blood. In the sacrament Jesus joins His body to the bread and His blood to the wine. And as we eat His body and drink His blood, He is forgiving us our sin and strengthening our faith. Notice what the prophet says: the grain/ bread and the wine shall make the young men, and … the young women [flourish]. How can we not flourish spiritually in receiving the sacrament—Jesus is coming to us and uniting with us. He is in us and we are in Him. He makes us strong and flourishing! God’s holy word and sacrament do everything. They bring us the blessings Jesus won for us and give us spiritual life, health and strength. INJ Amenv