Sunday, July 21, 2013

Higher Things From Above Conference Sermon: "Marked by Death"

 Note: It was a joy to deliver this sermon at Higher Things From Above Conference in Tacoma, WA this past Thursday. It's encouraging and impressive to see so many youth doing what so many people think they cannot and should not be doing - singing hymns, loving the historic liturgy, and enjoying a solid Lutheran teaching...and having a blast while doing it. In fact, they're teaching us how to Dare to Be Lutheran. Enjoy. And stay Lutheran, my friends.

Higher Things Conference: From Above - Matins - Thursday July 18th, 2013

Acts 6:8-7-2, 51-60

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Stephen was no man of steel, no Iron Man or Hulk. He didn’t have a bazillion friends on Facebook, no followers on twitter…he wasn’t even an Avenger. Like Jesus, he prayed for those who killed him. It seems that there was really nothing at all to marvel about Stephen. Nothing…except this: Stephen was a man of the cross.

He was marked by death. Marked for life. 

Luke’s account of Stephen’s martyrdom dishes up the whole gospel for us: faith, love, cross, death, and life (Luther). Which is good, after all, Stephen was a deacon, one who serves others. One who shows mercy and compassion to those in need. So, he serves up a little OT history lesson. Abraham. The covenant. Moses. The Exodus. Mt. Sinai. The temple. The prophets. And that’s when the conversation broke out into World War Z:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears. You always resist the Holy Spirit. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed the prophets and you betrayed and murdered Jesus, the Righteous One.

The Jews were enraged. Gnashing teeth with hellish fury. Closed ears. Clinched fists. Stones at the ready. And Stephen was marked for death. 

The Law has that effect on us too, doesn’t it? It’s tough to swallow. It brings our inbred sin to light. Ever watch an intrusion of cockroaches under a bright light? Run away! That’s what happens when sinners are exposed to the law. The Law diagnoses then condemns us. DOA. Nothing but despicable me. Minions to sin, all of us. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. 

So, when those Jews picked up those rocks to slay Stephen, they piled rocks on their own heads too. Backfire! For by works of the Law shall no man be justified. 

And the same Law stones us to death too. Every commandment another rock to the forehead that fells our Goliath old nature. Sticks and stones may not break bones but the words on those two solid tablets of Mt. Sinai granite aim to kill you. Not a flesh wound. Not an undead zombie. Deceased. Expired. Dead as an OT prophet. 

Marked by death.

And then they grabbed Stephen. Put him on trial. Piled up false witnesses. Drug him outside the city. Stoned. Marked by death. 

Sound familiar? It should. 

Jesus was also a man marked for death. Although Christ had every super power at His disposal, he put it all aside. He suffered. Betrayal. A phony trial. False witnesses. An angry mob. Drug outside the city gates.  And crucified. 

Jesus, the arch-deacon, was humiliated for you, sacrificed himself in service for you. Jesus goes up the mountain to withstand the Mt. Sinai’s avalanche for you. Jesus takes those two stone tablets off your shoulders and puts them onto His. Marked by death. Marked by the cross. All for you.

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many, for Stephen, for you. A crown of thorns for Jesus. And a crown of life for you and Stephen.

Which is fitting, really. Stephen’s name means “crowned” in Latin. So while on earth he was crowned with stones in heaven he was crowned in Christ’s crucified and risen glory. No more stones. They’ve all been rolled away from Jesus’ grave and yours.  All because Jesus was “Stephen-ed,” crowned with your sin. 

That’s the work of Baptism; you’re marked by death. Your old Adam drowns; you’re crucified with Christ. And you were Stephen-ed, crowned with Christ’s holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. So while your birth from below brings death, your birth from above brings life. Your second birth bails you out of your first. Marked by Christ’s death. Marked for life.

And to ensure you never forget it… Jesus marks you with His death and life, right, smack dab on your forehead: the cross.

And in Baptism too, Stephen’s prayer is answered, “Lord, charge not their sins to their account.” Jesus doesn’t. Your sinful heart of stone has sunk to the bottom of the baptismal font and you’re raised in Christ. All your sins lay drenched in blood at Jesus’ feet. Buried in his tomb forever. Jesus charges your sin to His account. Jesus – the only one without sin - takes every sinful stone from you and piles it upon himself. And in exchange He gives you a new birth from above. 

That means you’re a child of the cross. Marked by Christ’s death. Marked for life…

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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