Midweek Lenten Service + March 21, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin Download PDF
Text: Mark 15:27-32
175 years ago, a group of German settlers met about a mile and a half east of here. They met in Daniel Goelzer’s log cabin to worship the Lord. But they could only meet occasionally. They did not have their own pastor. They had to rely on traveling missionaries. But in the fall of 1843, they decided to establish a proper Lutheran Church. Saint John’s got its official start.
But over those 175 years this church has grown. Soon after this church incorporated, the founders of our congregation built a log cabin church. It was right here on the corner of Oakwood Road and Kilbourntown Road. (That’s South 27th street to you 21st Century members).
In 1894, this congregation was fifty years old. Our forefathers built a new church. It’s the building you are sitting in right now. In 1931 the state of Wisconsin decided to expand Kilbourntown Road and make it Highway 41. To make room for a wider road, the state moved this building back about 200 feet. At that time, the members of Saint John’s also replaced the single steeple with the two square steeples. They also added a small entryway.
Around 1960 they added the larger narthex. In 1994, for our 150th anniversary, the inside of the sanctuary received a beautification. Also, over the years, this building has received new organs (music kind, not internal kind), a new balcony, a remodeled basement, and a remodeled chancel area. So, over the last 175 years this congregation has seen a lot of change. And now we are planning on another modification and expansion.
All this is good and proper. All through the years God’s people have wanted a place to gather and hear the gospel and join in worship. They wanted a place to baptize their babies, confirm their youth, celebrate weddings, and say good-bye to their loved ones with a Christian funeral. Over the years, this church building has been that place. It’s a place where God blesses his people with Word and sacrament. Here in this building God forgives sins, builds faith, and promises eternal life in heaven.
But, for as much as this church building is a treasure, it is a frail treasure. This 124 year old church could—God forbid—burn down tonight. And even if it does not burn down, eventually the wooden beams will deteriorate. Eventually, the plaster will crack and crumble. Eventually, this building will no longer exist. That’s the fate of everything on earth.
But even if this building fails, the Church will not. Even if this congregation dwindles and eventually closes, the Church will not. The Church, that is, the Holy Christian Church on earth, will never fall and it will never die. That’s because Jesus once said, "on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of [hell] will not overcome it." (Matt 16:18)
However, on that first Good Friday, this claim of Jesus sounded pathetically hollow. Jesus hung on the cross. His few friends had deserted him. The vigor of life was seeping out of him. Saint Mark tells us, "They crucified two robbers with him....Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, 'So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!' In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him... 'He saved others,' they said, 'but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.' Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him." (v 27-32)
Insults, ridicule, and mockery piled up on top of Christ’s physical pain on the cross. But all that insulting, ridiculing, and mocking was ironic. Christ’s enemies made fun of him for his claim to be the King of the Jews. They insulted him for his claim to be the Savior. They joked about his statement that he would rebuild the temple in three days. They made these harsh comments because, from their point of view, there was no way that a convicted criminal, hanging on a Roman cross, just a few moments from death—there was no way such a loser could ever accomplish such great deeds of saving, ruling, and rebuilding.
But their insults were irony. That’s because by suffering and dying, and by enduring their insults and mockery, and, most of all, by receiving the full burden of his Father’s anger over human sin—by his entire experience on the cross, Jesus was indeed saving; he was ruling; and he was rebuilding.
By suffering and dying on the cross, Jesus was being a true King. A king’s duty is to protect his people. By taking human sin upon himself, body and soul, Jesus was protecting us from God’s righteous anger over our sins. Likewise, by suffering and dying, Jesus was saving us from the damnation we deserved because of our sins. Jesus was saving his people from eternal death and hell when he suffered and died on the cross.
Furthermore, Jesus was also rebuilding God’s Holy Temple by his death on the cross. Of course, when Jesus was hanging on the cross, the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. But Jesus was not going to rebuild that temple once it was destroyed forty years after his death
Instead, Jesus was going to build a far more glorious and impressive temple. Jesus was going to build his Holy Christian Church. The foundation of that Church and the power to build that Church was and is Christ’s suffering and death for the salvation of all who believe in him. Saint Paul says in Ephesians, "you are … members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Eph 2:19-22)
At the beginning of this sermon I told you how the members of Saint John’s have built, rebuilt, moved, expanded, modified, and refurbished this church building over the last 175 years. Well, Jesus has done something far bigger and far better over the last 2,000 years. Jesus has built, expanded, renewed, and grown his Holy Christian Church over the face of the whole earth. So, that poor miserable convict on the cross did indeed do what the mockers said he could not do. Christ builds his temple forever.
But Jesus does not build his eternal temple with wood and stone, and with remodeled narthexes and expanded balconies. Rather, Jesus builds his Holy Christian Church by adding individual souls to his Kingdom. So, by water and the word in baptism Jesus brought you, your parents, your grandparents, and your children and grandchildren into this Holy Christian Church.
Christ also added to his Church by feeding the faith of his people. So, every time you heard how Christ gave his life on the cross, you also grew stronger in your faith and in the Church. Likewise, every time Jesus gave you his body and blood in Holy Communion, Jesus brought you back to Calvary to receive the forgiveness of your sins. And by Holy Communion Jesus also points you to the everlasting feast of your happy home in heaven.
And, one day, Jesus will bless your lifeless body just as God the Father blessed the beaten, bloodied, lifeless body of his Son. Jesus will raise your body from the dead. Jesus will glorify your body in the same way his body is glorified forever. And then Jesus will bring you to the eternal Church—the Church Triumphant in heaven.
So, repent and believe. Rejoice and be at peace. Jesus has built you into his church here at Saint John’s. Much more, though, Jesus has built you into his one, Holy, Christian Church here on earth and forever in heaven. Yes, you and every other believer in Christ are proof of it. Christ builds his temple forever.