A Fish is My Lord
Most kids are fascinated by fish; fish are of another world. So is Jesus Christ, but to confess that "A Fish is My Lord" sounds sacrilegious. However, early in the church's history the Greek Word for fish IXTHUS came to be used as an acronym for Jesus. IX = Jesus Christ, TH = God's, U = Son, and the S = Savior. When you see that, you too can confess a Fish is my Lord.
When you take away all the modifiers the central confession of our faith as expressed in the Second Article is this simple statement: "I believe that Jesus Christis my Lord." Layman are often nervous that they can't state what they believe adequately. Yes, you can. Our Large Catechism says when someone asks what you believe you answer, "'I believe that Jesus Christ, true Son of God, has become my Lord.'He has redeemed me from sin, from the devil, from death, and from all evil. Before this I had no Lord and King but was captive under the power of the devil. I was condemned to death and entangled in sin and blindness" (II, 27).
The Large Catechism goes on to explore this confession. After we had received from God all good things, the devil led us into disobedience, sin, death, and all evil. We lay under God's wrath and displeasure, doomed to the eternal damnation we deserved. There was no counsel, no help, no comfort until God's only Son had mercy on us. He came from heaven to help us. He snatched us poor lost creatures, from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and restored us to the Father's favor and grace. So, the summary of this article is the little word Lord' which simply means Redeemer. He has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness (II, 28-31).
But the Large Catechism isn't done yet. Our Fish is a whopper, a one of a kind, a trophy beyond belief. He became a human creature for us, was conceived and born without sin of the Virgin Mary, so that He might become Lord over sin (II, 31). He rose again, swallowing up death, ascended into heaven, assuming dominion at the right hand of the Father as a Man. Devil and all powers must be subject to Him and lie beneath His feet, so that Jesus is Lord over death and devil (Ibid.) In suffering, dying, and being buried He satisfied God's wrath paying what I owed not with gold or silver but with His own precious blood. "So, that He might become my Lord" (Ibid.).
Most little kids love fish. They delight in trying to catch them particularly with their hands. One of my boys got pneumonia on summer vacation when he was 6. He wasn't able to go fishing. So, we caught pan fish, put them in an ice chest of water. took it to the cabin, filled the iron clawfoot bathtub with well water and put the fish in. He loved that because he could catch those fish. Jesus the Fish is our Lord and Redeemer by virtue of being caught for us.
The Passion Reading puts us in the upper room on Maundy Thursday. The disciples are distressed because Jesus has said: He "will be handed over to be crucified;" He is about to suffer, and "one of you will betray Me." He comforts them by saying, "The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him." It is the Father's will that Jesus be caught by Sin, by Death, and by the Power of the Devil. The Father would rather have Jesus caught by your sins, by the death you deserve, and by the power of the devil that you have sold your soul to.
Jesus is going to be caught by the hatred of Jewish leaders, Judas' greed, and the Devil's 4-thousand-year plot to bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman. The Jewish leaders and Judas think they're meeting in secret as they plot their sin of sins, but God sees it all even as He sees your secret sins no one else does or even thinks you're capable of. And though Judas doesn't know that when he takes the piece of bread from Jesus' hand Satan will enter into him, Jesus does and that's why He tries to prevent it. And so, Jesus knows at what point a willful sin of yours is going to sell your soul irredeemably to the devil. Notice Judas doesn't leave sorrowful or mad. Nothing like that is noted. Judas probably feels better than he has in years, and you will too when Satan finally enters all the way in and drives the Spirit out.
But Jesus doesn't want that. The Fish who is our Lord wills to be caught by the Sin, Death, and Devil who had pursued Him ever since the Father announced His birth. And that's because as 2 Cor. 5 says: we all must stand before the judgment seat of God and give an account for the deeds done in our body whether good or evil. Emperor Julian, the apostate, said Christianity was a typical escape-religion. It attracted people because it offered a way to evade "'the iron law of retributive justice'" (Christianity and Classical Culture, 264). Think so? Jesus surely doesn't evade justice. He meets it head on. In His Baptism, He confessed to being guilty of all your sins and the sins of the whole world. He carried these sins all His days till this very night. This Little Fishy is caught in the hands of Divine Justice and will go to the grave insisting He is guilty of them and not you. Tonight through Good Friday, God will do battle with God (Peters, Creed, 138) for you and your salvation.
Tonight, the Fish who is your Lord is caught, so you might be little fishes. Remember when Jesus called the apostles to be fishers of men? Remember after Peter deserted that call and went back to actual fishing that Jesus went and got him and promised, "From now on you will be catching men?" That Greek word is catching alive.' You know when you catch fish, you're pulling them out of the only environment they can live in to die. Not so the Fish who is our Lord. He catches us out of the realm of Sin, Death, and the Devil where we were swimming about slowly dying into His realm of forgiveness and life that is above the power of the Devil.
You have a tendency to skate right by what your Lord has redeemed, purchased, and won you from. The unbelievable, unimaginable truth that we've been caught, snatched out of, rescued from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil is preached, taught, and rubbed into our ears so much, we don't think it could've gone any other way. No! We could've been minnows left in chlorinated water to slowly be poisoned. We should've been saltwater minnows without an airorator slowly suffocating. We deserved to be minnows left in the wild to be devoured by bigger fish at devilish speed.
Every single day we ought to fall down on our knees and thank God that we've been redeemed from all sins not just some by Jesus' blood. Every day we ought to thank God that we've been purchased from the Death that is surely turning us to ashes by Jesus' death; every day we ought to thank God that we've been rescued from the Devil's camp by Jesus' crushing that serpent's head.
The Fish Jesus redeemed, purchased, and won us so that we might be little fishes. Jesus did this, as Psalm 22 says, by becoming a worm and no man. Luther, following earlier church fathers, depicts God hanging the human nature of Christ as a worm on the sharp hook of His divine nature. Satan gleefully boasts that he can easily swallow that little Worm. He opens wide his mouth to swallow it whole, and he does on the cross. But 3 days later he chokes to death on the hidden hook of the divine nature and has to throw back up all that he swallowed. The divine nature and the human nature that is joined to it (Peters, 157).
What fooled Satan into his destruction, lures us to our salvation. God doesn't come in wrath and judgment as He hangs helplessly on the cross. And by doing so He fulfills His own prophesy: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to Myself." And He did. Friends, foes, and followers were all drawn to the cross as fish are to bait.
You go splashing about forcefully, loudly in water and you will not catch a single little fishy. You gently, slowly put a hand or net in the water and they swim right into either. This is what the Fish who is our Lord has done. Tertullian links Jesus the Fish to us being little fishes born in Baptism. This early second century church father is where the fish symbol is thought to have started. He says, "But we little fish, like our Fish Jesus Christ, are born in water, and it is only by remaining in water that we are safe." He goes on to say that the Devil "knew full well how to kill the little fishes by taking them away from the water" (On Baptism, ANF, III, 1, 669).
Fish on dry land gasp, flap, and flounder because they're dying. I've seen fish jump clear out of the water right into my boat, and wondered what we're they thinking? Did they know they were leaping from life into death? What are you thinking when you jump out of that Baptismal font? What are you thinking when you base your Christian life on what you think, what you can do, what you believe rather than on what the Fish who is your Lord says, did, and believes? For just a moment tonight we stick our heads out of the waters of Baptism to get them smeared with ashes as a reminder of what we are outside of that font, outside of Christ.
Only two times in our Passion Reading do the disciples call Jesus Lord;" both are in questions. What are question for them are statements for us. Surely Lord I have betrayed you in thoughts, words, and deeds, and I do know where you are going, Lord. You are going to the torture of Gethsemane, the humiliation of trials, and the damming and dying of Calvary to redeem, purchase and win me as My Lord.
We celebrate His victory then by celebrating Communion now. Have you noticed that whenever the Feeding of the 5,000 is depicted as a symbol of the Lord's Supper that the fish are uncooked? The Greek word is for cooked fish. Why use uncooked fish? Because cooked fish don't look much like fish. And our Lord who comes to us in the Sacrament is IXTHUS. Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior and this Fish is My Lord. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20170301); Passion Reading 1, Second Article