The Stones Are a Historical Witness
The events of the Passion reading are real history. This is not a myth. This is not a legend. The very stones that are scattered about the Mount of Olives today were there then. In the Old Testament when people wanted to show someone that an action or an oath would be undeniable later on, they called the stones to be witnesses. That's what I do tonight. I call the stones to witness that Jesus is not a God who only seems to be man. Jesus is a real Man. He is not a phantom or ghost; He did not walk above the ground, but on the very same stones we do.
We need the stones to testify to us, to remind us that Jesus is a True Man because the temptation in Lent is to emphasize that Jesus is true God. Then Jesus looks very heroic in the Passion History. We picture Jesus striding boldly out to Gethsemane ready to meet His enemies. We picture the suffering and dying Jesus is doing almost like a game, like the true God, Jesus, is only pretending it's hard for Him. In reality, it's easy for Him because He is true God.
So the stones need to witness to us that God was among them as a Man, a flesh and blood human being with a beating heart and breathing lungs. Jesus even makes a point to call Himself the Son of Man tonight. Wouldn't you have thought that when Judas betrayed Him He would have pointed out that it was the Son of God that he was doing this heinous deed to? But no, Jesus calls Himself, the Son of Man which emphasizes His human nature. He wants that before us.
The fact that He is true man is all over this Passion reading. He tells Peter, James and John, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." Jesus has a soul just like us. He has a body just like us too. A body that gets tired and can be strengthened by an angel from heaven. If Jesus were just true God it would be blasphemous to say an angel strengthened Him but He is also true Man. He can be strengthened, He needs to be strengthened just like us.
Jesus does a lot of things just like us in this Passion reading. He bleeds just like us. If you scratched Jesus, He bled the same color as we do. His blood vessels broke, just as ours can, so that His sweat became mixed with blood. Jesus sweats just like us, and His smells no better than ours. Jesus also cries at this point. The Book of Hebrews tells us that. It says with loud crying and tears Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Real tears poured from Jesus' eyes just like they do from ours. His tears were just as salty as ours.
Jesus bled, sweated and cried, and the stones in Gethsemane received the blood, sweat and tear drops. His bleeding, sweating, and crying were no holier than yours in the sense that they were no different. Jesus didn't do His bleeding, sweating, or crying in the realm of heaven. He did them down here among the stones and rocks of earth. His blood didn't look less messy than ours; His sweat wasn't polite perspiring but stinky wetness; His crying wasn't the gentle, dignified weeping of someone who is still very much in control. According to Hebrews, it was LOUD crying and wet, wet tears.
In Gethsemane, the same kinds of stones that crunch beneath our feet, Jesus had under His. The same moon that is above our heads was above the head of Jesus. The same spring smells that waft into our noses wafted into His. The same sense of fellowship and friendship we have among people who share our faith, Jesus had there in Gethsemane. And all of this: the stones, the moon, the spring smells, the friendship and the fellowship were about to be violently ripped from Jesus...and He knew it.
You know how it is when a medical test, a disease, or dying creep into your life. Like a black oil spill it pollutes the crunching stones, the shining moon, the spring smells, and the friendship and fellowship you have. In fact, these things that are so precious to you in days of life and health, can make your suffering, your sickness, your dying all the harder. They preach to you of loss. No one knows the great weight you feel on your soul at such times. No one knows how your heart is being gripped. No one that is but Jesus.
Jesus knows what it is like to dread the future. He know what it's like to watch a clock for something you really don't want to happen. Do not think Jesus faced His trial, torture, and death as a walk in the park. He faced it like you do that dreaded medical procedure. And as Jesus faced His end, He prayed just like you do. He plainly said, "I don't want to do this." He begged; He pleaded, He sobbed, "Don't make Me go through this." So, dear friend, you are not nearly so far away from your Lord Jesus as you think when you are sobbing like that.
Jesus is not so very different than you. The stones would tell you that if they could. Do not think that because Jesus is true God that He didn't need the support and love of friends. He did. When all the disciples deserted Him and fled, His heart broke too. He felt let down, disappointed, betrayed. Of course, Jesus was actually betrayed. But we make Judas into such a goat that it seems Jesus should finally be glad to get rid of him. O don't get me wrong; Scripture says that Judas was a devil form the beginning. But according to Psalms, Judas was also Jesus' old familiar friend. Jesus used to enjoy eating meals with him. When Jesus called Judas "friend" in Gethsemane, you can be sure He meant it.
People either have or will let you down. More than likely, someone at sometime will betray your trust, your love, your confidence. This will be hard. This will be bitter. You will feel very lonely and violated. Jesus knew such a time as this. Not only was Jesus' body abused, so were His emotions, His feelings, His heart. So when you're feeling that way don't see Jesus way off in heaven far above you and your feelings, see Him as close as your broken heart, as close as your wounded feelings, as close as the stones beneath your feet.
Friends, we don't just need an all powerful God, we need a God who sympathizes with our weaknesses. The Book of Hebrews tells us we have such a God. Hebrews 2:18 says, "For since He Himself was tempted in that which He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted." And Hebrews 4:15 plainly says that Jesus does sympathize with our weaknesses.
You can bet Jesus in Gethsemane was tempted to despair of God's mercy. You can bet that Jesus was tempted to think Himself alone and abandoned by not only His friends but God. So when the devil, the world, and your flesh scream at you that God has abandoned you, left you, given up on you, you can rest assured that Jesus will sympathize with you and come to your aid. Jesus will never leave you at the mercy of the devil, the world, or your own sinful flesh because according to the explanation of the Creed that is why He came into the flesh in the first place. He came to purchase and win you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.
How did Jesus do this, according to the Creed? Did Jesus do this by means of power and might? If so, then the Gethsemane events would have been totally different, wouldn't they have? If Jesus was to have put sin, death and the devil to flight by means of power and might, then His soul never would have been overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He surely never would have begged His Father to spare Him if He was going to overcome the devil by means of force. His friends wouldn't have betrayed or forsook Him because after all no one does such things to powerful winners. And rather than telling Peter, "No more of this" when he had cut off a man's ear, Jesus would have said, "More, more," if He was going to overcome by force.
Jesus didn't overcome by power and might. Jesus overcame sin, death and the power of the devil by means of His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. This is how we overcome too. Our weapons against sin, death, and the devil are not our flesh and blood; they are Jesus' flesh and blood. This too the stones can bear witness of.
When the Son of God goes forth to war crunching across the stones of Gethsemane's Garden, He carries no sword; no soldiers follow behind Him; no legions of angels go before Him. He carries nothing but His flesh and blood. Flesh and blood that are just like ours is in every way yet one. His are without sin, original or actual. Yet, this flesh and blood of His are joined to God. This, of course, is a Christmas theme, but it belongs in Lent too. His blood is holy and precious because it is the blood of God. His suffering and death is innocent because it is the suffering and death of God.
And this the devil cannot find fault with. He can find fault with our suffering and dying, can't he? We rage against God when we suffer. We doubt His mercy and grace when we're sick. When death rears it's head we panic and give up not only hope but the God of all hope. Not so Jesus. The devil could find no problem with His suffering and dying. It was innocent. There were no sins there for the devil to point out.
It is the same with Jesus' blood. The devil could find no fault with that either. He can, however, find fault with out blood, can't he? It isn't holy or precious. Our blood stains everything. Our blood isn't precious but disgusting. Not so the blood of Christ. His cleans. His is precious. His is holy. His blood even the devil must confess to be good. More than that, it covers sins, and when the blood of Jesus covers sins, even the devil cannot find them.
Jesus overcame sin, death and the devil by means of His flesh and blood. That's how we overcome too. Set the flesh and blood of Jesus against the roaring of the devil. He must be silent in the face of them. The same is true with sin. Set the flesh and blood of Christ against your sins. Don't excuse them. Don't promise to make up for them. See them instead as carried away by the holy precious blood of Jesus and paid for by His innocent suffering and death.
Whoever wants to talk about your sins must chase after Jesus because He bought and paid for them. They belong to Him now, not you. The flesh and blood of Jesus silences the devil, sin, and death too. Death could not swallow the holy flesh and blood of Jesus. It had to spit them back out in the resurrection. Covered as you are by the holy flesh and blood of Jesus in baptism or fed as you are by the holy flesh and blood of Jesus in Communion, death can no more swallow you than it could Him.
Friends, Islam knows a powerful god named Allah, but Allah never walked this earth over the same stones you do. Buddhism has a very wise god who not only doesn't care about the stones you walk on but cares nothing about this physical world. Hinduism knows a saving god but not one who saves by taking on flesh and blood to suffer and die but one who requires you to cleanse your flesh and blood by means of religious works. The true God is unique. He saved sinners by taking on their flesh and blood, suffering and dying for theirs sins, and then giving them His flesh and blood. The stones have never seen the gods Allah, Buddha or Vishnu, but they have seen Jesus Christ. Every stone in some way can preach to us of what Jesus did when He walked on them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Midweek II (3-7-01) "I Believe Jesus is True Man"