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Private Confession: By Appointment

The Son Of God Goes Forth To War

April 2, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
April 2, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Good Friday
The Son Of God Goes Forth To War

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Tonight we hear from 2 bishops of the church.

First St. John Chrysostom who was Bishop of Constantinople in the 4th century. And then we will take a closer look at the hymn we just sang composed by 19th century bishop, Reginald Heber who was bishop of Calcutta from 1823 until his untimely death in 1826.

Bishop John Chrysostom, whose name means “golden-mouthed” says this about the cross of Lord Jesus Christ that we glorify tonight.

“The cross is the hope of Christians, the cross is the resurrection of the dead, the cross is the leader of the blind, the cross is a path for the hopeless, the cross is a staff for the crippled.

The cross is the consolation of the poor, the cross is the restraint of the wealthy, the cross is the destruction of the proud, the cross is punishment for those who lead evil lives, the cross is a triumph over demons, the cross is the ruin of the devil, the cross is the tutor of youth, the cross is the support for the needy, the cross is the hope of the desperate.

The cross is the helmsman of sailors, the cross is a harbor for those in peril, the cross is a wall for the defenseless, the cross is the father of orphans, the cross is the defender of widows, the cross is the counselor of the just, the cross is rest for the troubled, the cross is the guardian of children, the cross is a leader of men, the cross is the end of old age.

The cross is a light for those sitting in darkness, the cross is the magnificence of kings, the cross is an everlasting shield, the cross is the intelligence of the foolish, the cross is the freedom of slaves, the cross is the wisdom of emperors, the cross is the law of the impious.

The cross is the proclamation of prophets, the cross is the message of the apostles, the cross is the exultation of martyrs, the cross is the abstinence of monks, the cross is the chastity of virgins, the cross is the joy of priests, the cross is the foundation of the church, the cross is the surety of the world.

The cross is the destruction of temples, the cross is the rejection of idols, the cross is the stumbling block of the Jews, the cross is the damnation of the impious, the cross is the strength of the weak, the cross is medicine for the sick, the cross is the cleansing of lepers, the cross is rest for the paralyzed, the cross is bread for the hungry, the cross is a spring for the thirsty, the cross is covering for the naked. (“On the Cross and the Thief” (from p. 167 Amalarius of Metz Vol. 1)

From Bishop John we learn, then, that the cross is not a sign of defeat, weakness, shame or failure: but rather “the power of God unto salvation for all who believe” (Romans 1:16) the greatest good of “all things visible and invisible.”

But Bishop Reginald reminds us by his great hymn that the cross is also a weapon of war. Not against flesh and blood for St. Paul writes in Eph. 6:12, “… we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

By his death on the cross the Son of God crushed the head of the devil just as was promised in Genesis 3:15 when the Lord said to the Ancient Serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring, and he will crush your head, and you will bruise his heal.”

No, Beloved, our battle is not against flesh and blood – other than our own sinful flesh of course. But as Christian Soldiers; as members of the “Salvation Army” if we may borrow that term for the moment – let us heed the call and conduct vigorous warfare against sin, death and Satan. Let us, in the words of Bishop Heber, “follow in his train.”

But how is this done?

In the hymn Reginald Heber enlarges on the account of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose feast day is celebrated on December 26th, the day after Christmas. But why connect these two feasts so closely: the Lord’s beautiful birth one day, and the crude martyrdom of St. Stephen the next?

And why should the Feast of Holy Innocents follow in its train on December 28th?

Because the church realized from the beginning that to follow Christ did not involve watching a power point presentation, in a cushy auditorium, with bagels and designer coffee. But that we must ever be ready to die with Christ, and for Christ, if ever the signal should be given.

To date none of us has been called to shed blood, and may we be preserved from “sudden and evil death” as we pray in our litany. But things are moving in that direction, and so we must “watch and pray” all the more, so that we don’t “fall into temptation.”

But whether following in the Lord’s train means martyrdom or other civil penalties, let us be sure that it does require of us to imitate the virtue of our Lord himself.

St. Stephen the first Christ martyr did that!

When he preached that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophets, those hearing him morphed into an angry mob! They lost all restraint; dragged him out of town; and began to stone him to death. But Stephan, like our Lord on the cross, and like you in your hour of need, was not abandoned.

We find in Acts 7:55 that Stephan, “being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.'” This is what Bishop Reginald Heber means when he speaks of Stephan’s “eagle eye.”

"57 Then," continues the story, "they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58 And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.

"59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep."

And so we find that Stephan followed in the Lord’s train; with the Lord's dying words, on his own dying lips.

Stephan may have been the first, Beloved, but countless others followed. In the words of Bishop Heber:

“A noble army men and boys,
the maiden and the maid,
around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
in robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of heaven
through toil, peril and pain,
O God to us may grace be given
to follow in their train.”

Stephan was first, but he is not the last. Still others today, in other places, and one day here, too, will “bend their necks, the death to feel” and follow in his train. (Rev. 6:10)

But by whatever death we “glorify God” (Jn 21:19) let us also imitate St. Paul who says, “I die daily.” (1 Cor. 15:31) Let us die to sin, to shame, to guilt, to self-pity and to fear.

But let us, instead, patiently follow in the train of the Lord’s virtue; and that of his martyrs, by confessing his name, offering him our prayers, praise and thanksgiving without ceasing, and by displaying the beautiful virtues that the Beautiful Savior brought from heaven to earth, and that lead us back to heaven again. Amen.