"Encore Easter Message -- Remembering Pr. Klaus"#90-33
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on April 16, 2023
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 28:5-6
When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, the soldiers kept watch over him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour, darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified and exclaimed, "Surely, He was the Son of God!"
According to many scholars, historians, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem where I am standing this resurrection morning, once set upon a hill—not a grand hill like the Black Hills of South Dakota; not a hill like the rolling, verdant hills of Scotland. No, this hill was a rocky, craggy thing that for centuries had been quarried for building materials. Situated alongside the road leading into Jerusalem, it was the kind of hill that you traveled around; an inconvenience to travelers and pilgrims, tradesmen and farmers. That is not to say that this hill was entirely undistinguished. The kind of people who had imagination didn't have to look hard to see that this hill had an uncanny resemblance to a human skull. The natives called the hill "Golgotha." The Romans, the ruling nation in this area centuries ago, called it "Calvary."
Either way you say it, it means the same thing: skull. The hill looked like a skeletal head, almost like the skull on a pirate's flag. The hill would have remained forever unnoticed, unmentioned, unremembered, except for an event that happened here, almost 2,000 years ago. On this skull-shaped hill, there once were three crosses. Twenty centuries ago, a Roman execution squad crucified three men here. In the Roman world, a triple crucifixion was not an unusual thing. After the slave leader Spartacus was defeated, 6,000 of his followers were crucified. In 4 B.C., the Jewish nation had seen the Roman magistrate, Quintillius Varus, crucify 2,000 of their own countrymen for having revolted against the Empire. Indeed, almost every ancient city of note had such a spot set aside for crucifixions. This hill, the one that looked like a skull, was Jerusalem's place for public executions. The Romans liked their punishments to be viewed by as much of the public as was possible. Public executions gave everybody a very clear warning of the swift and sure fate that awaited those who dabbled in the criminal lifestyle.
The men who hung upon those crosses were united as they died a painful, lingering, agonizing death. That is not to say all three of these men were alike. The Man-in-the-middle was exceptional. Even the charges against Him, which had been nailed to the cross over His head, were unusual. They said, "He was the King of the Jews." But there are other things which made Him extraordinary. For example, He had been arrested only the night before. In less than 24 hours, at more than three different trials, He had been charged and condemned. Great haste had been made to get Him up on that cross. Normal rules of law had been set aside. Even the charges which lead to His death sentence had constantly changed.
At one trial He was guilty of blasphemy. At another He was condemned for wanting to overthrow the government. It was obvious a great many very powerful people wanted Him out of the picture. You can judge the intensity of their hatred by the vile and venomous things they shouted at Him as He was dying. They shouted and spat at Him; they taunted and teased Him. Surprisingly, He didn't reply to their jeers. He just suffered in silence. Through the powerful waves of pain, He gave instructions for the care of His mother. He forgave the people who had nailed Him there. He talked to one of the other men who was dying with Him. An unusual conversation, that one. It ended with this hated Man-in-the-middle assuring His companion that they would, that very day, be together in heaven.
By sunset all three men were dead. The end of the two common criminals had been brought on when the execution squad broke their legs. No help had to be given to the Man-in-the-middle. Weakened by previous pains which had been inflicted upon His body and the weight of sin which He carried in His soul, the Man-in-the-middle died around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The earthquake and the darkness which accompanied His end shook the soldiers' self-confidence. Still, the death squad took no chances. One of them plunged his spear into the Man's heart. The act caused no great damage to the heart which had already stopped beating some time before. The Man was dead. His passing had been expected by all. It was desired by some; it was mourned by a few.
We don't know what happened to the bodies of the two thieves. We do know what happened to the corpse of the Man-in-the-middle. His body was claimed by a friend and placed in the garden grave which that friend had commissioned to be cut into the rock for himself. Both garden and grave were near to the skull-shaped hill of crucifixion, near to where I am standing right now. A great stone was rolled in front of the grave's entrance. The body was shut away. Then to discourage grave robbers, to squelch rumors of a resurrection before they could begin, the Man's enemies had the tomb sealed and set out a guard to keep watch. They followed the advice of the Roman procurator who commented: "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how."
They made the tomb as secure as was humanly possible. It wasn't enough. Before dawn on the third morning, right near to where I am standing now, a God-sent angel came down from heaven and rolled the great stone away from the front of an empty tomb. God sent an angel from heaven, not to let the Man, God's only Son Jesus, out of the tomb, but to let the world in—to let the world see that Christ has risen! The Roman spear, the Roman seal, and Rome as this world's governing power was in that moment broken and brushed aside. In that moment, as the brave guard turned tail and ran, God showed that He had reclaimed and redeemed this world from the shackles of sin, the damnation of death, and destruction of the devil. God's Son, the Man who had been crucified in the middle—Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord—had proven the sacrifice He had made for us had been accepted. The ransom price God's justice had demanded was paid for our forgiveness. It had been made. That world, your world, my world, was in that moment unalterably, irrevocably, eternally changed.
If this resurrection Sunday you don't know how your world was changed, if this day of redemption you need to be reminded and reassured, if this festival day you wish to hear once again, the great story of God's grace, let me tell you what Christ has done. Because Christ has risen, no longer is death our ultimate end. Death has been swallowed up by God's victory. Those of you who mourn a loved one who has died in Jesus, those of you who know that the days of your life are numbered and know you will not see another resurrection Sunday here on earth have the solid, sure knowledge that when you shut your eyes and breathe your last, because of faith in Christ's sacrifice, you will awaken in heaven. Because Christ has risen, those of you who are troubled, who are in pain, who are alone and lonely, who feel lost and unloved have a Divine Redeemer, a Heavenly Brother who has promised to be with you, to help you carry your burdens, to listen to your prayers, to be your Friend forever. Because Christ has risen, you can begin each day and end each day in the knowledge that your sins are forgiven. Because Christ has risen, this sick, sad, sinful, sorry world will no longer have the last laugh. Because Christ has risen, you have a God who cares. Because Christ has risen, you are given a new purpose, a higher purpose, a better purpose. Because Christ has risen, our tomorrows have hope; our eternity has heaven. Because Christ has risen, our world is changed.
Since the day that Jesus rose, God's people washed of their sins have come to this place where I am standing right now. The first ones came filled with doubt, not daring to believe the wondrous thing that God had done for them. Then others came. An unending parade of pilgrims came to see with eyes of faith the spot where God's promise and plan had become finalized. They came to this spot to get just a little bit closer to the reality of Christ's victory. Then, having seen these pilgrims transformed into evangelists, Good News tellers have gone out to share the joy of Jesus with those they love, those they don't know, those who are still living their lives in despair and darkness. That is why I have brought you here today—so that you might know, so that you might hear the physical reality of God who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.
That is what this place means. That is what the hill, the cross, the empty grave mean to those who believe. And to those who do not believe, they hate this place. They want to erase this hill, the cross, the empty grave from view, from the mind, from the hearts of humankind. The world cannot stand the truth of what happened here. That is why in the year 135, the Emperor Hadrian tried to bury the hill of the cross and the tomb. He sent an army of engineers and laborers to rebuild Jerusalem into a pagan city, and to discourage the faithful from following the Christ. The skull-shaped hill became the center of his work. The hill was cut down and massive quantities of earth were brought in to bury the place of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. The hill was cut down and a temple dedicated to Jupiter was put up. For almost 180 years, that statue of Jupiter was venerated on the place of the Resurrection. For almost two centuries where the cross had once stood, a marble statue of Venus tried to silence the Savior's message of salvation.
Since then, other rulers have followed Hadrian's lead. In the last century, Communism made it its business to bury the hill, the cross, the empty tomb. National Socialism tried to take over the hill, the cross, the empty tomb. One despot and dictator after another has tried to tear down the hill, to fill in the tomb, so that his people might reject the Redeemer, and turn their hearts from the cross of Christ.
Other religions have made it a high priority to bury the hill, the cross, the empty tomb. Today I ask, "Of what are they afraid?" If Jesus is dead, if Jesus remained in His tomb, cold and lifeless, He is a counterfeit and a charlatan; He is a fake, a fraud, a phony. If Jesus never came out of that tomb, then all of Christianity is a sham, and all who believe on Him as their Savior have been dreadfully duped. Of what are these religions afraid? All they need do is produce the body of Christ, and the world's biggest religion will crumble like a deck of cards. Why are they afraid of a hill, its cross, the empty grave? My friends, do you think that nobody has tried to discover Jesus' body? Don't you think the authorities on resurrection Sunday made it a high priority to recover the body, to bring it out of hiding, to display it? They didn't do so because they couldn't do so. Christ had risen, and that truth makes the devils of hell shudder, even as it makes false religions shake.
Today's modern thinkers, sacrilegious comics, sophisticated pseudo-intellectuals try to bury the hill, its cross, the empty tomb. With pleasure they point to dissensions and divisions in Christ's church; with gladness they scorn the scandals perpetrated by Jesus' followers; with glee they laugh at anyone who feels the need of a Savior. Let them laugh. There were others who 2,000 years ago laughed at the Savior. There were others who thought they had won the victory and conquered the Christ. They stopped laughing. To all those who feel so superior, so sure, so satisfied with themselves, I can only say, "Your arguments are hollow and empty until you come to this hill, its cross, its empty sepulcher and show us the Savior's dead body." A living Lord Jesus—a Jesus who showed Himself to doubting disciples and a persecuting Paul is real. We may fail Him; we may not always be His best representatives, but because Jesus lives, our faith lives and neither you nor the gates of hell can prevail against the unassailable truth that Jesus Christ is our living Lord.
Hadrian's hatred, his desire to bury the hill, the cross, the empty tomb was unsuccessful. Rather than making Christ's people forget, Hadrian helped them remember. When Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, it was not hard to find the spot where Jesus had defeated death and grave. Hadrian had marked the spot, and another emperor, Constantine, ordered the dirt be removed and the spot where the Savior rose, to be restored. When the Emperor Julian relentlessly tried to destroy Christianity, he, too, failed. Realizing he had received a mortal wound on the battlefield, he dipped his hand into his flowing blood, tossed it toward heaven, and in despair shouted, "Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!"
Yes, Jesus has conquered. He has conquered sin, death, and grave for you. He wishes to conquer in your heart as well. He wishes to bring you the peace which passes all human understanding, the peace which the world cannot give. Do not stop Him. Do not deny Him. Come, stand with me on the hill. See the cross which was once silhouetted against the dark Judean sky. Come, look in at Jesus' empty grave and join me, and multitudes of this world, who this day proudly proclaim: "Christ is risen!" "He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!" Amen.
Reflections for April 16, 2023
Title: Remembering Pastor Ken Klaus
Mark Eischer: I'm Mark Eischer, here with Lutheran Hour speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler. And today we are remembering Pastor Ken Klaus and giving thanks to God for his remarkable life and ministry.
Mike Zeigler: And what we heard today was a remarkable witness to the risen Jesus Christ. God blessed Pastor Ken Klaus with remarkable gifts of communication, and this sermon is a testament to those gifts. Think about the way he conversed with us, the listeners, inviting us to imagine the scenes in our minds. Notice how he capitalized on the advantages of this audio-only medium to catalyze and crystallize our God-given powers of imagination. The way he's telling an old story, one that's been heard thousands and thousands of times, one that many of us have heard hundreds and hundreds of times. But the way he tells it here, it puts temporary distance into what we already know. Describing, for example, the features of the landscape, the hill that looks like a skull. The way he refrains from referring to Jesus by name for a time, just referring to him as the Man in the middle. He's helping us hear this account in a fresh way, and by doing that, he's confronting us anew with the startling truth of these claims and what they mean for us.
Pastor Klaus is proclaiming the facts of the Good News of Jesus, but he's doing it in a way, as the apostle Peter said, that declares the excellencies of Him. So not just the facts, but the excellencies. The praise worthiness of Him who called us out of darkness and into His glorious light.
Mark Eischer: Before he became Lutheran Hour speaker, pastor Klaus served congregations in Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, and South Dakota.
Mike Zeigler: In addition to his weekly sermons for The Lutheran Hour, Pastor Klaus initiated writing and recording a series of popular Daily Devotions that were widely distributed and enjoyed by readers and listeners around the world. He spoke at events across the U.S. and Canada, published collections of stories and prayers. He also led several international ministry tours. One of these was from the sermon you just heard.
Mark Eischer: And you mentioned the stories. Pastor Klaus was never at a loss for an engaging story that would catch the listener's ear in order to gain a hearing for the Good News of the Savior he served faithfully in so many different ways.
Mike Zeigler: Please pray with me to give thanks to God for His servant, Ken Klaus. We pray. Dear Father, generations rise and pass away before You. You are the strength of those who labor and the repose of all those who have fallen asleep in Jesus Christ. We thank You for all who have lived and died in the faith, especially for Ken, our dear brother. In this life You gave him, You poured out Your Holy Spirit and washed him in the renewing waters of Baptism. By the same Spirit, You led him to confess and proclaim that Jesus is Lord and to believe in his heart that You have raised him from the dead. Give us that same faith as we commend our brother to You and await the resurrection of all Your people living and departed through Jesus Christ, who also taught us to pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Receive the blessing of the Lord. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with His favor and give you peace. Amen.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Nunc Dimittis" setting by Carl Schalk. From Hope by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (unpublished manuscript, recording © 2003 Concordia Seminary Chorus)
"O Sons & Daughters of the King" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.