Our text is today’s Epistle (1 Corinthians 13:1–13):
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)
and today’s Gospel (Luke 18:31–43): 31 Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (ESV)
As someone who has wanted to lose weight for years, I can tell you there is a big difference between saying “I have lost weight” and “I have tried to lose weight”. In my case, it is a difference of about twenty pounds!
There is an even bigger difference between saying “I love” and “I try to love”. If only St. Paul had written: “Love tries to be patient and kind; love tries not to be rude or to insist on its own way”. But just trying to love is not the kind of love God demands of us. It is, however, the love we all know. When it comes to always and perfectly loving our spouse and children, our co-workers and neighbours, we try but we do not succeed. We lose our patience; we insist on doing things our way; we get angry and resentful. On the outside, we may seem to be so loving without a shred of hostility toward others. But in our heart, we know ourselves to be manipulative and self-serving. And of course, God sees through us. He knows even our best attempts to love are not completely pure; even the very best of our thoughts and desires, words and deeds are soiled with sin. That is why we pray daily Our Father, who art in heaven, …forgive us our trespasses.
St. Paul did not write of what love tries to be; rather, he wrote of what love actually is. He could have simply written “Love is Jesus”, for our Saviour Jesus perfectly embodies what love is. There is a wonderful connection between today’s Epistle and Gospel. The Epistle describes perfect divine love, love that never fails. And then the Gospel shows us perfect divine love in the Lord’s prediction of His death and in His preparation of His disciples.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. He goes up to Jerusalem to lay down His life for His friends and even for His enemies. He gives away all that He has, even His last garment, His last shred of dignity, His last breath. Jesus delivers up His body to be burned in His Father’s wrath and tortured by the soldiers and by the devil himself. In all this suffering and dying, Jesus is ever patient and kind, never envious or boasting. He is not arrogant or rude—even to those who mock Him. And in His own loneliness and agony of the cross, Jesus still thinks of others. He makes arrangements for the penitent thief to be forgiven his sins, relieved of his burdens, and welcomed that very day into fellowship with Jesus in paradise. He makes arrangements for His mother, Mary, giving her into the care of the Apostle John. And He looks after those who crucify Him but who know not what they are doing, for He prays that His Father would in mercy forgive those who do not deserve forgiveness and who appear to be unforgivable. On the cross, Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but He rejoices that God will use what these sinners do to Jesus in malice and hatred for good, for the salvation of the world. Do you see? Jesus is love and He bears all things. His love never fails, never ends.
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. But God has a greater love by far, for God has laid down for us the life of His only-begotten Son, who has suffered Himself to be forsaken by the Father; the Son who went as a lamb to the slaughter in order to save us in His steadfast love. He has loved us to the end. His love never fails.
Taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” With this prediction of His perfect divine love in action, Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was to come. Now, it may seem to us that the disciples were not well prepared at all, for—with the exception of St. John—all the disciples failed to stand by Jesus as He was dying on the cross. But really, with the exception of Judas the betrayer, they were indeed prepared for the Lord’s suffering and death. Although they all did fail and sin and were deeply hurt by what they experienced from the moment Jesus was arrested to when He appeared to them risen from the dead, the disciples did not lose faith. Yes, the Lord had prepared them well to weather the storm of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday so that, come Easter morning, they would still be standing in the true faith.
And your risen Saviour Jesus is also preparing you to remain in the faith in spite of all that you may suffer this side of heaven. This being prepared does not mean your life will be free from sorrow and pain, nor does it mean that your life will be glorious here on earth. Being prepared to remain in the faith means that you will hold true to confessing Christ even in the face of persecution and possible martyrdom, even in the moment of death. Being prepared does not mean glory now; it means passing over and through this life’s struggles with faith in Christ alone and finally coming to the joy of being with Christ your Saviour in heaven.
This morning, the Lord Jesus speaks to you a word that prepares you to stand in the faith even though at times you fail. He proclaims to you His death and resurrection. Look at His dying and behold the death that you deserve because of your sin. But then, look at His dying and behold the Lamb of God going to the slaughter for you, instead of you, bearing your sins to set you free from them, bearing the Father’s wrath so that you may know the Father’s eternal love.
The Son of Man has been delivered over to the Gentiles and has been killed on the cross and on the third day He rose again. This is the Word that prepares you to stand in the faith your whole life long. This Word of our Lord does not mean that you will be successful or respected or admired or that the world will notice your death. But precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of every saint—whether it seems glorious on earth or not, or whether it is even noticed or not. Remember, being prepared does not meant glory: it means passing over with faith in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus and coming to the reward of Christ in heaven. Being prepared means that you will not be lost, that you who have been given to the Son by the Father in the Spirit of Baptism will be kept and guarded, not merely by legions of holy angels, but also by the risen Son Himself.
The Lord’s keeping and guarding of you are done by His Holy Word. As He prepared the disciples with the foretelling of His perfect love of the cross, so He still prepares us. And as He took the twelve aside, apart from the multitude, to teach them of His love on the cross, so also would He take you aside, pull you out of the world, through the Scriptures and by the Sacraments, and tell you of His Sacrifice and love, to prepare you for what you must endure.
And what must you endure? A cross, to be sure, for our Lord tells us that if we would be His disciples, then we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him (see Mark 8:34). Your cross has been custom-made for you by your heavenly Father, who loves you. Your cross is all the sorrow and suffering that you bear while trusting in Christ alone for your salvation. What your particular cross is, I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem, and that everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets has been accomplished. Jesus has been delivered over to the Gentiles for our offenses. He has been mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon as punishment for our sins, in our stead. And after they flogged and tortured him, they killed him in the most agonizing and shameful way they could. But on the third day he rose and He rose for us, as our Victor, to bring us home. Thanks be to God! Amen.