Thursday, September 13, 2012

Herberger on the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept. 14)

Crucis Jesu Exaltatio, Firma Cordis Consolatio
The Exaltation of Jesus’ Cross is the Devout Heart’s Sure Comfort.

In the name of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, who on the tree of the Holy Cross was lifted up between heaven and earth, that we in body and soul might be lifted up from earth into heaven on the Last Day,—forever Blessed and Adored with God the heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Heraclius bearing the cross to Jerusalem.
DEVOUT HEARTS! This day in the Calendar is called Exaltatio Crucis, or Exaltation or Lifting Up of the Cross. This feast is older than the year 980 [?380], and has a very noteworthy origin, wherefore I will provide a brief report of it. But that it may be done with much benefit, let us join together and pray from the heart: “O LORD, be merciful unto me, and raise me up” (Ps. 41:11).

Hear the appointed Gospel from the John 12:31–32: “The Lord Jesus said, Now judgment comes upon the world, now the prince of this world shall be cast out,  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw them all to Myself.”

(You will find these same words, along with the remainder of this chapter,  explicated in the first part of Stoppel-Postille, pp. 529ff.)

Devout hearts! In the days of Emperor Phocas, Christians had a horrible foe in the person of Chosroës, the heathen king of Persia. In the year of Christ 615 he made war on the Promised Land and took many Christians captive. The heathen bought from his soldiers and savagely murdered some 90,000 Christians. He took away with him also Zacharias, the bishop of Jerusalem, as well as the wood of Christ’s cross, which in those days Christians did not worship but rather held in great honor, as it were ancient token of His monument; for children of good upbringing commonly have a special fondness for the things of their ancestors. Now then, after Heraclius became Emperor in Phocas’ stead, he sent envoys to Persia exhorting Chosroës to peace. The arrogant king mockingly answered, “I will give you no peace until you renounce your crucified God and with me worship the sun.” Heraclius set out with great force to save Christendom, and God granted him several fortunate battles, but Chosroës was ever too powerful for him. Hear, then, by what wonder God saved His people: God struck Chosroës with a manner of blindness, such that he stirred strife between his children (whereas it is the way of wise parents to direct all their thoughts toward preserving concord among their children). Having two sons, he had it put down in his testament that the younger should inherit the crown, at which the elder was sorely vexed. Wherefore he, taking both father and brother captive, caused the latter to be hacked to pieces before his father’s eyes; howbeit his father he had kept in a pit, fed on bread and water, made a sport of the courtiers, and at last shot with arrows. Behold, no man was strong enough for the contest, wherefore the devil’s kingdom had to be divided and work its own ruin. The new king, Siroës, became a good friend of Christians, and returned all the prisoners, including the Bishop Zacharias, as well as the Holy Cross, which had been taken away by his father twelve years earlier. Heraclius came with great splendor to Constantinople, bearing the cross of Jesus in his imperial hands as he rode to the gate on his victor’s car. After two years, being of a mind that the Cross of Christ belonged not in Constantinople, he arose with a great multitude of people and brought the Cross with the priest Zacharias to Jerusalem. On the 14th of September, then, laying aside his imperial regalia, he carried the Cross of Christ on his shoulders, entering barefoot into the gate, and so put the whole matter right again. Thereupon there was great merriness, for God had bestowed peace on the land, and had restored to the Christians of Jerusalem their faithful minister, and because the Cross of Christ had come to its place. With one accord they approached the Emperor, beseeching him at once to establish a memorial of this great benefit. And so this festival was ordained in Christendom in the year of Christ 629. This is a certain and noteworthy account which our forefathers were very pleased to write down.

We see from this, firstly, that it is no new thing in our day that Christians fall into trouble and distress; we are not the first, neither shall we be the last. So do not despair: Sanguine fundata est ecclesia, etc. In blood the Holy Church was founded, etc.

Secondly, there was never any advantage gained by pious Christians being attacked. It is not good to jest with the name of Christ; it did Chosroës as much good as grass does a dog. With the Lutheran religion it goes: “Noli me tangere, Touch me not,” as Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, said. Yea, so says the psalm: Nolite tangere Christos meos, Touch not Mine anointed ones [Ps. 105:15; cf. 1 Chron. 16:22]. Dr. Luther sings, “They yet have won no (or at least, very little) gain” [“Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,” st. 4, l. 8]. In our day, while our enemies clean out our purse, God is able to provide (for we should have henceforth learned more to put aside the Gospel at our own expense), but as soon as they deal too roughly, and take our conscience captive, and seek to drink our blood, then they will knock the floor out from under them and, like Chosroës, get themselves a bloody head.

Thirdly, behold what wondrous ways God takes when He wills to help. Here one devil was made to gobble up the other so that the Christians might have peace. When we do not know which way is out and which way in, God takes His own way and does it better than we could conceive.

Fourthly, we also see what uncanny means God employs when He wishes to punish. Chosroës was slain by his own son, even as Sennacherib was murdered by his own children [2 Kings 19:37; Is. 37:38]. Whether Siroës was just or unjust cannot be disputed here at length, but God’s just punishment must be acknowledged: what Chosroës did not merit from his children he merited from poor Christians. Therefore the ancient theologians say: Actio saepe est injustissima, et passio tamen justissima, The foregoing deed is often utterly wicked, but God’s punishment of the wicked is justly free from blame. In Wittenberg, a thief once said to the chaplain, Master Fröschel, “I say, is it just for a man to hang another?” Whereat the good Master quickly replied, “I say, is it just for you to have stolen so much?” So in this case, too, it was not patently unjust for the son to have murdered his brother and father, but the latter was unjust in murdering so many innocent Christians. God paid him back with the same coin, and gave him a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over into his bosom [Luke 6:38]. Seldom is one so severe that he is not met with one severer still.

Fifthly, we learn how becoming it is for God’s gracious works to be remembered with care, as David says in Psalm 103:2ff. These Christians were all of one accord that God’s great benefits should not be forgotten. It was one year ago this day that a storm struck our great city church and ground certain of its rafters into so much sawdust and toothpicks, and yet it was not damaged by the fire. For this and other benefits were are duly grateful. Alas, how the other matters of the church have cracked since that time! It has often seemed as if Chosroës were about to take away Christ’s cross from us. God be praised, who has sustained us, and may he make His old faithfulness new unto us every moment.

Now because the Emperor Heraclius not only lifted up the Cross of Christ in his imperial hands but also in his heart (for had he not highly esteemed in his heart the Cross and death of Christ, he would no doubt have been content with this outward exaltation of the Cross; the work of his hands is a clear window to his heart), therefore our dear forefathers allowed these words to stand in the place of the Gospel. For the Lord Jesus said plainly that He would be lifted up from the earth on His cross. But because they are beautiful words, it would be an eternal shame if they were not familiar to us. For this reason let me direct my words and your thoughts to two points:
  1. For what reason the Lord Jesus had to be lifted up and exalted on the cross, and how the exaltation of His cross helps us.
  2. How all godly hearts lift up and exalt the Cross of Christ, and how it will help them…

(V. Herberger, Evangelische Hertz-Postille… [Leipzig, 1721] vol. 2, pp. 323–325; translation copyright © 2012 Matthew Carver.)

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