Bear the Stigmata
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 9 C Galatians 6:1-10, 14-18
July 03, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people who bear the marks of Jesus,
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God our Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:3-5).
Over the past few Sundays we have heard from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and today we come to the end, his signing off on a letter in which he has made some memorable statements for us. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). And “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). At the conclusion of the letter Paul again notes the deep connection that we have with Jesus Christ through our baptism. He says somewhat mysteriously, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (6:17).
Dear children of God, what is Paul talking about? What marks of Jesus? The Greek word for ‘marks’ here may be one that you have heard before. It is “stigmata.” Wikipedia will tell you that stigmata are “the appearance of bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet.” Also, sometimes around the crown of the head and in the side where Jesus was pierced with a sword.
Wow! That kind of thing grabs our attention. What more clear and visible sign could you have that you are intimately connected to Jesus and His death for your sins, than to have His wounds appear on your body? Wikipedia will also tell you, however, that most instances of these wounds appearing upon people have been proven to be faked. Most, but not all.
That leaves us somewhat in doubt about our salvation in Jesus Christ. For if these things are fake, then perhaps everything about our faith is fake. And if these things are real, then why don’t I have them? Am I not as close to Jesus? Am I not close enough?
It is more than a little of a stretch to come to the conclusion that this is what St. Paul was referring to when he wrote at the end of his letter to the Galatians, “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the stigmata of Jesus” (Gal 6:17). There is nowhere else in the New Testament where St. Paul talks about mysterious wounds appearing upon him. There is no other reference to such wounds in the earlier parts of this particular letter, when it would have given great support to his point. E.g. “Do you think circumcision counts for anything? Take a look at these scars.”
There are other places in the New Testament that do talk about marks on St. Paul’s body. The Book of Acts tells about several times when Paul was beaten, whipped, and even stoned and left for dead. These things left their mark. In his second letter to the Corinthians where he also warns about boasting, St. Paul refers to these things. “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). Shocking, perhaps, but nothing mysterious about wounds like this.
In both letters, Paul concludes “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). The marks that Paul can boast about are the marks in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands and the mark in His side where the soldier’s spear went in. These are the marks that Jesus showed to Thomas as proof of His resurrection. These are the marks that show the salvation that Jesus won for all through His suffering and death for our sinful boasting. These are the marks that show that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified for us out of great love, in order to cleanse and purify us to be His own.
It is inescapable that the marks of the godly and perfect love of Jesus for us sinners should leave their mark on us. That is why Paul concludes that through the crucifixion of Jesus for us, the world has been crucified to us and we to the world (6:14). The world with all of its sinful and twisted and wicked ways is dead to us. We know that there is no life in what the world has to offer. And we are dead to the world. The world treats us like refuse, like it treated Jesus and Paul and as it treats all Christians. It desecrates our bodies, these temples of the Holy Spirit, by laying upon us beatings and wounds and yes, even death.
Rumanian Lutheran Pastor Richard Wurmbrand shocked the world when he released a video testimony after being released from communist Russian prisons where he spent fourteen years praying for his guards and captors. At the end of the testimony he took of his shirt to show where the red-hot pokers left their marks every time he was tortured.
These are the kind of marks that Paul bore on his body, as did the other apostles too, and he rightly regarded them as the marks of Jesus. They were nothing for him to boast about as being a better Christian than anyone else, but he could refer to them to boast about Jesus who was beaten and scourged and crucified and pierced to death, yet rose again to life to save us from our transgressions.
Show me your stigmata! Early last week I was on retreat with a few brother pastors and taking a break at one point we got on to a conversation of scars and wounds from working with tools. We all had a few stories to tell. But that was on a break from studying the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism which revealed to us the stigmata we bear that cannot be seen, the wounds from the world, from family and friends and from the devil himself that have left their marks upon our hearts. We all have those marks that have been received for carrying the message of Jesus; and rightly understood they are His stigmata, not our own.
Summer is here and one of the parental strategies to prevent more serious injury is to give the children water guns and water balloons instead of sticks and stones, because water doesn’t leave a mark. At least most water doesn’t. With water and the Word we have been marked with Jesus, have we not? Throughout the letter to the Galatians Paul has indicated this. “For all of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). The water of Holy Baptism has left the marks of Jesus upon you. Baptism has put upon your body the stigmata of Jesus’ crucifixion. “And all who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:14).
There can be no doubt that Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection was for the forgiveness of your sins. He has marked you with water and the Word so that you can be sure of it. The Word of God leaves its mark. It is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow” (Hebrews 4:12). It leaves a mark deeper than if your baptized had etched you with acid. The stigmata of Jesus are etched into you and you know it and remember it whenever you hear the words of baptism and you trace the mark it has left upon you in the form of the cross of Jesus.
Paul bore on his body the stigmata of Jesus. And he encourages us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). That is a mark of Jesus. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree of the cross. As we bear the burden of others, even those who sin against us, we reveal a more intimate connection with Jesus than if we had His scars on our skin.
He suffered for our sins and He gently leads us to repentance by showing us His love, so we who bear the cross of Jesus through Baptism are called to bear the sins of others and gently restore those who have fallen into transgressions (6:1). That is the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion coming into view in our daily lives.
And as St. Paul was sure to remind us, it is nothing for us to boast about. This is Jesus at work in you. It is the result of your Baptism into Christ. It assures you that He has borne all of your sins. He has gently led you to repentance. He has restored you to righteousness and brought you into His family and made you a fellow heir with Him. Let the life of Christ flow through you. Let the marks of your Baptism be imprinted on your heart. “Bear one another’s burdens” and so bear on your body “the marks of Jesus.”
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen (Galatians 6:18).