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He's No Hercules

5/20/04

Times New RomanArial

In a vice-presidential debate of years ago, Senator Lloyd Bentson retorted to Senator Dan Quail's invoking of John Kennedy's name: "Sir, I served with John Kennedy; I knew John Kennedy; you're no John Kennedy." It was a memorable moment in politics. Well, tonight on this the glorious, victorious, joyous day of Jesus' Ascension, let me tell you, Jesus is no Hercules. Hercules was the most popular hero of Greek and Roman legends. His father was the chief god Zeus. His mother was an ordinary mortal. As a child I loved books and movies about Hercules. Long before there was the Incredible Hulk there was Hercules, and eternally long before there was a Hercules there was God the Son, but alas He is no Hercules.

That's right; the deeds of Jesus are bigger than those of Hercules. By the plotting of his jealous step-mother, the goddess Juno, Hercules came to be subject to his cousin Eurystheus who required Hercules to accomplish 12 heroic labors. He had to slay the unslayable; capture the uncapturable, clean the uncleanable and retrieve the unretrievable. But the 12 Labors of Hercules are nothing compared to the 2 Labors of Christ. He had to keep the Law of God without sinning and pay for the entire world not keeping it.

Pause to think about these 2 labors. With modern weapons even I could kill the Nemean lion or the nine-headed hydra. With modern technology I could clean the Aegean stables or capture the Minoan bull, but nothing I have, nothing I know of could keep all of God's Laws without sinning. I open my eyes; I sin. I think; I sin. I do; I sin. Yet, Jesus sinned not. You can't say that about any other human, not even Hercules.

Keeping the law is an impossible feat that no one will ever do again, but then so is paying for the world's sins. Hercules is said to have paid for his sins too. In some legends, he is required to do the 12 labors as penance for killing his wife and children. Later he kills his friend Iphitus and was condemned to serve Queen Omphali for 3 years. He did so dressed as a woman, spinning wool while the queen wore his trademark lion's skin.

Killing your wife, children, and best friend are serious sins, but that is nothing compared to the sins of the world. There are millions of murderers, child molesters, thieves, and thugs in the world. And not only that, there are billions upon billions of hateful, greedy, lustful, proud people like me in the world, and everyone of us has sins upon sins that need to be paid for, not by 3 years of humiliating service but by an eternity of humiliation hanging in hell, tormented by devils, and ridiculed by others. This is what Jesus endured on the cross. Drip by drip of His blood; drop by drop of His sweat Jesus paid for the sins of the world one by one till it was all finished.

Jesus is no Hercules. His deeds are bigger and He accomplishes them with different weapons. O you could say, they both paid for sins, but Hercules only paid for his own, and that only before men not before the true God. Jesus, on the other hand, paid for none of his own sins because He had none, but paid for all of the world's sins before the true God.

Hercules won by making others shed their blood, but Hercules didn't win the whole world just a piece here or there. Jesus won by shedding His own blood. But by shedding His own blood Jesus conquered the whole world for Himself. By paying for the whole world's sins, He purchased the world for Himself. Herecules ruled in certain places. But Jesus is the heir, ruler, and God over all the world. He's no Hercules; He's better.

Greeks and Romans worshiped Hercules. Now you might think they worshiped him as a god-man, but not so. Here's where we plainly see that Hercules is no Jesus and we catch a glimpse into the wonder and mystery of the festival, the holy day we celebrate today.

Hercules accomplished his 12 heroic labors and "paid" for his sins, so you would think he would die a hero's death. He did get 3 happy years with a wife, Dejanira, but a half-man/half-horse Centaur, kidnaped her. Hercules killed him with his bow. As he lay dying, he told Dejanira to take some of his blood and use it as a charm to preserve Hercules' love. Dejanira later became jealous of another woman and to preserve Hercules as her own she steeped one of Hercules' robes in the Centaur's blood. The blood was piousness to Hercules. When he ripped the robe off whole pieces of his body came with it. Hercules knew he was dying so he went up to Mount Eta, built a funeral pile, laid down, and told his servant to light it.

The gods didn't think this was a fitting way for a hero like Hercules to die, but there was the sticky matter of no mortals on Mount Olympus. Hercules father, Zeus, told them, "Fear not. He who conquered all else is not to be conquered by those flames...Only his mother's share in him can perish; what he derived from me is immortal." So when the flames had consumed his human nature of Hercules, the divine part, instead of being injured was enveloped by a cloud from Zeus and carried by a 4 horse chariot to dwell among the stars.

Doesn't this all make sense? If a god, who has no mortal nature, should ever have a son, it would make sense that at death his mortal nature should go back to earth and his divine nature go to heaven. And that's how Greeks and Romans worshiped Hercules, free from the encumbrances of a body like their's, far, far away in heaven. But this is not how the Church worships the true God's Son, Jesus Christ, but then He's no Hercules.

Jesus is true God begotten from the Father from eternity and true Man born of the Virgin Mary. His humanity was joined to His divinity by the miracle of the Virgin conception so that they can never by separated. Jesus didn't put on human flesh and blood merely to use it to do His 2 great labors and then put it off. God the Son put on our flesh and blood to redeem our flesh and blood. He did what He did in flesh and blood, keeping the law and paying for it being broken, so that our flesh and blood might get the credit for it. What God the Son did with His flesh and blood, God the Father regards you as having done because God the Son gives you what He did in His flesh and blood in things that touch your flesh and blood. Baptism on your skin; absolution in your ears; Communion in your mouth.

Now I'm sure you can see how it made sense to the Greeks and Romans that Hercules' mother's share was burned in the funeral fire but Hercules' father's share went to heaven. But Jesus is no Hercules. When Jesus died on the cross, what He got from Mother Mary died and His divine nature participated in that death as well. God really died in Jesus on the cross just as God really suffered and bled there. That's why that suffering, bleeding, and dying is worth a whole world's sins because it is that of God's.

However, death could not hold God who is life. It had to spit Him out. God only gave up His life to pay for sins. Once they were paid for He easily took His life back. But He's no Hercules. When God the Son claimed life again, He didn't just do so a divine being but as a human being. Mother Mary's share, which is our share fellow human beings, must go where the divine "share" goes. Once God the Son entered the womb of Mary, from then on wherever you place God the Son you must also place the Son of Mary, wherever you place God you must also place Man.

That means, and this is almost too wonderful and amazing to say, God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, took His mother's share to heaven, to reign and rule there. At the end of the Hercules legend, all that was mortal and human lay burnt and finished on the earth. At the end of the Gospel of Jesus, all that was mortal and human reigned and ruled in heaven.

Don't you see what that means? Are you so cold, so unfeeling, so apathetic to what God has done for you that you draw no comfort, no assurance, no peace, no joy from the high, holy truths of the Ascension? For Greeks and Romans the death of Hercules could be nothing more than an example of how the gods reward the efforts of a mortal, but in the end what is mortal and human doesn't go to heaven. For us, the Ascension of Jesus proves that mortals, humans go to heaven! This flesh and blood of ours, though it gets old and gray and goes into the grave, doesn't stay there, but will rise with Jesus into heaven. Jesus suffered and died to redeem not just our souls but our bodies.

Moreover, the Ascension means that someone who can relate to us flesh and blood humans rules and controls all things. You know how a teenager says, "You don't understand," when the fact of the matter is you understand all too well? That's how it is with Jesus. Jesus knows what it means to have a heartache and a body ache. He knows what it means to be made of dust and yet long for the stars. He understands exactly what your lips of flesh mean when they can't put something into words. Right now, today Jesus knows what life, what death, what joy, what trouble looks like from the point of view of our flesh and blood because He's no Hercules.

Now for the last twist in the joyful mystery of the Ascension. In the end Hercules could only be adored in heaven among the stars. The Greek or Roman could only look up there to worship his god. Not so us. Our God, the God-Man, Christ Jesus, can be adored on earth though He reigns right now in heaven. It's true; He took our flesh and blood to heaven to the Right Hand of God, but behold He places this same Flesh and Blood in our midst, on our altar, in our mouths. He does this so you might know that His Flesh and Blood aren't far away from you. They're where He is in heaven and where you are on earth. In heaven His Body and Blood are there to intercede, plead and rule for you; on earth they're here to forgive, enliven, and save you. No one ever worshiped Hercules on earth. Jesus was in the New Testament and is right now, but then He's no Hercules. Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

The Ascension of our Lord (5-2-04); Acts 1:1-11