17 March 2019

Under the Shadow of His Wings

Self-preservation makes sense.  It is reasonable and understandable.  If you are threatened, of course you will defend yourself.  You’ll fight back, or you’ll run away and hide and live to fight another day.  Self-preservation is also acceptable under the law.  If you hurt or even kill someone in self-defense, you are not persecuted but protected by the law; you have not committed a crime.

So self-preservation is in accordance with the law.  But it is not the way of Christ the Crucified.  It is not the way that He proceeds.  He is not masochistic or suicidal, but He does go knowingly and willingly to His death.  He not only puts Himself in harm’s way, as police officers and soldiers do in their stations.  He does not simply take a risk, counting the cost and considering the odds.  He places Himself in harm’s way by deliberately offering Himself as the Sacrifice for sinners.

The dear Lord Jesus Christ does not defend Himself.  He neither fights nor flees from the battle.  When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but He continues to entrust Himself, His body and soul, His life and His death, into the hands of His God and Father.  So He turns the other cheek to those who strike Him, even to the point of handing Himself over to the Cross and laying down His life in love for them.  In the midst of His great anguish, He prays for those who sin against Him.

It is for this purpose that He has come.  He pours out His innocent Blood for you and for all, for this city and all its inhabitants, to atone for the sins of the world and reconcile the world to God.

This way of the Cross is the pattern and example of Christ and His Gospel — for His ministers, and for all of His disciples, that is, for all His Christians.  It is the way that you are called to live.

You receive and bear the Cross, although it puts you to death, and you follow in the way of the Cross, because it is paradoxically the way of life in Christ.  Not self-preservation, but self-sacrifice.  Not selfishness, but selfless loving service.  You lose yourself in love for others, friend and foe, because your life is found in Christ the Crucified.  If you perish, you perish.  That was Esther’s attitude in the Old Testament, and that was the motto of Wilhelm Löhe’s deaconess house.  If you perish, you perish.  So be it.  That is every Christian’s attitude and motto.  Come what may, it does not matter.  For Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and even though you die, yet shall you live.

You live because you are forgiven all your sins by the atoning death of Christ and by His sacrificial Blood, which He has shed for you.  Your neighbor, too, is forgiven by the bloody death of Christ.

So this belongs to the Cross you are to bear: To forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  To bear his burdens gladly and patiently, in love.  To suffer his insults and persecutions without becoming defensive, and without striking back with your words or your fists.  To love him who hurts you, to pray for him who persecutes you, and even to lay down your life for your enemies.

With all of that, what have you lost if you die in the process of living and loving in this way of the Cross?  Nothing!  Your citizenship, your house and home, your city, and your fatherland, all of these abide in heaven, where your life is safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.  You live here on earth, for a little while, as a sojourner, as a pilgrim on your way back home.  You journey today and tomorrow, and maybe another, maybe not.  But you are perfected by your Baptism into the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And as you die with Him, so do you live with Him.

It is precisely by His Cross that Christ Jesus has not only atoned for your sins, redeemed you from death and the devil forever, and reconciled you to His God and Father in heaven, but by His Cross He has also accomplished a new and better Exodus for you.  That is to say, the Cross of Christ is your passage through death into life.  It is the way of repentance, of faith, and of new life in Him.

If you would live, therefore, take up the Cross of Christ and follow after Him to Jerusalem in holy faith and holy love.  Find your place in the Temple of His Church, in the midst of the City of God, on earth as it is in heaven, centered in the Lamb upon His Throne, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and your salvation.  Living as He lives, bearing good fruits like those of His life-giving Tree of the Cross, pour yourself out in love for your neighbors, even to the point of perishing, within the vocations to which your Lord has called you in this body and life.

To be sure, there are plenty of people who do not follow this pattern and example of Christ, but who live and walk as enemies of His Cross.  And be warned, that is the inclination of your own fallen flesh, as well.  Your instinct is to forsake the Cross, to fight or to flee, to protect yourself.

There are those who sneer at the Lord Jesus Christ, you know that.  Those who despise and ridicule His Church and religion.  Those who mock and blaspheme His Cross and His Gospel and all the signs and symbols of Christianity.  Those who laugh and make fun of the rites and ceremonies of the Lord’s Liturgy in Word and Sacrament.  It is easy enough to identify those obvious enemies.

But the far worse enemies of the Cross of Christ — though they sometimes masquerade as friends and allies of the Lord — are those who are driven by selfish self-preservation; who preserve their own lives at the expense of others; who shed innocent blood for their own benefit and advantage, for crass profits, or simply for comfort and convenience, all in the name of choice and freedom.

It is not only those who murder infants in the womb (or after birth) who do such things.  You also have blood on your own hands when you ignore your neighbor in his need and withhold the help you could provide, or when you hurt and harm your neighbor in his body and life with your hateful words and actions against him.  In all such ways as these, you also have murdered your neighbor.

There are likewise those who take their stand as enemies of the Cross of Christ by holding bitter grudges and seeking revenge, by refusing to forgive their neighbor for whom the Savior has given Himself into death.  There are some who use even the means of grace, the Church and Ministry, the Temple and Priesthood, as means of self-preservation, self-promotion, and self-righteousness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I warn you in His Name and for His sake not to walk according to such selfishness.  It is the very opposite of faith and love.  It is not only sinful, it is self-destructive.

That is the great irony and paradox of life as it actually is, and not as the world perceives it to be.  The one who seeks to save his life will lose it.  The one who sets himself against the Cross, in order to protect and preserve his own skin, perishes not only here in time but hereafter in eternity.

To make a god out of this world and the things of this world is futile, for you will inevitably perish along with such gods.  To be driven about to and fro by your belly and its rumbling appetites is to perish along with the food that you crave and consume.  That is reason enough to consider fasting for the discipline of your flesh.  But to glory in your earthly life will bring you finally into shame.

Remember Shiloh (in the Book of First Samuel), where Eli and his sons once abused their priestly office and the Lord’s House.  They stole the sacrificial meat in their gluttony.  And they attempted to use the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth as a weapon of war, for their own purposes, for their own self-defense and safety — as though the Lord were tame and safe!  It did not work.  They were put to shame in death, and the house of Eli was removed from the high priestly office.

Remember Jerusalem, as well, the City of the great King, where the Lord God Almighty caused His Name and His Glory to dwell in the midst of His people by His grace.  And yet, the people hid behind the sacrifices as though they were some kind of protection money paid to a mafia crime boss, and they hid out in the Temple as though it were a den of thieves, daring God to discipline them, stoning His Prophets and killing those He sent to them.  God brought that City into the dust.

There were some notable exceptions, as you know, but most of the people in Jerusalem failed to recognize the Lord’s visitation in the Person of Christ Jesus.  Whatever good they thought of Him, they failed to receive Him as their God, their Savior, and their Lord.  There were some who plotted against Him, who sought to trap and destroy Him, and who finally conspired to crucify Him — though none of this was possible apart from His own willingness to lay down His life in love for them and all the people.  But nobody understood His Cross and Passion, not even His disciples until afterwards.  Neither do you, except by His grace, by the catechesis of His Word and Spirit.

The God’s honest truth is that He comes to you and to all — He comes in the Flesh from His God and Father in heaven — with one single-minded purpose, one goal and desire, that is, to save you and gather you to Himself in love.  He would make of you a child of His Father.  He would nestle you to Himself, close to His heart, under His wings of mercy.  He would shelter you, protect you, feed and comfort you.  He comes to do so by the way of His Cross, though you would not have it.

He comes to you in spite of your sins, solely for the sake of His love.  He bears your reproach — not only the reproach that you suffer, but that which you inflict upon your neighbors and against the Lord your God.  He bears your reviling in patience and in peace.  He willingly bears and suffers all your sins and your death in His Body, and He thereby takes away your sin and death forever.

In this way — by coming to you in love, forgiving you, and saving you — by His self-giving and self-sacrificing service, even unto death — by and from His Cross, by the ways and the means of His Cross and Passion — He reveals and gives Himself to you, the one true God in the Flesh, that you might know Him as He truly is, and love Him, and so receive Him to yourself in holy faith.

Blessed is He, therefore, who comes to you now in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!

This one Lord Jesus Christ is the true Passover Lamb whose innocent Blood now marks the door of His House, wherein He has called you to live and abide with Him.  If you consider this House of His, cornerstoned upon His Cross, it seems a desolate and deserted place.  Still, it has been left for you in mercy.  And in this House you live, not by self-preservation, but by the grace of God.

It is here within His House that you behold Him as He is, the incarnate God, your Savior and Lord.  In the Gospel of His Cross, by which He forgives you.  In His self-sacrificing love for you, even unto death.  In His holy Body given for you, and in His holy, precious Blood poured out for you.

Behold the Lamb of God, who has taken upon Himself the sins of the whole world, who takes away all of your sins.  Consider His strong arms stretched out in love to gather you to Himself and to shelter you in His mercy.  And fix your eyes on Jesus here at His Altar by hearing and heeding His Voice as He speaks to you now: “Take, eat. Drink of it, all of you.”  He is for you, He forgives you, He saves you, and He gives you life in both your body and your soul, both now and forever.

Little bird that you are, little chick, little raven or sparrow, this House of God is where you find your nesting place, here under the Lord’s Altar, here under the shadow of His wings.  For this is the Pattern of Christ, which is the Image of God.  This is the way of His Cross, which is the way of real life.  This is your Savior from heaven, who is given and poured out for you here on earth, that you might share His Glory in the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting.  So this is the House of the Lord, and this is the City of God.  And here by His grace you shall abide forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

15 March 2019

Living and Abiding in the House of God

Even before you have called, the Lord has answered you in love, and God the Father has given you the Spirit of His Son.  In truth, He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you, in and through Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, by the washing of the water with His Word.

He has surely cast out all your demons by His forgiveness of all your sins.  He has redeemed and sanctified you by the Blood of Christ; cleansed your spirit, soul, and body with the Gospel in His means of grace; given you His holy Name and adopted you as His own dear child and heir.

Not only that, but having rescued you from the devil’s clutches and kingdom, the Lord your God, your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, has brought you into the Kingdom of His grace, mercy, and peace, into His home, into His own household and family, and He has seated you at His Table.

Here the Father feeds you with His Son, who is your Spiritual Food, your Meat and Drink indeed.

Will you, then, live within your Father’s House, or will you be scattered?  Having been cleansed of your iniquity and justified by the grace of God in Christ, will you now turn away from His Word and return to your wicked ways, thus going from the bad that you were to seven times worse?

It is when you dwell in the waterless places, that is, away from your Baptism into Christ, that your restless heart, soul, mind, and spirit become the devil’s resting place and playground once again.

Therefore, do not become complacent, but maintain constant vigilance.  For freedom Christ has set you free, but do not abuse your freedom by giving yourself over to sin and its consequences.

If your heart is divided against the Lord your God, so that you do not live with Him but in the devil’s domain — which is to be found, not only in the likes of voodoo and black magic, but as much or more in cases of enmity, hardness of heart, and persistence in unrepentant sins of any sort — if that is the house in which you live, then you shall not stand or abide in the Lord’s House.

But now, instead, hear the Word of Christ and take it to heart.  Trust that His Word of the Gospel is Spirit and Truth, and that His Word is for you, unto repentance and faith, life and salvation.

Daily repent of your sins, and return to the Lord your God, who loves you and does not want you to die or perish.  He does not want to let you go, but to give you His own Life.  Why, then, should you not live?  Not by your own reason or strength, and not by your own good works, efforts, or achievements, but by the Love of God in Christ, who in His weakness is stronger than the devil.

He has redeemed you and rescued you, and with Him there is mercy and forgiveness.  His House stands here for you.  Make yourself at home.  Recline at His Table and rest.  Eat, drink, and live!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

13 March 2019

The Love of God in Christ Is the Fulfillment of the Law

If you want to know God — not only about Him, but God Himself — then hear, O Israel, what the Lord your God speaks to you.  Listen to what He says.  Hear His Word.  That is your real life, that is what is good and true.  For God reveals and gives Himself to you by the Word that He speaks.

If you would live with God, therefore, hear and heed what He says, and remember all that He has done.  For He is the Author and Giver of life, and in love He has created you for life with Himself.  So it is that He also reveals Himself to you in love, that you may know Him, and believe and trust in Him, and love Him.  Not for His benefit, but for your sake, that you should not die but live.

Before you were ever conceived in your mother’s womb, the Lord your God loved you and desired to give you life.  Consider, too, the Exodus that He has accomplished for you, how with His mighty arm and His outstretched hand He has brought you out of Egypt.  Likewise consider the Covenant that He has made with you, the Blood by which He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, atoning for your sins, cleansing you of all unrighteousness, and calling you to be His very own.

The Exodus that He has made for you — not only for those who came before you, but the Exodus that He has made for you — is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who took your sins upon Himself, bore them in His Body, laid down His life for you in love, and took it up again by faith in His Father.  So has He opened up the Life everlasting to you in body and soul.  And so are you baptized into Him, you are washed and cleansed in His Name, you are given His Holy Spirit.

He has sealed His Covenant with you, as well, by feeding you with His own Body and giving you to drink of His own Blood.  “This is My Blood of the New Covenant,” He says, echoing the words of Moses at Mt. Sinai, but fulfilling them in Himself, and so bestowing the Life of God upon you.

So does God the Father speak to you by His Son.  This is the sort of God He is, One who gives Himself to you in love.  Who is Love.  You do well by living according to His Word, by heeding His commands, by living as He has directed — by faith in His promises.  If you would do right, if you would do well, listen to what He says, and obey the Lord your God.  He has made you His own dear child, a son of God in Christ.  You, therefore, shall be perfect, as your Father is perfect.

In what does this divine perfection consist?  It is love, which is the fulfillment of the Law.  In love for God you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  That is the Royal Law, the Law of your King.

This is your perfection.  This is what your life with God is to be like.  That you love your neighbor, as you are loved by God.  You are to love the Lord your God because He first loves you, and He is your greatest Good, your Life, and your Salvation.  And you are to love your neighbor because you have become like God, recreated in His Image and Likeness — in Christ, the incarnate Son.

You are to love your neighbors, each and all of your neighbors, for the sake of Christ Jesus, as the Lord your God loves you in Christ Jesus.  It is in mercy that He has forgiven you all your sins, reconciled you to Himself, and graciously adopted you to be His own dear child in Christ Jesus.  So, then, you are to be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful.  The one who is not merciful shall be judged as a transgressor of the Law.  But you are to forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, in the same way that your Father in heaven freely and fully forgives you all your sins.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not fairness nor the justice of punishment but forgiveness that reigns.  Forgiveness of sins gets to the very heart of the Law, because it is an exercise of love and mercy.  Of course, if the Law were kept perfectly in love, there would be no need for forgiveness.  But as you relate to your neighbor, you find that your neighbor sins against you in many ways, and you find that you likewise sin against your neighbor in many ways.  And in all of these sins between yourself and your neighbor, you sin against heaven and before God.  The Law brings that to light.  It tells you what love is to look like, and so it shows that your life does not always look like that.

In many and various ways, day after day, you fall short in your love, and you sin against even your own family and friends.  And as you move beyond those most basic vocations and stations in life, you make comparisons, distinctions, and judgments regarding your other neighbors in the world, showing partiality to those more to your liking, to those who are more like you, and to those more likely to return your favors and advance your agendas.  But such favoritism is contrary to the Law.

You have a special attachment and responsibility to your own husband or wife, and to your own children, of course.  But aside from such vocations, one neighbor is to be to you as another.  And you are to love your neighbor.  You are to be kind and do good even to those who are at enmity with you.  You know that Jesus says so.  You are not to turn away from your enemy in his need but in love you are to help him as you can, as opportunity permits.  And if he slaps you, turn the other cheek.  If he takes your coat, then give him the shirt off your back.  How hard it is to love like that!

The Lord teaches you that, even in your anger, you are not to sin against your neighbor.  So what shall you do with your anger?  What shall you do when you’ve been hurt?  How do you offer right sacrifices, as the Psalmist calls you to do?  Do not offer anything to God apart from reconciliation with your neighbor.  If you come into the presence of the Lord your God and presume to offer Him anything while at odds with your neighbor, then you take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.  Then you are trying to purchase His favor, while you continue to live contrary to His will.

If you would offer to God right sacrifices, then sacrifice your pride, and sacrifice your ego, and sacrifice your hurt feelings.  Sacrifice your bitterness, and forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you.  Sacrifice yourself and your selfishness, in order to love and serve your neighbor.  Sacrifice your lust for revenge, and seek instead to be reconciled to your neighbor in peace.

Do not presume to come into the presence of God and claim that you love Him while you persist in hating, hurting, and harboring resentment and ill will against your neighbor.
Demonstrate and exercise your love for God by loving each and all of your neighbors, as the Lord your God loves you, and show no partiality among them.  For the Lord makes no distinction.  The Lord is merciful to all who call upon His Name.  But how and why, then, is He a “jealous” God?

The Lord is not jealous in the way that you envy your neighbors and covet whatever God has given to them.  The Lord is not jealous of who you are, what you have, or what you do, for He is the One who has created you, given you life, and entrusted to your stewardship all that you possess.

The Lord is jealous, not in selfishness, but in love for you and all His people.  He is jealous as a Husband for His own Wife, as a Father for His own Children.  He would not have you enticed or forced away from Him, seduced or stolen away from Him, by any other god.  For He alone is your Life and your Salvation, and He wants you to live and not to die.  He jealously guards and keeps you close to Himself, not as though to derive His life from you, but so that you might live in Him.

What, then?  The Law of the Lord is not unjust but righteous.  The love that it requires is good and right, holy and wise.  And as it thus confronts your sins, your lack of love, and all your covetous desires and selfishness, the Law shuts you up and silences all of your excuses and rationalizations.  Along with that, it actually makes your sins that much worse!  Not because the Law is evil, but because its holiness and righteousness stir up and exacerbate the wickedness of your sinful heart.

The Law will not enable or allow you to make yourself better, to turn your life around, or to set things right with God.  The Law rather reveals how helpless and hopeless you are.  It aggravates your sinful heart, mind, and spirit, because it requires that you be altogether different than you are.  As it commands you to love, you are all the more embittered against both God and your neighbor.

In truth, the entire world is guilty before Him, for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve have fallen under the condemnation of the Law.  And you are no exception, no matter how hard you try.  Even when your outward behavior is at its very best, your sinful heart and fallen flesh remain at odds with the Lord and His Law.  You do not love as He has created you and called you to love.

But Christ Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God the Father, and He alone has lived as the true Son of God in the flesh.  So, if you would know God — not only about Him, but Him — hear the Word of Christ, and know that He has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.

He speaks of a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and pharisees.  But that is not a new and better set of rules and regulations, which you might keep and fulfill with a bit of effort and a little luck.  It is the righteousness which He obtains for you and bestows upon you in holy faith and love.

This one Lord Jesus Christ approaches the Altar of His Cross and offers Himself as the good and right Sacrifice by which He reconciles the whole world to God.  For He unites both God and Man in His Body.  The wall of hostility, the accusations and judgments of God’s holy Ten Commands, and all the punishments of the Law, all of these are finally satisfied, resolved, and removed in Him.

It is in Christ that you know the Love of God.  Not abstractly, but very personally.  Not intangibly, but in the very substance of His own Flesh and Blood.  He is not far away from you, but He draws near to you.  In Him you know mercy, not merely as an example, but as God’s grace toward you.  He knows your sins better than you do, and yet He does not hold them against you.  He rather forgives you all of your sins at His own expense, and He credits you with His own righteousness.

It is in Christ Jesus — by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — that you have Peace with God and the perfect Sabbath Rest for your body, soul, and spirit that God always intended.

It is one of the saddest ironies in all of salvation history that the Sabbath Commandment has been received and regarded as one of the greatest and most difficult burdens of all.  Where God intends to give His people rest, you resent His grace and the gifts of His mercy as a demand upon your time (or what you regard as your time), as an inconvenience to your plans and aspirations in life.  The Lord calls you and invites you to rest yourself in Him and to rejoice in the Liturgy of His Gospel, and you wearily respond, “Do I have to?”  So much for loving the Lord above all other gods.

And yet, as a determined Father, as a patient and persistent Parent, as a loving and long-suffering Husband, the Lord your God continues to call you Home, back to Himself in Peace, to enter into the Sabbath Rest that remains for you and all His people in Christ Jesus.  For all the ways that you have refused to hear and heed His Word, resisted and disobeyed His Law, and taken His Name in vain, the Lord Jesus has laid down His life and taken it up again, that you should live in Him.

In yourself, in your fallen flesh and sinful heart, there is enmity and conflict, animosity and hurt, so much bitterness, and so many regrets.  Things have not been right between you and God, nor between you and your neighbors.  And as a consequence, you have been cut off, isolated, lonely, and alone with all your sins and griefs and sorrows.  Or so it has seemed to you, and so it has felt.

But you are not alone.  For Christ has come to you in mercy, and He is here with you in the midst of the wilderness under the Cross.  He comes not to punish you for your sins, as you deserve, but to set you free from your sins and from the power of death.  He comes, not as your enemy, but in order to befriend you, though you have been at enmity with Him.  He comes in peace to love you.

He brings you into fellowship with God.  For He has baptized you in His Name and poured out His Spirit upon you.  His God and Father is now your God and Father in Him.  His Church is now your House and Home, on earth as it is in heaven.  His people are your family.  As He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood, you are bound together with all who are His own.

As Christ has offered Himself for you on the Cross, so does He offer Himself to you in His Church.  So does He love you, and so do you learn from Him to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which is yours in Christ by the gift of His Gospel, as He daily and richly forgives you all your sins in His grace, mercy, and peace.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

11 March 2019

The Liturgy and Life

For those who asked, and for anyone else who may be interested, here are the audio-video recordings of the presentation I gave this past month at Calvary Lutheran Church in Wray, Colorado, on the Liturgy and Life. Thanks to my friend and college, Rev. Timothy Davis, and to the members of Calvary, for their gracious hospitality and for the opportunity to consider the life that is ours together in Christ, in the Liturgy of His Gospel, as fellow members of His Church.

The Liturgy and Life: Part One of Four

The Liturgy and Life: Part Two of Four

The Liturgy and Life: Part Three of Four

The Liturgy and Life: Part Four of Four

10 March 2019

No More Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

The Season of Lent, from the earliest days of the Church, has always been a time — not only for repentance — but especially for catechesis in the Christian faith and life, either in preparation for Holy Baptism or in the exercise of the ongoing significance and discipline of Holy Baptism.

To this day, for you, as well, Lent recalls you to the active remembrance of your Baptism into Christ, to the drowning and death of your old Adam through daily contrition and repentance, and to the rising and new life that are yours in the New Man, Christ Jesus, by faith in His Word of the Gospel, His daily forgiveness of your sins.   For you know that you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus by your Baptism into His death, that you might also rise and live with Him.

As surely as you have inherited the fall into sin with all its curse and consequences from Adam and Eve, so that you are subject to death and return to the dust of the ground, so much the more do you inherit by grace the Sonship of Christ Jesus, His Spirit and His Name, His Victory over Satan, sin, and death, and His Life with God the Father, by the new birth of water with His Word and Holy Spirit.  As a child of Adam you are born to die, but in Christ Jesus you are a brand new creation.

Conversely, as Lent is training for the life that is yours in Christ Jesus by means of Holy Baptism, so does His Baptism send Jesus into a Lenten wilderness as the One who has taken upon Himself your sin, your death, and your damnation, and bears all of this in His Body under the Law of God.

Henceforth, everything that Jesus does and suffers is not for Himself or His benefit, but in your stead, on your behalf, and for your sake.  That includes His Temptation by Satan, the deceiver and accuser, and His defeat of Satan, not only by resisting all of the devil’s temptations, but decisively by way of His Cross when He will crush that wily serpent’s head.  He wins the victory, not by an exercise of His divine power, but by the exercise of steadfast faith as the true and perfect Man.

The Temptation of our Lord recalls the testing and training of Israel in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt.  For having been baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and having been declared the chosen people of God, His holy children, at Mount Sinai — but having sinned repeatedly against the Lord with their complaints and outright disobedience — the sons of Israel were also disciplined in the wilderness over the course of forty years, an entire generation.

So also Christ Jesus.  Having been declared the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God the Father at His Baptism, anointed and filled by the Holy Spirit in His Body of flesh and blood like yours, He is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, in order to be tested and tried by Satan on behalf of all the people.  He is called and given to do and accomplish, for you and for all, what Israel could not — and what you could never hope to do.  In the heat of the harsh desert, in hunger and thirst, He goes toe-to-toe with the old evil foe, in order to resist and overcome his assaults and accusations.

The point is not so much a test to see if the devil might lure Jesus into this or that sin.  It is rather that Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is tempted in every way that you are, yet without sin.  Where Israel in the wilderness failed in every respect, Jesus in the wilderness passes the test.

It is not only that He sets an example for you to follow.  It is far more that He first of all wins the victory on your behalf.  To that same purpose, throughout His life, from His Baptism to His Cross, He suffers all that you deserve by your sins, and He accomplishes all that you could not.  He does it all in perfect faith, which is to say that He lives the truly human life that you and all the children of Adam were created and meant to live.  He does not rely on Himself, nor does He seek glory for Himself, but He trusts His Father for everything, relies on His Word alone, and receives all things from His hand, including the Cup of suffering and the Cross of death.  So has He accomplished the faith and life which He now delivers to you, by His grace alone, through His Word and Spirit.

Now, then, as you are born again as a child of God by your Baptism into Christ, and as you are called to bear and carry His Cross and follow after Him as a disciple, you also are confronted by the temptations of the devil, the world, and your own mortal flesh in the midst of the wilderness.

Not only are you tempted to do this or that wrong, as you might normally think of temptation, but especially to doubt the Word and promises that God has given and pledged to you in your Baptism.  In much the same way, Adam and Eve fell into sin when they doubted the Word and promises of God in the Garden, His life-giving Word of Creation, His promises of grace and every blessing.  They questioned whether God was faithful and for them, or whether He was holding out on them.

So are you tempted to doubt your sonship in Christ Jesus; tempted to doubt and despise His Word of Holy Absolution; tempted to doubt His Body and Blood in the Sacrament, that these are truly given and poured out for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation; and tempted to deny and flee His Holy Cross, doubting the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection.

Hand-in-hand with those temptations to doubt and question the Lord’s Word and His gifts of Life, you are likewise tempted to rely upon yourself instead, on your own wisdom, reason, strength, and experience — to measure all of life by your own thoughts and feelings — rather than trusting your God and Father in Christ Jesus for all that you need, in body and soul, for this life and the next.

With that in mind, consider the temptation to make or acquire “bread” for yourself — whether it be food and drink or whatever else you might seek to satisfy the appetites of your fallen flesh.  Such temptations are pursued, and lead to sin, and bring forth death in a wide variety of different ways.  But they are far more a matter of your heart and soul than of your stomach or your body.

It is no sin to work at your job and thereby earn your living.  Indeed, your calling and station are from the Lord, and “whoever will not work, let him not eat.”  But it is a sin to suppose that you are providing for yourself and taking care of yourself, refusing to recognize that your work, your pay, your daily bread, and whatever you have, it all comes to you by grace from the hand of God.

It is likewise a sin, therefore, to neglect your other vocations in life — as a husband and father, for example, or as a wife and mother, as a son or daughter, as a sister or brother — on the pretense that you must work more and more to make money and earn a living for yourself and your family.

At the heart of it, that sort of attitude and that way of life are simply another form of righteousness by works — the self-righteousness of self-chosen works — and not the righteousness of faith.

It is not that faith is lazy or negligent, for the vice of sloth is also sinful and contrary to the Word and will of God.  “Six days you shall labor,” says the Lord.  In love you are called to work and sacrifice for the benefit of your neighbors, beginning with your own household and family, and so also for the household and family of God, and for the poor and needy, the widows and orphans who are with you always in this body and life on earth.  But you thus do what you are given to do because it is given by God, and not because your life depends upon it.  Your life depends on God.

Jesus understood that, and He lived accordingly, even to the death of His Cross.  He was hungry, and He could easily have fed Himself by turning stones into bread or in some other way.  But He lived instead by faith, trusting the Word of His Father, and knowing that God would provide.  He also knew and trusted that His Father’s love is constant and certain, regardless of circumstances.

By contrast to that faith of Christ in the faithfulness of His God and Father, you are tempted to calculate and conclude that, if you are going hungry or going without what you want or need in this life on earth, then the Lord your God has either forgotten you or doesn’t love you, or maybe there is no God after all.  And by the same token, you are likewise tempted to suppose that, if and when you do have plenty of food and money, then God must certainly be very pleased with you.

Neither conclusion is valid.  Neither food and money nor the lack of them are any indication of God’s attitude toward you.  For that you must rely upon His Word, irrespective of your situation.

The most dire predicament may well be the blessed sign of the Holy Cross from the hand of your dear Father in heaven, whereas wealth and riches often become a snare and temptation of Satan.

With or without such things, it is well that you recall the Word of your Lord from Ash Wednesday: “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.  But lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The Lord Jesus knows what He is saying.  And He knows better than you do that it is not easy.  In the wilderness He has been tempted by the devil, as you are, to lay up treasures for Himself on earth — to turn aside from the Kingdom of God and trade it for the kingdoms of this world — to seek after comfort and power and glory, instead of enduring His hunger and suffering and death.

So it is that you are tempted to give up on the Cross and the hope of the Resurrection, in exchange for instant gratification.  Instead of waiting quietly and patiently on God, you chase after idols.

But the Lord Jesus Christ exercises confidence in His God and Father.  He waits upon the Lord to open His hand and provide the daily bread that He needs to serve and support His body and life, according to the good and gracious will of God.  He trusts His God and Father throughout those long, hard forty days of fasting, without bread, even as that lying and murdering tempter whispers those challenging and taunting questions of doubt: “If You are the Son of God. . . .”

Ah, yes, the big “if.”  Did God really say?  But though Christ Jesus is the Son, He learns obedience through what He suffers in your place.  In godly fear He does not fight temptation as the powerful Son of God, but rather as the true Man, as your Brother in the flesh, as the perfect Second Adam, who lives your life as you are called to live, who faces all the same temptations that you face, but who relies upon the Father and clings to His Word even when all hell breaks loose against Him.

The beloved and well-pleasing Son will not bow down to Satan.  He will not trade the ways of God for the comforts of the world.  His only treasure is the Kingdom of His Father, on earth as it is in heaven.  His heart is set upon His Father’s Will, no matter the cost.  And in the strength of perfect faith and holy love, He renounces the devil, all his works, and all his ways, and willingly receives the Cross from the hand of His God and Father.  That is where He looks for Life, and nowhere else.

It is likewise in the Cross and Passion of the same Lord Jesus Christ that you are granted real life and real glory in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  Despite appearances and feelings, you will surely not find comfort or happiness anywhere else, for everything else will vanish like smoke in the day of trouble.  There is no lasting glory in the kingdoms of this world, no forgiveness of your sins, no resurrection of your body, no life everlasting.  Only empty promises and disappointment.

But take heart, for you are in the wilderness with Christ Jesus.  In the waters of the Jordan you also have received the sign of the Cross from the hand of your Father — not to burden you forever, but to raise you up in glory on the Last Day.  Thus, the daily drowning of your old Adam always brings forth the rising of the New Man, Jesus Christ. Your repentance is always met with His forgiveness.  Your tears of grief and sorrow are replaced by shouts of joy.  Your Lent brings you into Easter.

That is what these forty days are all about.  They teach you and train you to look for Life, and to find it, in the Cross and Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ, in the Fruits of His Cross and Passion.  Thus are you returned to the dying and rising of your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  And here at His Table in the midst of the wilderness, in the presence of your enemies, you are fed upon the Bread of Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, by which you live in God, and He abides in you.

By these gifts Christ freely gives, by His Word and Holy Spirit, by the grace and mercy of His God and Father, you are well able to sing — together with all those who live by faith in Christ Jesus, including those who have gone before us into glory: “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; though these all be gone, our victory has been won, the Kingdom ours remaineth!”

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

08 March 2019

Fasting for and Feasting with the Bridegroom

Christ Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, has come, and He is here with you and for you — with or without your prayers, and whether you fast or not.  But He calls you to repentance, to fast and to pray, in order that you might receive Him in faith and rejoice in His salvation.

He comes to seek His Bride, to woo her to Himself, and to make her beautiful in His love for her, adorning her with His own perfect righteousness.  He is, in this same respect, the Good Physician who does not avoid or keep His distance from those who are sick, but who draws near to them in their frailty and weakness, and exposes Himself to their infectious diseases, in order to heal them.

So does He also come to help and heal you.  And to that same end, He calls you to give up and leave behind everything that you have clung to and relied upon in the past.  But that has less to do with your possessions than with your self, your old Adam, your sinful flesh and covetous heart.

For you to be converted from the inside-out, heart, soul, body, mind, and spirit, is not a matter of self-improvement, but the Lord is the One who thus makes you brand new.  So also are all things in heaven and on earth made new for you in Christ Jesus.  Thus do you begin to share your bread with the hungry, you welcome the stranger into your home, you cover the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Whether you have much or little, you begin to share your hospitality with Jesus and His disciples, even as He welcomes you into His Banquet Hall to share in His Wedding Feast.

That Christ Jesus comes to you and calls you to Himself in love — that He rescues you from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and brings you in and with Himself into the Kingdom of His God and Father — that is the righteousness of Christ which is credited to you by faith in His Gospel; and that is your life and health and strength in the presence of God, here in time and hereafter forever.

It is already accomplished and established in Him, who has perfectly fulfilled the Law, on the one hand, but has also borne and satisfied its condemnation and punishment of sin on the other hand.  In keeping company with sinners, such as yourself, He has taken all your sins, your sickness unto death, upon Himself.  So has He entered the badlands, the dead zone, the quarantine, in order to defeat the disease (and death and the devil) by laying down His Life and pouring Himself out.

Once-for-all He has done so.  But His call to repentance, to leave your sin and death behind and follow Him, to receive His righteousness by grace through faith in His Gospel, that is a daily and ongoing call.  Daily He returns you to your Baptism, to die and rise with Him to newness of life.

It is for such repentance that you now fast and pray, that you might also feast in the presence of your Bridegroom.  For He shall never leave you nor forsake you — but you are frequently pulled away from Him by the appetites of your fallen flesh for the fruits of the old evil foe.  That remains a constant temptation in your mortal life on earth, which you will not escape by your own efforts.

You shall not heal yourself, nor shall you justify yourself by your own piety.  Nor do you make things better, but only that much worse, when you flee from the Lord your God, from His Word and prayer, and indulge yourself in the spiritual adultery and fornication of your idolatrous sins.

For all of that, the heavenly Bridegroom has come and sought you out.  He calls you to Himself to be His holy Bride.  He cleanses you, within and without, with His forgiveness of your sins; and He clothes you for the Wedding — and for the Wedding Feast — with His own righteousness and holiness.  As He has done so in your Holy Baptism, so does He continue to do so, again and again, by His preaching of the Holy Gospel and by His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, free and clear.

Not only that, but He has saved the best Wine til now!  His holy and precious Blood has burst the old skins of the Law, and now He pours it out, for you and for the many, in this New Testament.

Here, then, is your great and joyous feasting, even in the midst of your fasting and repentance.  For here, indeed, your Bridegroom is with you — forever and always, unto the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of your body and soul.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

06 March 2019

Christ Jesus Is Your Grain Offering and Your Drink Offering

There is the danger of complacency in your heart and soul when everything is going well, whereas even a small taste of the consequences of your sin can be enough to send you reeling in despair.  When you are brought to an awareness of your mortality, when you’re caught with your hand in the cookie jar and suffer the penalty, or when you’ve gotten yourself up to your neck in trouble because of your poor choices and reckless behavior, you either panic and scramble or you give up.

The basic instinct of your sinful flesh, when you recognize your predicament, is to work and strive and try harder to please God with improved behavior, or else to pacify Him with your sacrifices.  In point of fact, genuine repentance does involve the sacrifice of yourself and your false gods, as well as positive changes in your life, in what you think and do and say.  Such things belong to the fruits of repentance, but they are not a means of self-justification or atonement for your sins.

If you work and sacrifice in an effort to free yourself from the consequences of your sin, and in the hopes of impressing the Lord your God or simply getting Him off your back, you’ve already failed from the get-go.  No matter what you do, no matter how much you offer, it will never be enough, nor will it ever be good enough.  It will not makes things better, it will only make them worse.  Not only because you are not up to the task and so fall short, but because the effort itself is all wrong.

All of your attempts to fix the problem are flawed from the ground up, because they fail to take sin seriously enough, and they do not realize what sin really is.  By the same token, the presumption that you could actually make things right between you and God demonstrates that you are taking your own self-righteousness far too seriously.  But do you really imagine that you could ever buy God off?  Are you so naive as to suppose you could help Him or give Him something He lacks?

What God desires from you is not your stuff, which is really His stuff anyway; but what He desires is you, your heart, your whole body and life — that you should fear, love, and trust in Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Not that He’s looking to get something from you, but that you should look to Him and rely on Him for life and health and strength and all good things, and that you should thus receive His many good and gracious gifts in faith and with thanksgiving.

The harder you try to give Him something else — anything else than your heart and your self — the further and further away you depart from Him, the deeper and deeper you fall into your sins, and the more firmly you entrench yourself in the dust of the earth from which the Lord your God would raise you up.  But why should you die and not live?  Why do you hold yourself back from the Author and Giver of Life?  And why do you trade His grace and mercy for perishable stuff?

Truth be told, you don’t show mercy and charity to the poor and needy as you should; you don’t pray and fast as you should; your heart and your treasures are invested not in heaven but on earth.

But prayer and fasting, charity, and works of mercy will not save you from your sin and death.  As meet, right, and salutary as those basic disciplines of the Christian faith and life truly are, they are not able to reconcile you to God, whose holy Law and righteous judgment condemn you for your lack of faith in Him and for your idolatrous worship of yourself, your flesh, and all manner of false gods.  The discipline of your flesh, the fruits of faith, and works of love are not able to atone for your sins or to redeem your life.  Then again, that is not what they were ever intended to do.  They serve only to exercise and focus your faith and life in Christ, and to steer you clear of further sins.

What you need, though, in order to be rescued from your sin and death — to be forgiven all your sins, to be justified in the presence of God, and to be sanctified unto Life everlasting in body and soul — is nothing you could ever do or achieve for yourself, not at any price, nor by any effort.  Nor have you been created by the Word and Spirit of God to be your own savior, but to live by His grace at all times and in all places, receiving His providential care in faith and with thanksgiving.  That is the life to which you are called throughout Lent, and which you are given by the Ministry of the Gospel in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Already and always, we live to and from Easter.

You enter into His Resurrection and His Life by the way and means of His Cross.  Just as it was necessary that the Christ should suffer and die and thereby enter into His Glory through the Cross.  For He is crucified, put to death, and buried on account of your sins, that you should be justified, made brand new, brought to life, and sanctified, body and soul, in His crucified and risen Body.

So must you also be crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ, in heart, mind, body, and soul, that you might also rise with Him to newness of life in Him.  You must become altogether different than you otherwise are and otherwise have been apart from Him.  Because your sin is not so much a case of broken rules and infractions for which you must be punished and for which you could potentially make amends.  It is rather a perversion of your created nature and a devastating, deadly rupture in your relationship with the Lord your God, who is alone your Life and your Salvation.

You cannot save yourself from sin and death because, at the heart of it, you are the problem, you are your own worst enemy.  The Lord calls you to repentance, not that you should raise yourself up by your own bootstraps (which is futile and impossible), but that you should die to yourself in order to live in Christ by faith in His Word, by the grace of His Gospel, by the generous gift of His Holy Spirit, by the power of His own indestructible Life.  Thus are you broken by His Law and by the curse and consequences of your sins, in order to be healed by His forgiveness of all your sins.  You are broken and made contrite in spirit, in order to be cleansed and sanctified by His Spirit.

If you would recognize the seriousness of your sins, and so also the futility of any and all attempts to redeem and save yourself, consider the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as He is lifted up and stretched out upon the Cross as the Propitiation for your sins and for the sins of the whole world.  In His voluntary suffering and death, in the shedding of His holy, precious Blood, you behold just how deadly serious the perversion and rupture of creation by the sin of Adam and his progeny have been.  For it is all met and suffered, blow for blow, by the Son of Man in His Cross and Passion.

But see there in the Crucifixion of your Lord, not only the wickedness of your sin and the righteous wrath and judgment of God against it, but also the way of repentance that He has thereby opened up for you and for all, that He should bring you in and with Himself out of death into life, from the slavery of your sin to the freedom of His forgiveness, from brokenness to wholeness in His Body.  It is for this purpose that He willingly suffers and dies, and it is in this way that He becomes your true Lord.  So is He your Strength and your Song, because He is the Sacrifice of your Salvation.

It is by His Baptism in the Jordan River — from the waters of His Baptism to His death upon the Cross — that He has opened up the heavens and the way to God the Father to you and to all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  He submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, that you should receive life by repentance and faith in His forgiveness and by the anointing of the Spirit in heart, mind, body, and soul, through Baptism in His Name.  So it is that you are crucified, dead, and buried with Him, that you should rise and live with Him.

It is by His sacrificial death, by the pouring out of His heart and the shedding of His Blood, that He has made atonement for your sins, redeemed you for Himself, and reconciled you to His God and Father in heaven.  This He has done in love, for you and all the world, so that by His death you should not die but live forever in body and soul with Him and with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Consider, then, what He has given up and done without, not to achieve or accomplish anything for Himself (for all things are always His by right), but that you should benefit and be well provided at His expense.  It is by the sweat of His brow and the hard labor of His hands, by His good works of mercy and charity, by His fasting and prayer, by His faith, hope, and love, that you are brought into the presence of God, and that you come to His Father as a beloved child to your own Father.

It is for sake of Jesus Christ, your Savior, the beloved and well-pleasing Son, that God the Lord is gracious and merciful, compassionate and kind, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for you and for your children.  It is for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Savior, that your own dear God and Father in heaven freely and fully forgives you all your sins and remembers them no more.

As you are broken in heart, mind, and spirit by His Law, so much the more does He heal you in body and soul by the Ministry of His Gospel.  And as often as you are sorrowful and cast down by your sins and their consequences in this world, and by the sins of those who trespass against you, so often does He comfort your troubled conscience, cheer your sorrowing spirit, grant peace to your heart and mind, and lift up your countenance in the hope and confidence of the Resurrection.

Here and now, in this poor life of labor, He does it all in the secret place of the Cross, which the world cannot see and does not comprehend, and which your own fallen flesh, sinful heart, and beclouded mind cannot understand and would prefer to do without.  Yet, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you embrace and hold fast to His Cross in repentance and faith.  So also, by His grace, you receive, rely upon, and rest yourself in the Fruits of the Cross of Christ — in the remembrance of your Holy Baptism, in Confession and Absolution, and in the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood.

Though it is hard and often hurts, it is by His Cross that you die to yourself, to your sins, and to this fallen and perishing world, that you might live unto God in the righteousness and innocence of Christ, the Son of God.  It is by His Cross and in His Resurrection that you are thus born again as a well-pleasing child of God the Father.  For His crucified and risen Body is the acceptable Sacrifice and sweet-smelling Incense by which your prayers are heard and answered in the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, and by which you enter with all boldness and confidence into the presence of God, not to be cast out, but to abide forever in His Peace.

You know your Father’s heart and mind concerning you, according to His Word and Promise, by what He says to you, does for you, and gives to you within His Church on earth.  For He is faithful, and He does what He has spoken.  Day by day He opens His hand in mercy to satisfy all the needs of your body and soul, not only here in time, but unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

He strengthens and sustains you in the one true faith by His Word and Holy Spirit, daily and richly forgiving you all your sins through His Holy Absolution and by the preaching of His Holy Gospel.  And not only does He feed and clothe and shelter your body here on earth, but He feeds you with the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus in His Supper, as He has clothed you with the righteousness and holiness of Christ in Holy Baptism, and as He shelters and protects you within His Church.

It is for this reason that you feed and clothe and shelter your neighbors on earth, even the least of them, and especially your brothers and sisters in Christ, your fellow members of the household and family of God.  Not to atone for your sins, but because your Lord has made Atonement for you by His Cross.  Not to justify yourself, but because your Lord has justified you by His Resurrection.  And not to look good in the eyes of men, but to glorify your God and Father in heaven by works of mercy like His own, bearing fruits of faith and love after the same kind as the Cross of Christ.

It is in Christ your Savior that you relate to your Father in heaven and to your neighbors on earth.  For He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  And not only that, but He is the true Temple of God in whom you live, and He is the once-for-all Sacrifice to end all other sacrifices for sin.  So also is He the Grain Offering and the Drink Offering by which you have fellowship with God and with one another.  You eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, and you are bound together with all the baptized as one Body in Him.

These Gifts Christ freely gives — His Holy Word and Sacraments, His means of grace, the Liturgy of His Gospel — these are the sacred Alms He gives to you in the hiddenness of His Cross.  These are His mercy toward you, by which you draw near to God in peace, as He draws nears to you in love.  And these Gifts of Christ are your true and greatest treasure, on earth as it is in heaven, that where the Body of Christ Jesus is given and received, there your heart will be and abide forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.