20 November 2010

With Christ in Paradise

Jesus remembers you today, and you are with Him in Paradise, because He is here with you in the midst of the great tribulation.

Behold, His tree is not only green, even as winter approaches, but it is fruitful; not “in spite” of His suffering, but by His innocent suffering and death. His Blood is the Seed of your salvation, and His Body is the First Fruit of the New Creation.

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Him; sons of Israel, do not mourn His death. But weep and mourn for your sins, for which the Lord Jesus dies, and sorrow for your children, who have inherited your sin and death.

Sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, weep and mourn over your fall into sin, for your disbelief and disobedience, for your departure from God and from His Garden. Weep and mourn for the death and decay of God’s good creation, which bears the burden of your fault and suffers the sorrow of your trespass, the stain of your iniquity.

The world seems, one moment so enticing, the next moment so frightening and futile. What a tragic legacy of sin and death we have all received from our fathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them; and we no less than they hand it over to those who come after us, whether by the seed of our mortal flesh, or by our bad example, or both. Things do not get better, but worse.

Well, then, if the green and fruitful tree is subjected to death, whatever shall become of the tree that is already dry and fruitless? It will be cut down and thrown into the fire; for every tree that does not bear fruit must be removed and disposed of.

So there is the temptation to despair and hopelessness. The days have long since come when they say that the barren are blessed to have no children, and many now make themselves barren on purpose, by choice. The wombs that do not bear, and the breasts that do not nurse, are considered fortunate. Not only are children viewed as a burden and a curse to be avoided, but it is argued that this world is no fit place for a child. Everything is already so crowded, and all our energies and resources are so taxed and inadequate. One more straw will surely break the camel’s back!

There is this temptation to futility and fear, whereby you do not mourn your sin nor weep with repentance, but you despair of God and wallow in self-pity and harbor resentment in your heart.

It is all so unfair, you suppose, and nothing is of any use, you conclude. Whether you are faithful or not appears to make no difference. Whether you pray or not seems not to matter. Whether you are righteous or wicked is of no obvious consequence, unless it be that the righteous suffer want while the wicked flourish and prosper at the expense of the righteous.

Those who do their jobs conscientiously are taken advantage of, or else they are fired, whereas those who cut corners and compromise are praised and rewarded.

Those who lie and cheat and steal are able to get away with robbery and murder, while those who abide in peace are victimized and crushed under foot.

So where is your God? Why does He not help you? Why is everything so hard and such a mess?

You go to church, you give your offerings, you say your prayers and read the Bible, and you do nice things for your neighbors. And what do you have to show for it all? What’s the point? What difference does it make?

Satan taunts you, and he tempts you, as he dared to tempt Christ Jesus: If you are a dear child of God, then why this, and why that? Why do you go hungry? Why are you so poor, and so alone? Why must you suffer? Why must your job be such a pain? Why is your marriage stressful, and why are your children ill-mannered and disobedient? Or why do you have no spouse or child?

The devil hurls these assaults and accusations against you, against the words and promises of your Holy Baptism, and against the forgiveness of the Gospel. After everything that God has said, the devil puts a big question mark: “Really?” Then he’ll drive you to doubt and despair, about God on the one hand, and about yourself on the other. Either God must be deceiving you, or else unable to help you; or you’ve not done enough or done it right, so why should God even bother with you, unless it be to punish you severely for your depravity and failure?

So you are caught in this great tribulation, which rages all around you, and roars in your ears, and batters your heart, and confuses your head, and wearies your soul. The choices set before you seem utterly bleak and futile: Either God is not good enough, or you are not good enough.

If God is not good enough, or if He isn’t real, then why bother with anything in particular? You might as well do whatever you want, and it won’t matter, anyway.

But you know that isn’t true. God forbid that you should fall into such perdition. God forbid it, and God forgive you for all such doubts and fears wherever you have entertained them.

But what about you, then. Are you good enough? Have you done enough? Have you done it all just right? Have you kept your nose clean? Have you given enough? Have you prayed enough? Have you loved enough? Have you believed enough, and do you believe all the right things?

These are impossible questions, but the answer to each and all of them is, “No, you haven’t.”

You are a sinner, first of all, from the inside-out, before you have done anything. And as a sinner, all your thoughts, words and deeds are sinful. Even the best of what you manage to do is filthy with your sin. And the harder you try to make yourself righteous and “good enough,” the more sinful you become.

The root of the problem is not your behavior — be it “good,” “bad,” or otherwise — but your heart. You do not fear, love and trust in God above all things. You do not rely upon Him and look to Him, expecting only good things from Him, but you bargain and maneuver and negotiate, you plot and you strive to make some kind of compromise or deal with Him.

You dare Him to help you, not in faith and hope, but in hopeless desperation. You do not fear Him as God, your gracious Creator, but you’re simply afraid — as much in terror of your lot in life as of His eternal judgment.

Consequently, there is this reserve in what you do and how you live before God. You do not entrust your all to Him, but you offer what you think you can afford, what you figure you can live without, as much as you think it will take, but as little as you think you can get away with.

Why do you not tithe? Because it isn’t a law? Because you don’t think you can afford it? Because you do not trust the Lord to provide you with all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the life everlasting?

Why do you not bring the whole tithe into the stores of the Lord’s House, in order to support His Church and Ministry? Why do you not give the first fruits of your labor and your income to the Lord, that His House be well-supplied with food and drink?

It is arrogant pride to suppose that it is vain to serve the Lord. It is prideful self-idolatry to reckon that He will not save you, but that you must save yourself.

“Save yourself. Save yourself. Save yourself.”

That is the devil’s satanic seduction, which he throws into your face and whispers into your ear, as he did with Christ in the wilderness, at Caesarea Philippi, on the Cross, and at all the opportune times and places in between.

“Make bread for yourself, instead of receiving God’s daily manna.”

“Go ahead and eat the fruit He has forbidden. It looks good, doesn’t it? It’ll taste good, too, and it’ll make you wise. Then you’ll be your own god! You won’t die! Why should you be denied?”

“Come down from the Cross, instead of bearing it after Jesus.”

“Betray Him, deny Him, run away and hide from Him.”

Those are the devil’s lies and temptations, and such are the inclinations of your sinful heart. You hear and heed his words; you think his thoughts, instead of God’s; you speak his lies, to yourself and to others; and you act as he urges, instead of living as the Lord has commanded.

Daughter of Jerusalem, son of Israel, child of Adam & Eve, repent of this robbery and theft. Own that you are a criminal, deserving of nothing but punishment, and be crucified with Christ, who numbers Himself with such transgressors; who numbers Himself even with you.

“A criminal?” you protest. “A robber and a thief?”

Yes, you are, and worse: an idolater and blasphemer, a murderer and adulterer, a liar and a cheat.

Is it not robbery and theft to live your life as though it were your own possession, when it is the Lord who made you, and not you? Is it not criminal to horde the things that God has entrusted to your stewardship, and to use them as though they were your own by right, instead of using those treasures and talents to love and serve your neighbor and to support the Lord’s Church?

But now, fear the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer. Fear God, who willingly suffers the punishment that you justly deserve. See in His Body on the Cross the wages of your sin and the price of your Redemption.

And hear His Word to you, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins. Despair of yourself, yes, but do not despair of Him. Rather, hope in Him, in His Cross, in His Body and His Blood, in His Church and Ministry, His Gospel and His Spirit.

Do not suppose that the wicked will always prevail, nor that the righteous are forgotten.

Jesus remembers you, beloved, even unto death.

And this same Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His eternal Kingdom. He lives and reigns to all eternity. And truly I say to you, He has done all of this, and He does it now and forever, in a Body of flesh and blood like yours. He has lived and died and risen from the dead, and He lives and reigns forever, as the true and perfect Man: your Brother!

In Him, all the fullness of God dwells bodily, so that you may live and abide with Christ in God, as He abides with you.

As the Christ of God, His Chosen One, the Holy Spirit rests upon His Body and remains with Him in His flesh and blood. Therefore, you who are united with Him as a member of His Body, and who partake of His flesh and blood, are also chosen of God and anointed by His Spirit.

Consider, then, what it means for Him to be the Christ.

He does save others — He is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior — but He does not save Himself. Instead, He lives by perfect faith in His God and Father. He loves Him and trusts in Him, and He prays to Him in confidence, even in the face of death.

He brings the whole Tithe into the Lord’s House, and far more than 10% He offers up Himself, His whole life, His Body and soul, His flesh and blood. He is the spotless Lamb who suffers and dies in the place of His people, and who, by His sacrificial death, atones for all their sins: including all of yours. He is the sweet-smelling incense that fills the Temple with the very Peace of God.

And He is the Food, the Meat and Drink indeed, which fills the Lord’s storehouse and feeds His entire Church in every time and place, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

His faith was not misplaced, His faithfulness not in vain. Though He was numbered with transgressors, and crucified as a criminal, cursed upon the tree between two robbers, His righteousness is vindicated and openly declared by God, who raised Him from the dead. All of this for you, dear one, and for the redemption and sanctification of His good creation.

He, the crucified and risen One, in human flesh and blood, is the Image of God in which you are made. He is the Firstborn, the First Fruits, and the Fulfillment of Creation; not as a creature, but as the Incarnate God. He is the King, and His Bride, the Church is the Queen of all creation. And He has ascended that royal throne by way of the Cross, in faith toward God and love toward you.

Because He is your King, your Savior and your Head, the Husband of His Church — of which you are a member by His grace — His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, your vindication and your righteousness.

That is your sure and certain hope as you carry the cross and suffer and die.

That is your sure and certain hope, your righteousness and peace, although you are a sinner, a criminal, a robber and a thief.

Do not, for that reason, continue in your sin. But to the contrary, in the hope of the resurrection, repent, trust Christ, and live. Be crucified, dead and buried with Him, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, in His Paradise.

Trust Him by hearing His Word and calling upon His Name in prayer.

Trust Him by doing the work He has given you to do, patiently and without grumbling.

Trust Him by honoring your parents, cherishing your spouse, and caring for your children, even though all of these individuals are poor miserable sinners like yourself.

Trust Him by forgiving those who sin against you, by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, by turning the other cheek and gladly doing good even to those who hurt you.

Trust the Lord to vindicate you, to defend you, to speak well of you, just as He has declared you to be righteous by His Gospel. Trust Him to uphold the good Name with which He has named you.

Trust Him to feed and clothe, shelter and protect you, even when you are destitute and don’t know where or when or how His help will come — whether here in time on earth, or hereafter in the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting in heaven.

Whatever the case may be, He will surely save your life from death, and feed and clothe your body, and shelter and protect you. For He has given Himself for you, and in His Church He daily and richly provides you with all of these good things.

Here He clothes you with His righteousness and covers you with Himself. For He was stripped naked, and His garments were divided, that you might be dressed with that which is His. Here He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of the same Blood with which He has redeemed you and reconciled you to His God and Father forever. So has He made His House your home.

Knowing that this Food and Clothing of His House are far more precious and more permanent than anything else in all of creation — and knowing that His Word, which is here preached to you, alone remains forever, while heaven and earth are perishing and passing away — so trust the Lord by bringing your first fruits and your whole tithe into His storehouse.

Trust Him, and see whether He does not open up His generous hand and all of heaven to pour down the abundant blessing of His Spirit, His grace, His mercy and His peace.

Trust Him to do so, because He has already done so, and He is doing so for you here and now. Here, indeed, you are with Him in Paradise, because the fruits of the Tree of Life are freely given without cost, and the waters of life are generously poured out for your cleansing and refreshment, free and clear of any charge.

Not because you are so faithful, but He is.

Jesus remembers you — always and forever, and so also here and now — as He comes to you in and with His Kingdom. He remembers you with His Word of Peace, His Gospel of forgiveness. He remembers you with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and drink.

Truly, by these fruits of His green tree, He is with you, and today you are with Him in Paradise. That is His Word and promise to the poor miserable sinner who is crucified and dies with Him. And that is His Word and promise to you, who have been crucified and died with Him in Holy Baptism. So surely are you also raised with Him in His Resurrection.

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

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