04 December 2010

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

The Lord is coming. As surely as He made the heavens and the earth — as surely as He drowned the unbelieving world in the waters of the flood, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness — as surely as He was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried — as surely as He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity at the right hand of His Father — so surely is He coming to judge the living and the dead.

The Lord shall come in power and great glory for the final judgment at the last, this is most certainly true. But He is already coming to you here and now, to judge you in His righteousness. His Kingdom is at hand, as He Himself is here at hand in the preaching of His Word, in His flesh and blood, and with His Holy Spirit.

If you would receive this Lord, your God, as your Savior and your King, make ready His way in your body and life. Clear and straighten your path to coincide with His.

Repent. That is what His voice cries out and calls you to do.

Repent. That is your only proper response to His coming.

To repent is to be turned around, entirely, away from your willful self-pursuits, away from your covetous greed and jealous envy, away from all the false gods in your life, and to be turned unto God in Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It is to liquidate all of your own assets and investments, and to put all your eggs in the one basket of Christ Jesus.

To repent is to be crucified to yourself and to all your sins and sinfulness, to be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and desires, and to be raised up with Christ Jesus, to live in Him alone, to trust Him completely with all that you are and have, and so to live unto righteousness and purity before His God and Father in all that you think and say and do.

To repent is not only to be sorry for your sins, but to be turned away from them altogether. It is not only to stop being bad, but to begin doing good. It is to flee the wrath of God against sin and every evil, by fleeing from sin and every evil, and to do instead what is the Lord's good and acceptable will.

As the Lord is coming and His Kingdom is at hand, and as He calls you to repent, therefore, bear the fruits of repentance.

For every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So, too, while the wheat is harvested and gathered unto the Lord, the chaff is burned up.

Make no mistake. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees.

Therefore, repent of your sins, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Do not suppose that you are here called to bear the fruits of your own righteousness. For those efforts and works of your own are not good fruits but filthy, rotten and wild. What is more, if they are offered in the fear of punishment, or in the hopes of earning some reward, they only serve to increase and magnify your sinful selfishness.

The genuine fruits of repentance emerge in faith and proceed in love. The repentant heart not only fears the Lord and His wrath, but also hopes in Him alone, and trusts Him for all good things, and looks to Him in confident expectation of His mercy.

What is more, and most important, the genuine fruits of repentance are never self-made works, but they are the gift and produce of the Word of God. No tree or fruit-bearing plant produces anything apart from the Word of God and the good gifts that He alone provides by His grace. Rather, He speaks, and it is so. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall, and He nurtures His good creation with His good gifts. So does the earth bring forth its bounty for every living thing, and so do you, whom God has raised up from the dust of the earth, bring forth good fruits by the Word that He speaks to you, by the life-giving Breath of His mouth.

The first fruit of repentance is thus to confess what God has spoken to you: You echo back His Law by confessing your sins, and you echo His Gospel by confessing His mercy and forgiveness, His Christ and His Salvation. His Word opens your lips to confess what is true and right, and by your speaking of His Word you rightly honor Him and worship Him and glorify His holy Name.

With that confession of repentant faith — in that humble confidence with which you acknowledge your sin and yet hope in the Lord's gracious forgiveness — the fruits of repentance continue in true love for your neighbors. I speak not of romance, but of righteousness, that is to say, the divine righteousness of the Gospel, which is the righteousness of faith in Christ and His forgiveness.

As you have known your own sins, your own frailties and failings, and yet you have also known the Lord’s free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so do you know long-suffering patience and tender compassion for your neighbor. You do not deal harshly with his or her sins against you, but with a gentle spirit you rebuke where appropriate; you correct and guide and help where you are given to do so — as in the case of your own children, or with others who may be under your care and authority. Even so, in love you bear with your neighbor’s weaknesses and faults, and you cover his trespasses with grace. You do not hold grudges, but you are eager to forgive and forget.

So do you pray for your enemies, that God the Lord would bless them with every good thing, including the grace of repentance. You turn the other cheek when others hurt you. Instead of self-defensiveness, you are quick to defend your neighbor, to protect his reputation and to guard his interests, even at your own expense. The good fruits of genuine repentance love and serve without counting the cost or measuring any return. You gladly do good to those who would never do the same for you.

You love your neighbor fearlessly, because you fear the Lord and love and trust in Him. After all, He is your life and your salvation. He alone is your hope in the face of sin and death and every evil. He is your sure and certain confidence when you are confronted with your own sin, and no less so when you are sinned against.

If you would receive this Lord who is coming to you, and if you would enter His Kingdom here at hand, repent, and bear the fruits of repentance:

Confess your sins, and receive mercy in the Lord’s Absolution. Where you have not done what He commands you to do, confess your failure. Where you have done what He forbids, confess your wrongdoing. Acknowledge that you are sinful and unclean from the inside-out — in all your thoughts, words and deeds — and in many ways that you have not even realized or been aware of.

Humble yourself before the Lord, and trust not in yourself but in His loving-kindness, in His tender mercy and gracious compassion. Believe and confess the truth of His Law, which correctly condemns you for your sin, but so believe His Gospel all the more, which the Father speaks to you by His Son.

In that fearful confidence of Christ, submit yourself to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins. Repent and be baptized, every one of you, and be forgiven. This promise and this gift is for you and for your children, even nursing babes and infants, and no less so for the elderly and infirm.

If you are already baptized, praise God for that gift, for that new birth of water and His Spirit, for that washing of the water with His Word, that cleansing of your conscience before Him in Christ. And so live in your Holy Baptism as a disciple of Christ Jesus, that is, by hearing and heeding His Word, by taking up the Cross to follow Him, and by returning to the significance of your Baptism each day of your life. That is to live in the way of repentance, which is by the daily catechesis of Christ, by the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, by the proclamation of His Cross and Resurrection, and by the prayer and confession of His Name. So does He put you to death and raise you to newness of life, day after day your whole life long, unto the resurrection of your body to the life everlasting in His Kingdom of heaven.

You are born again but once, in the waters of one Baptism for the remission of sins, but you continue to live and move and have your being in that new life, in the Body of Christ, by the breathing of His Spirit and by the eating and drinking of His Body and His Blood — in the repentant faith of His Word.

Therefore, die to yourself; die to your stubborn will and selfishness; and die to all your sins of thought, word and deed, to all that you have done wrong, and to all that you have failed to do right. Die to all of that which is not the one true God, in order to live by faith in Him who was, and is, and is to come. Trust not yourself, but Christ, the incarnate Son, the crucified and risen Lord, and so find in Him your true and real life with His God and Father and His Holy Spirit.

Living that divine life in Christ, bear the fruits of love for your neighbor; just as the same Lord Jesus Christ loves you and your neighbor with His whole body and life.

That is to bear the Cross of Christ, and to bear the good fruits of that Tree.

Beloved, to do so is the gracious work of Christ Jesus, which He has accomplished for you in Himself, and which He now works in you by His Word.

For you see, He has borne the fruits of repentance by His death upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. Indeed, His own Body, His own flesh and blood, are the First Fruits of repentance, and of righteousness, and of the New Creation, the Kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth.

So now, then, by the Word of His Cross, by the rod of His lips and the Breath of His mouth, He bears the fruits of repentance in you, by slaying the wicked old Adam in you, and by raising the New Man in you — and you in Him.

It is thus by His Cross, by His Word of the Cross, that He judges you with His own righteousness. For He has submitted Himself to the judgment of the Law in your place, on your behalf, so that now you share His victory, His vindication of innocence and His emancipation from the dead.

His Cross is your Atonement; therefore, His Resurrection is your righteousness.

He and His Tree were cut down and cast into the fire of God’s righteous wrath and judgment, but, lo, He and His Tree have been raised up as a signal for the nations.

By that holy Tree of the Cross, the Lord Jesus bears good fruits for you, here in the orchard of His Church: the fruits of forgiveness, life and salvation, and, to be more concrete and specific, the fruits of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion — and by these means of grace, the fruits of perfect peace and rest in Him, in His Kingdom. These good fruits are yours even now, by grace through faith in His Gospel, and they shall be yours in His heaven forever and ever.

Therefore, though you are chaff in yourself, and you are thoroughly consumed by the fire of His Holy Spirit, yet you are not destroyed forever, but you are brought through the fire with Christ Jesus. For He is pure wheat, indeed, who has passed through the fire ahead of you, in order to be baked into a wholesome loaf of living and life-giving Bread from heaven, with which He feeds you in love.

So that now, with Him, you also rise up from the fires of death, and you are baked together into Him, as one loaf — even as you all eat of the one Bread which is His Body, and you drink from the one Cup which is the New Testament in His Blood.

It is unto this great Feast of Christ that you repent — it is to this Food and Drink that you are turned — for here at His Altar, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand: not with a heavy hand, nor with an iron fist, but with the right hand of fellowship, in the Peace of reconciliation with God and with each other through His forgiveness of sins.

For it is most certainly true that He has redeemed you from sin and death by His Cross and Passion, and He has reconciled you to His God and Father in grace, mercy and peace; He has clothed you with His righteousness and faithfulness in Holy Baptism, and here at His Table, in His House, it is His great glory to grant you His Sabbath Rest: both now and forever.

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

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