The point is that you be saved. But you cannot save yourself. If you try, you’ll lose. You’ll barter your soul in exchange for death. If you attempt to build your own castle and tower, to make a name for yourself, it will all crumble into dust, and you along with it.
Your flesh, apart from the Spirit of the Lord, is nothing but dust, dirt and clay. Whence you were taken, thence you shall return. What, then, of your soul? Where and how shall you live?
Perhaps you will have managed to beg, borrow, bargain and steal the whole world, but when you have tasted death in your body, you’ll be no more than a restless ghost haunting the place you thought was your own.
Already, as your body ages, it’s wearing out and getting weary, getting weaker, falling apart and disintegrating. Replacement parts, additives and exercise won’t make it brand new. It won’t last.
Your body, soul and spirit are coming apart at the seams, and your body is dying, because of sin, which permeates your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions. What you say and do with your body is not good and right and true, because your spirit does not abide in harmony with the Spirit of God. Your heart does not fear, love and trust in the Lord. You do not have the mind of Christ, but you have set your mind on the interests of man, on your own selfish interests, on the wisdom of the world, and on the lies of the devil.
What you perceive to be wrong is most godly, and what you consider necessary is Satanic.
Still, God’s good and gracious will remains, His love for you, His desire and purpose that you not die but live; that you should not merely survive and exist, but that you would share His Image and Likeness and partake of His divine nature; that you would abide in Him and dwell with Him in perfect peace, in blessed communion and fellowship divine with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
From the living death that you have apart from Him, and from the perpetual punishment that you deserve for your sin, He wills and purposes to save you for divine eternal life with Him. He comes and acts for your salvation.
That is the “must” that flows from and with and in His Love for you. Nothing else forces or compels Him, but His love moves Him to save you for Himself; not for His benefit, but for your eternal blessing, by His grace. That is why God becomes Man, the Word becomes flesh, and the Son of God is conceived and born the Son of Mary. That is why He is given the name, “Jesus,” “Yahweh Saves,” and why He is called “Immanuel,” “God with us.” That is why He is baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, bodily, in His own flesh and blood, in the waters of the Jordan. Why He is driven into the wilderness to fast and pray, and to be tempted by the devil. Why He heals the sick and raises the dead and preaches the Gospel.
And it is for His saving purpose, for the sake of His divine and holy Love, that He must be handed over to His enemies, brutalized and ridiculed, wounded and mistreated, stripped and shamed and spit upon, nailed to a cross and executed as a criminal.
He gives up His Spirit, and His soul and body are separated in death. His body is buried in the dust of the earth, a grave in the ground.
For you, beloved; for your sins, for your salvation.
And then there is the “must” and “necessity” of His Resurrection on the third day. It had to be, because His death is not defeat but victory; because the Father loves the Son and is well-pleased with Him. This, too, is what it means for Him to be the Christ, the Son of Man, the Son of the living God, Jesus your Savior.
His body is raised from the dust and dirt, alive and well with the Breath of Life, the Spirit of God. As He is and remains both God and Man in His one Person, so are His human body, soul and spirit perfectly and permanently reunited in His Resurrection from the dead. This also for your sake.
It is in this God-Man, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, that the Holy Triune God accomplishes His gracious purposes for man. It is in Him that enmity and hostility are removed, and that peaceful harmony is established for you and for the world through forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. It is in Christ Jesus that the Spirit of God abides with man forever, and the Church abides in Holy Communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is all perfectly accomplished in Christ Jesus, as His Resurrection from the dead openly declares. Sin is forgiven, death is destroyed, the devil defeated. The Son is vindicated by the Father who loves Him, and the entire world is justified and righteous before God in Him.
This righteousness of God is what is given to you in the apostolic preaching of the Gospel of Christ, in the Ministry of the Confession of St. Peter and his fellow Apostles, who were eye-witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection. Their wisdom, power, strength and authority are that they have been with Jesus; they have known Him, and they have been called and sent by Him.
They have seen and heard the One who is your Savior, your Strength and your Song, who has become your great Salvation.
St. Peter confesses the same thing that he has heard; he gives to the Church what he has been given by the Lord. He testifies to what he has seen, and in his word — preached while in his earthly pilgrimage, and written for the edification of the Church unto the end of the age, even these many centuries after his departure from this vale of tears — in his word, Christ Himself speaks to you and is with you.
St. Peter and the other Apostles did — and on the solid foundation of their written Word, pastors now still do — the things that Jesus does: in His Name and stead, in remembrance of Him.
This remembrance is not simply an intellectual exercise, nor a bit of emotional nostalgia. It is as much about the present (and the coming of the Kingdom of God) as it is about the past. It is indeed the intimate knowledge of fellowship with Christ Jesus, in His flesh and blood, and with His Father and the Holy Spirit in Him. You eat and drink His Body and His Blood at His Word, and in this Meal you know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This remembrance of Jesus, the Holy Absolution of His Gospel and the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, is not merely a means to some other end, but a means of grace and of salvation.
For the whole point is that you be saved:
rescued from sin, death, the devil and hell, alive in Christ, and safe and secure with God in Him.
This is the life and salvation to which you are called, and which you are freely given in the holy apostolic Ministry of the Gospel.
This is your principal vocation: to be a disciple of Christ, Jesus, to follow Him through death into life, to be with Him where He is, and to abide with Him forever. All of your other vocations and stations in life are governed and guided by this one. It enters into conflict with the hostile world and all its unbelief and wickedness, and so also with the old Adam in you. Yet is also introduces the compassion of forgiveness — for you, for your family and friends, for your co-workers and competitors, your teachers or students, and for all your other neighbors.
The Cross of Christ puts you and the whole world to death, in order to raise you up with Him to a brand new life: better than a “second chance,” it is the New Creation that has already begun in the Body of Christ.
It’s true enough that you still find and experience so much of the “old” in your heart and mind, body, soul and spirit. You must wrestle with sinful lusts and desires. You covet, grasp and horde, instead of being content with what God has given, confident in His gracious providence, and glad to share or give what you have. You get angry and lose your temper. You gossip and grumble, mutter and complain. You invest yourself, your time, treasures and talents, in selfish pursuits and foolish diversions, while neglecting the needs of your neighbors round about you.
Well, there are many such fossils and relics of the old Adam and this old world in you, which is why you are called to take up the Cross and return to the drowning and death of your Baptism every day. Doesn’t seem or feel good, surely, because the Cross crucifies you. It kills you. But the same Cross thereby saves you, because it is the Cross of Christ your Savior, which He has borne for you, by which He has atoned for all your sins, redeemed you and reconciled you to God.
That’s why, even though you lose your life as a disciple of Christ Jesus, you save it. Or, rather, He saves you. You both die and rise with Him.
He has marked you with the sign of His Cross in Holy Baptism, and the same Cross is frequently signed upon you in the Ministry of the Gospel. Do not be ashamed of Christ and His Cross, but make the sign of the Cross upon yourself, upon your forehead and your heart, as a confession of Christ Jesus and a prayer of faith in His mercy.
Let His Cross crucify and sanctify your thoughts, words and deeds, unto faith and love.
With the Cross He has also named you with His Name and anointed you with His Spirit. Hence you are a Christian. You are the Lord’s anointed, a son of God in Christ Jesus. His Word and Spirit — and His own flesh and blood — bind Him to you, and you to Him, through thick and thin, through death into life.
With the Father’s love for His own dear Son, He loves you now and forever. As often as you fall, He raises you up to stand, to walk, to follow Christ Jesus the Nazarene, and to live with Him in His own righteousness and excellence. As often as you fail, He forgives you. Every day He washes you, and He feeds you. He shall not deny you, nor shall He ever leave you or forsake you. He is your Savior, and He is faithful. He has saved you, and He will.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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