If Christian discipleship is difficult and challenging, do not suppose that Christ Jesus is unaware of that, nor that He is unfamiliar with the challenges and difficulties that you now face. For the discipleship to which you have been called, and which you have received in Holy Baptism, is the life that Christ has first of all lived for you, which you now live in Him (and He lives in you).
To be a disciple, therefore—to be a Christian—is to follow after Christ Jesus in the way that He has already gone before you: in the way of the Cross, unto the Resurrection and the life everlasting.
As disciples are made by Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ, so was the Lord Jesus Himself baptized for you and for all people, for the repentance and forgiveness of the world, and for the fulfilling of all righteousness, that you and all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve might be justified and saved from sin and death.
Consider what His Baptism signified and meant for Jesus: In submitting Himself to St. John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, including all of your sins of thought, word and deed, every last one of them. His was a bath that did not make Him clean—for He was already spotless, pure, holy and without blemish—but the waters of the Jordan soaked Him from head to foot with all the dirt of fallen man, all the mud and gunk and filth and stench of sinful unbelief, disobedience, doubt and despair.
He took upon Himself, and He bore in His own body, your lying and cheating, your covetous lust and greed, your cursing and filthy jokes, your laziness and negligence, your adultery and murder, your robbery of things and your gossiping tongue by which you rob your neighbor of his good name and reputation. He took all of this, and every other sin from Adam to the end of the world, and took ownership and responsibility for it, as though He alone were guilty, sinful and unclean.
And His wages for that great act of love, for that sin which He assumed into Himself, was death. Submitting to baptism was committing Himself to be crucified, dead and buried. Stepping into the water was, for this Man, a return to the dust of the earth from which the first man had been taken.
So, for Christ Jesus, as for you, His Baptism indicated that He should be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and desires, in the place of your old Adam.
But what His Baptism also meant was indicated by the Word of His God and Father, and by the bodily sign of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Though He was so thoroughly soaked and saturated with the sins of the world—so as to be the Sinner above all others, and really to become sin itself and the curse of sin and death—He was also anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit, and He was given the sure and certain Word of God, that He was a beloved and well-pleasing Son.
He received this Word and Spirit of God in faith, as the Son of Man, as your Substitute and Savior. He heard it, and He believed it, and He lived in the confidence and hope of that Word from His dear Father in heaven. He received it as the surety and promise of the Resurrection, that His Father would not abandon Him to the grave nor allow His flesh to suffer decay, but that He would pour out the Spirt upon His crucified body and raise Him again from the dust of the earth.
Of course, the Father and the Holy Spirit and immortal Life belong to the Son of God from all eternity, according to His own divine nature. But in the waters of His Baptism, not only in the flesh but in the likeness of fallen flesh—as the true and perfect Man, but also living under the curse and consequence of sin—He received the promise of the Father and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as a pledge that, in Him, all men and women and their children would be redeemed and raised up in righteousness; that mortal flesh, after returning to the dirt, would receive the Holy Spirit and rise up again to live forever.
Now, then, understand that your dear Lord Jesus lived—as you are called to live—by faith in that Word and promise of His God and Father. He proceeded from the waters of the Jordan in that holy faith, in love for His Father and in love for all His neighbors, for you and for all those neighbors (everywhere and every when) who would become His many brothers and sisters by divine grace.
He was driven into the wilderness (by the Spirit of God!) to be tempted by the devil in all the ways that you are tempted, and in the midst of that contest to persevere by faith in the Word and promise of His Baptism: “If you are the Son of God,” the devil taunted, but there yet stood fast the Word that Jesus had heard and received from the Father: “You are My beloved Son.” So He believed.
And, believing, He continued in the way that He was called to go. He was faithful in His vocation, and He carried out the works of love that belonged to that particular place and station in life. He honored His father and mother. He loved His family and friends. He ate and drank with sinners. He healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead. He fed the hungry with good food. He taught the Word of God, preached the Gospel, confessed the faith, and prayed without ceasing.
For such great love, for His faithfulness in all things, for the Name of the Lord that He glorified, He was persecuted, betrayed and arrested, falsely accused and mocked, beaten and blasphemed, unjustly sentenced to death, and crucified in public shame.
All of this He bore patiently, in peace. He continued to trust His Father and the promise of His Baptism. He persevered in love for all people, even those who were hurting and killing Him. He forgave those who trespassed against Him. He turned the other cheek, and suffered His outer and inner garments to be taken from Him. He did not retaliate, nor did He revile in return, but He relied on the hope of the Resurrection.
The way He endured His Passion is simply the culmination of the way He lived His entire Life on the way of the Cross: from the watery grave of the Jordan River, to the garden tomb in which His body would be laid to rest on that sixth day when the Lord’s good work would be finished for us.
So, again, if you find that Christian discipleship is difficult and challenging, do not suppose that Christ Jesus is unaware of that, nor that He is unfamiliar with your challenges and difficulties. For the people misunderstood Him and wanted all the wrong things from Him. The rulers of the people were jealous and hateful of Him, and conspired against Him, and stirred up the crowds to cry out for His death. Meanwhile, His family, or most of them, thought He was out of His mind. His disciples, and even His closest friends among them, were frequently confused and afraid; they bickered and fought and competed with each other, and when He was arrested they all ran away.
Therefore, you do not have a Savior and High Priest who is unable to sympathize with you, but One who has indeed been tempted and tormented in all the ways that you are, and who has borne all your sin as though it were His own (though He Himself had no sin); One who has shared your suffering and sadness, your sickness and shame; who has carried your cross and died your death
Although He is the Son of God from all eternity, by His own nature, and by His own divine right, nevertheless, in human flesh and blood just like yours, He learned the faith and the obedience of sonship through what He bore and suffered on your behalf.
He learned, not as though He were ever ignorant or naive, but by the way of personal experience, by living your human life as you are called to live, first hand, in His own person. He did so, not out of intellectual curiosity, as though for some kind of experiment or science project, but in order to establish divine sonship for you in human flesh and blood. Likewise, so did He receive and bear the Spirit of God in His truly human flesh and blood, for you and your salvation, in order that your fallen flesh might receive and bear the same Holy Spirit and be raised up to eternal life with God.
Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ lived by faith in the Word and promise of His Father. He lived in the hope of His mercy, by the grace and guidance of the Spirit. He did what His Father called Him to do, and He spoke as the Father gave Him to speak. In steadfast faith and flawless love, He was handed over to the Cross (by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God), and He humbly accepted the same, submitting His human will to the divine will, in the hope of the Resurrection.
It is there upon the Cross, in that crucible of anguish—on the one hand enduring the condemnation of the Law that He perfectly fulfilled, and suffering the separation of sin from the Father He loved and trusted, while on the other hand continuing to trust and believe, even in the face of death and divine judgment, the steadfast love and faithful promise of His Father—it is in that crucible that He permanently establishes divine sonship for you. So that, even in the midst of your sin, and in the face of your death, the promise of the Gospel and the Sabbath Rest of Christ remain for you.
He has weathered the perfect storm in order to bring you through it safely in and with Himself. He has endured the inner conflict of the Old Man and the New Man in His own body, even unto the death of His Cross; and though sin and death were crucified and put to death in Him, He has prevailed in faith and love, and He has been raised up by the Spirit of His Father as the new and better Adam, as the First Fruits of the New Creation, as the Head of His Body and Bride, the holy Christian Church, so as to become the Firstborn of a great multitude of divine sons and daughters.
Having thus received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father in His Resurrection from the dead, He has poured out the same Spirit generously upon you in the waters of your Holy Baptism. Not only that, but He continues to pour out the Spirit upon you in the Absolution of the Gospel, in the Word of forgiveness that is preached to you, and in the spiritual Food and Drink of His Altar.
He has likewise given you the sure and certain Word and promise of His God and Father: that you are a dear son of God in Christ Jesus, and you are beloved and well-pleasing to the Father in Him; that all of your sins are freely and fully forgiven, and that God has truly reconciled you to Himself in Christ; and that, even though you die, yet shall you live in body and soul, heart, mind and spirit.
This is the Word and Spirit of God, who is your own dear Father in Christ, which is given to you on the way, and attends you, and upholds you. It stands fast in Christ, even when you falter, so that it remains true—and it remains for you—regardless of what you find or experience in yourself.
In this Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Father moves toward you in love, and He gives Himself to you, and He embraces you to Himself as a beloved child, always raising you up from death to life, from out of darkness into light, and from the dust of the earth to be a living creature in His own Image.
You are raised up, in and with Christ Jesus, to live and move and have your being in Him; to move in love—within Him, and through Him, by the Holy Spirit—unto His God and Father in heaven.
That Life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit—that movement of your body and life toward God your Father in heaven, as a living sacrifice—that true faith and worship of the Holy Trinity (in the Sprit and in Truth), is lived from your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, and by the way of the Cross.
It is by the way of the Cross, not for the sake of gratuitous violence or suffering, nor as some kind of divine sado-masochism, but to work in you a genuine sacrifice of repentance, faith and love; so that you, who are a son of God in Christ Jesus, by His grace, may learn the faith and obedience of sonship in Him; and so that sin and unbelief and all their deadly fruits may be put to death and die in you; and so that you, bearing the Cross for your neighbor, may love your neighbor and give him life, in the way that Christ your Savior loves you and gives you life (i.e. by the way of His Cross).
That way of the Cross, which is your Christian discipleship, is difficult and challenging; make no mistake about it. Indeed, it would be utterly impossible for you apart from Christ, if He had not gone before you and established the way in faith and love, in His own flesh and blood.
But now Christ has lived that life for you, and He has gone that way of the Cross for you, and He has died that death for you. He has borne your sins and suffered all their consequences. He has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to God. This is most certainly true; for God has also raised this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and exalted this beloved Son at His right hand, and placed all your enemies under His feet, crushed and defeated beneath His once-wounded heel.
This is how and why He pours out His living and life-giving Holy Spirit upon you—through the Gospel of His Cross—raising you, daily, from death unto life. For which reason He has called and sent your pastors to you, not only to baptize, but to preach and teach His Word, and to commune you with His Body and His Blood; all of this in His Name and stead, and with His own authority.
These gifts of the Gospel, the means of grace, are the first fruits of His Cross and Passion, and so does the same tree of the Cross bear good fruits in you; even when it is crushing and killing your old Adam, and it seems as though God were not your loving Father at all, but rather an enemy who is out to destroy you altogether. Not so! Remember the Word and promise of your Baptism:
“You are My beloved son! With you I am well-pleased.” I am not angry or upset with you. I am not out to punish you. Your sins are all forgiven. You shall not die forever. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” “This promise is for you and for your children.”
Bind that Word and promise to yourself, dear child of God, by giving attention to the ongoing catechesis of Christ. Listen to the preaching of His Word, and know that it is preached to you as a sure and certain Word of life.
And take heart that He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him.
He shall never leave you nor forsake you, but rather He is near you, and He is with you always.
Just as Christ is risen from the dead through the glory of the Father, and lives and reigns forever, so does He bear the good fruits of His Cross in you: the forgiveness of sins, received and given; faith and love, and self-sacrifice, but also resurrection and new life—day after day, by His grace, through the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.
Is this not the life that Christ has lived for you? Yes. And He still lives—and He is still for you, with all the power of His indestructible life—both now and forever. This is the life that He now lives in you and with you, which you also live in Him, by the Holy Spirit whom He has given you.
This is the divine eternal Life of the Holy Triune God, which is now also yours by His grace, as you have received the adoption of sons in Christ Jesus. For as you are baptized in His Name, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and united with the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father in His Cross and Resurrection, so surely is the God and Father of Jesus your God and Father, and you are His own dear child, forever and ever. Amen.