As a child of Adam, you spend your life attempting to exonerate and justify yourself, to rationalize and excuse your behavior: to yourself, to your neighbors, and in comparison with your neighbors, and even before God (when you aren’t trying to run away and hide from Him).
But there is death at the end, sooner or later, which shuts down all of your attempts to make a name and a life for yourself. You can’t argue with death. Not really. Not your own, nor anyone else’s. No matter how hard you work to ward it off, to put it off and delay the inevitable. No matter how zealous you are in caring for yourself, and in trying to protect your children and keep them safe.
If you take the opposite approach, by living a crazy, reckless life, that gives you no more power and control, but only hastens what you can’t stop. You don’t win that way. You don’t beat death.
Your mortality looms so large, it casts a long dark shadow across your entire lifetime. It stalks you and pursues you, even from the womb; as there are those occasions, utterly beyond your control, when it seizes and strikes down your children in the womb. Being born is only the first big hurdle. For even Cherianne — who is so dearly loved, and so well cared for by her parents — she already knows and feels the weight of her mortality in hunger, discomfort and pain, sadness and fear.
Sometimes, death and the grave are all that you can see. So inevitable. So final.
But Jesus you do not see.
Though you confess His Resurrection, where has He gone? Where is He? It would seem that He has left you far behind, so that, whatever it is that happened, both He and you are as good as dead.
What you do see all around you, and what you feel within yourself, are old bones, either dead or dying, and dry as dust: brittle, breaking, disintegrating.
As a Christian, you persist and persevere in hope, in the promise and assurance of things not seen. But as a child of Adam in this fallen world, you flirt with despair and court disaster. You succumb to the dread of death and plunge yourself into faithless unbelief, whether through apathy or apostasy, bitterness or cynicism, or the stubborn denial of God’s Word and promises. Since you cannot see what He has spoken, you feel as though it were false, and so you tell yourself to give up on God, to go it alone or give up altogether. In this way, your hope has perished ahead of you, and you don’t even bother to pray or ask for help. Why bother, right? You are completely cut off, and nobody cares; nobody is there for you, except to judge and criticize.
Like poor old Job: faithful, and righteous by faith, but also confused and upset, hurting and miserable, whose spouse and so-called friends are no help but only pile on the hurt.
Sorrow seeps into your heart and fills it up, driving out faith and the Spirit. Not right away, but inch by inch, the more you dwell upon your own thoughts and feelings, which seem so immediate, so real and so true, instead of on the Word of Christ, which sounds so fanciful, and He so far away.
It’s not simply that things are hard and you get discouraged, but, in the midst of your pain, your mortal flesh gets increasingly restless and afraid; and the world, full of its own sin and death, threatens and tricks you with its traps and temptations; Satan also attacks and accuses you, fiercely but cunningly. So you are bounced back and forth between feeling sorry for yourself and feeling ashamed of your sin. You know that you are guilty, and you deserve nothing but punishment and death, and yet, you are frightened and it all seems unfair.
In all of this, the devil has you looking at yourself, in which there is no hope nor help to be found.
Without the Word and Spirit of the Lord, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. You feel it in your bones, and the Law of God declares it to be so. You are dust. And that is where that old serpent, the devil, would drive you, or entice you, to make you eat the dust that he is forced to eat.
But, now, consider that: the devil does eat dirt. The would-be ruler of this fallen world has been judged, and he is cast out. And the Spirit has come — who is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life — because the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son, has returned to the Father who sent Him.
Jesus is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Church, and therefore upon you within His Church, because He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has been anointed by the Spirit in His own human body of flesh and blood. He received His body from the flesh and blood of St. Mary, a daughter of Adam, and so His body also is one of dust; yet, that very body of Christ has also been filled with the Spirit, and anointed by the Holy Spirit, for the rescue and salvation of all flesh.
Not as though the Son of God were ever without the Holy Spirit, but in His flesh as true Man the Spirit descended upon Him, and remained upon Him, so that in this Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God abides with Man forever. You know that to be true from the witness of His Baptism in the Jordan River, as we have sung with Dr. Luther in the hymn on this day of Cherianne’s Baptism. So do St. John the Baptist and all four of the Holy Evangelists testify, that, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove.
What began there in the waters of His Baptism, culminated in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead. For both the dying and the rising belong to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which He underwent on behalf of all sinners, and which He has accomplished in Himself.
Therefore, He was driven by the Spirit from His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil: as Adam and Eve were tempted in the Garden, as Israel was tempted in its own wilderness, and in every way as you are tempted. Thus, He is your Comrade and your Champion.
In this way, having come down from heaven, from the Father, in human flesh and blood like ours, He embarks upon His journey back to the Father with all of us in hand. He gathers us up into Himself, in His Body, in order to return us to faith and life with God, and, not only that, but to make us children of His own God and Father in heaven.
For this purpose, He has taken, not only your temptation, but all of your sin, and the sins of the whole world, upon Himself. He has come, not only as true Man, with His own body of flesh and blood, but in the likeness of fallen flesh; which is to say that He has borne and suffered the full curse and consequence of Adam’s sin, the full weight and burden of your mortality, as though every sin were actually His own, committed by Him, and as though every death were His own rightful wages.
So it is that He is convicted concerning the sins of the world. For He is condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, but it is the Father who hands Him over to the Cross, and the Spirit who fulfills the judgment of the Law in His punishment, in His bloody passion, in His death. Thus, it is when all is finished and completed, that He hands over the Spirit He received at His Baptism. Because, with His death, the requirements and condemnation of the Law have been fully satisfied, so that Adam & Eve and all the children of men may receive the Spirit, not for death, but for life.
Do not doubt that it is so. For the truth of it is manifest and openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. Here is what His death has accomplished: the destruction of death, and the silencing of Satan’s accusations. Whereas the Lord Jesus did not fight to defend Himself, nor did He answer His accusers, but in faith and love He quietly and willingly submitted to suffering and the sacrifice of His Cross, His Father has exonerated Him and fully vindicated Him by raising Him up from the dust of the earth. He is not guilty. He is blameless. He is set free from sin and death forever. And so are you.
For the whole world is “convicted concerning righteousness” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Death and the devil no longer have any rightful claim against you, nor against anyone else — not in Christ, the Champion and Savior of all men. There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
God’s judgment has been given by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. In Him, sin is forgiven — it is no longer counted or considered, nor is it held against anyone — because it is atoned for by His death. The whole world is justified and reconciled to God in His rising from the dead, in His returning to the Father in our human flesh: crucified and risen, glorified, and now immortal.
Thus, the Holy Spirit preaches these mighty deeds of God to all the nations of the world, in all the languages of earth, in order to make disciples of Christ Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people, and to gather men and women, boys and girls, the young and old alike, from the four winds into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. For the dried up old bones that are resurrected, re-enfleshed, resuscitated, and restored to new life, are not isolated individuals but the whole house of Israel, that is, the Church, the Body of Christ. It is precisely in His Body that all are made alive.
It is by the proclamation of His Word — by the preaching of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen — it is by this proclamation that the Spirit calls you daily to repentance; that is, from unbelief to faith in Christ. For there is no conviction of any sin, except for unbelief, which sets you outside of and apart from Christ Jesus and His salvation. Your unbelief is your rejection of His righteousness, in favor of your own, though apart from Him you shall not stand.
But the Spirit calls you to repentance, convicting you of sin and of righteousness, by the judgment of the Law and of the Gospel. He speaks the truth in love. He exposes your sin for the unbelief it is, and He thereby removes every pretense of self-righteousness within you. That is the truth of the Law, which condemns you. But the Spirit also speaks the truth of the Gospel, which is Christ, and by this Word He justifies you through faith, and He raises you from death to newness of life.
This is the Spirit’s testimony, and His defense on your behalf, against all of your adversaries and accusers: that you are a sinner, yes, but that Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and that you are freely and fully forgiven and justified by Him, by His Cross and Resurrection. On the one hand, the punishment of all your sin has already been carried out — in the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross — and on the other hand, the innocence and righteousness of Christ are counted as yours.
That is the truth of the Gospel. It is not an empty or powerless word, but the very Word of God, which is not only true, but Truth Itself, which establishes the truth concerning you, both now and forever. It is a living and active Word, by which the Holy Spirit comforts you in sorrow, and grants you peace in place of fear, rest from your weariness, and perfect health and strength and life.
For with this Gospel, everything that belongs to Christ Jesus, the Spirit bestows upon you, and gives to you, to be your very own: His righteousness and holiness, His Resurrection, and His Life.
It begins, for you also, as it has for Cherianne this morning, with your Holy Baptism into Christ.
The Spirit brings you through the waters into the wilderness, where you now also bear the Cross as a Christian, as you live by faith in the Word and promise of your Father. Here you find yourself in the midst of a desert of dry bones, and you yourself are crucified, dead and buried; for that is what daily repentance entails. And, yes, you are still mortal — for now — you get sick, you suffer, and you die. That should come as no surprise, nor is it a denial of the Resurrection and the Life that are yours in Christ Jesus, for you know that He also has experienced and suffered all of this.
But just as surely are you raised up, in and with Christ, and you are brought into the Land that God has promised to you. Already He has brought you into His Church, which is the Body of Christ, and here you live, just as He lives. Not only that, but, even now, under the Cross, you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus, which shall be openly revealed in the resurrection of your body. For as Jesus returns to His Father, by way of His Cross, in His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you brought to the Father as His dear child: as His very own, dearly-beloved, well-pleasing child.
That shall be so in the final Judgment Day, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the last, but so is it most certainly true, here and now, in the midst of the wilderness, as you hear and receive the Word of Christ; as your sins are all forgiven; as you are cleansed and refreshed by the waters that flow from the side of Christ; and as you are fed with His Body and His Blood.
In giving you Christ Jesus in these means of grace, by this Ministry of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you everything that Jesus, the Son of God, receives and has from the Father. And again, He does it by the proclamation of the Word of Christ. For He guides you into all Truth by speaking what He hears, which is the Truth of the Gospel, namely, your justification and forgiveness.
This new language of the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, and that is neither gibberish, nor fantasy, but the accomplished fact of His Body put to death and raised again to life — in which Body you also are redeemed, raised up, reconciled to God, and righteous in His sight. That is what He says to you, and that is what His Word does for you and gives to you.
Though it seems such a simple thing, and it seems powerless to change anything, this Word fills your heart and mind, your body and soul, and even your mouth with the Spirit of Christ, who drives out sorrow and replaces it with joy and peace. For with the Word of Christ, the Spirit refutes the rhetoric of the devil; He defends and protects you against the devil’s accusations; and He comforts you, in order to deliver you from hopeless despair.
With this Word, the Spirit opens your lips to show forth His praise, to speak the mighty deeds of God in Christ. So that you, your sons and daughters, your nursing infants and young children, speak and sing this powerful Word to the glory of God and to the comfort of one another. For this Word of the Gospel of Christ is the Truth, in your ears and on your lips, by which He breathes His Life-giving Spirit into you and your children, and your children’s children, that you and they may live forever and ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.