28 October 2012

Joshua Comes to Jericho

So Joshua comes again to Jericho.  And then what?

No sooner has He come than He is leaving the city on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross.  He does not raze the walls, but He would raise up the people and rescue them from every evil of body and soul.  He leaves all the buildings and businesses intact; although nothing is ever the same again, after this Joshua has come.  He harms not one hair on the head of man or beast.

But why, then, has He come?

To save His people and bless His heritage.  Yes.  But also for something more specific, more personal.  To honor one poor man among the many.  To give him hope.  To give him life.  To give him the good Land that the Lord has promised.  To give him a place in the Kingdom of God.

His disciples and a large crowd accompany Him, as the Israelites followed the Joshua of old.  But the blind beggar by the side of the road perceives something about this Jesus, the Nazarene, more clearly than anyone else at this point.  He hears the Word of the One who has come, and by the Spirit of Christ he acknowledges the promised Son of David, the true King who gives rest.

The blind man’s name is Bartimaeus, the “son of Timaeus,” which is to say, the son of “honor,” of “worthiness” or “worth.”  Yet, look at his predicament!  There can be no presuming of any merit or worthiness here.  So he looks not to his own pedigree, but to the House and Lineage of David.

Bartimaeus knows his need, or, at least, he has begun to know his need in part; and already he has realized that his only hope and his only help shall be in this Lord Jesus Christ.  In this he sees truly, what even the twelve could not yet comprehend.  They have wanted the Lord to share with them His greatness and His glory, and they have offered their boldness, their bravery, and their sacrifice as barter.  But not so, Bartimaeus.  He offers only his blindness, in hopes of regaining his sight.  He pleads not his strength, but his weakness; not his contribution, but his emptiness; not his honor, but disgrace; not his merit, but the grace of God in Christ.

He is a charity case, and he knows it.  And in this beggary of his, blind Bartimaeus worships and honors and glorifies Christ, who comes not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life to man.

The beggar receives what he sought: the mercy of the Lord, and grace to help in his time of need.  But he is given far more than he asked for.  In regaining the use of his eyes, he begins to realize a much deeper longing and a far greater need, namely, to see God, to behold the glory of Yahweh, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord — all of this realized in the face of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, along with his eyesight, Bartimaeus receives the Lord Jesus Himself.  He becomes a disciple of the One he has called “Rabboni,” a Teacher.  He begins to follow Jesus “on the way,” that is, to be catechized in the way of the Cross, which is paradoxically the way of Life in Christ.

In calling upon the name of the Lord for mercy, in order to see, the blind beggar has become a catechumen of the Cross.  In this way he enters with Joshua into the Promised Land, and with the Son of God into the presence of the Father.

So now, the question is: What do you want the Lord Jesus to do for you?  What do you need?

If you are blind or losing your sight, of course, you want to see.  You need to see!  But, with or without your eyesight, what is your real blindness?   What is it that you do not see?  What do you refuse or fail to recognize?  What shadow lies upon your heart, what darkness clouds your mind?

If you are hungry, you need food; you want to be fed.  But as soon as you have eaten your fill, you are seized by some new appetite.  If you are naked, you need clothes; you want to be covered up.  But as soon as you are dressed, you long for some further adornment, beauty, or comfort.

When you have plenty to eat and a full wardrobe, your eyes have a way of seeing, not what you have, but what you have not.  You consider your neighbors, and you want to keep up.  So maybe what you want is an iPad or a tablet.  Maybe you convince yourself that you actually need one.  Or a better car.  A few more hours of sleep.  More friends, or friendlier friends, or more attentive and accommodating friends.  Perhaps a better-paying job, or maybe just a job at all, to begin with.

The problem is that all of these wants and needs (whether real or imagined) are transient and fickle.  They offer all kinds of tantalizing promises, but, in one way or another, they all tend to leave you either cold and empty, or bloated and nauseous.  If you once were blind, but now you see, you might prefer to gouge your eyes back out again; either because you don’t like what you have to look at in the world around you, or because you are now expected to work for a living, instead of begging for your bread and butter.  The example of a restroom is typical enough: As soon as you leave that place, you don’t even want to think about it anymore, even though five minutes earlier it was all that you could think about, and the one thing that you wanted and needed the most!

There is no final contentment or satisfaction when it comes to the wants of your flesh, nor with respect to the needs of your body in this life on earth; because you are dying and wasting away.  No amount of food and clothing, nor anything else, will ever be “enough” to prevent that.  Yet, how easily preoccupied you are with all your attempts to pamper and preserve your mortal life.

Vanity, the Bible calls it.  Chasing after the wind!  None of it does any good.  But neither should you resort to the opposite extremes, nor succumb to despair.  That, too, is sinful, and useless.

With food and clothing, let us therewith be content.  But even as regards those most basic wants and needs of the body, the Lord teaches you not to be anxious or worry.  Your Father knows what you need, and He will provide for you.  He feeds the birds and clothes flowers, as well as all the wicked who neither know Him nor acknowledge Him.  He shall do no less for you, dear Christian, for you are His beloved; He created you in holy love, and He delights to serve and care for you.

As for you, then, seek the Lord Himself while He may be found.  Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness; and you shall lack nothing at all, but everything else shall be added unto you.

That is what you truly need.  But that is also what you cannot see.  That is your real blindness.

We are all blind beggars.  That is the truth.  So, then, repent of your pride, and own your need.  Call upon the name of the Lord for mercy.  Pray to Him for your daily bread, as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  But in doing so, pray also for the true faith, which you need the most: that the Lord your God would enable you to wait patiently upon Him, and to receive your bread with thanksgiving; and that you would so learn to live upon His Word, even though all people are liars.

Pray to the Lord Jesus for mercy, that you would receive your sight, which is to have faith in His forgiveness of sins.  Pray, then, for His Holy Gospel, which is really nothing less than the gift of God Himself.  I do not mean simply a gift from God, but that God gives Himself to you in Christ.

Here it all gets raucous and scary, as though all hell were busting loose against you; no less crazy and chaotic, all around you, than when that other Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho and burned the city to the ground.  So, it would seem, there is no hope or help for you.  Partly because the Lord Jesus comes by the way of the Cross, the grace and the glory of which are hidden from sight, whether you have eyes or not.  And partly because there are so many voices, whispering and shouting, within and without, all of them telling you to “sit down” and “shut up.”  As soon as you begin to pray, to call on the name of the Lord, the voices tell you sternly to be quiet.  And loudest among them is God’s own Law, which exposes your sin, your dishonor and unworthiness.

But now God speaks another Word, a different Word, a new and better Word than all those many voices put together.  This Word cuts through all the chaos and the noise, and it reveals to your heart and mind the truth that is hidden from your eyes.  It speaks of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, the merciful Son of David, the promised Savior who has come.  He has drawn near.  And though He seems to be passing by and going away, He has now taken His stand, both with you and for you.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself by His Ministry of the Gospel.  So He did for Blind Bartimaeus, and so He does for you.  Have no fear, but fix your blind eyes on this Jesus by hearing and heeding His call.  It is not a command, but a gracious invitation.  Not that you must save yourself by some heroic effort, or by some great act of bold courage, but that He has come to save you, and that He is here for you.

Your dishonor does not disqualify you.  Your unworthiness shall not undo you.  Your beggary honors the Lord Jesus, who is worthy of your petition.  Your need is met with the abundance of His charity.  Bring nothing else than that.  In fact, cast off your own wretched garments, whether fig leaves or designer duds, and be clothed in Christ Jesus, dressed in His beautiful righteousness.

Find your life in Him, who is calling you to Himself; and follow Him by faith, by the catechesis of His Word, on the way that brings you into the resurrection and the life everlasting.

This is what He has already given you, by His grace, in the waters of your Holy Baptism; and this is still what your Baptism indicates for each and every day of your life on earth.  For it is by “streams of water” that this Lord Jesus leads you, on a straight and narrow path, that is, by the way of His own Cross, through death and the grave into life and salvation.  You die with Him, in order to live with Him.  This is your vocation, that is, your calling, as a Christian: to live and die by faith in Christ, according to His Word and Spirit, and so to live before God in righteousness and purity.

This is your royal priesthood, as a member of the Body of Christ, in your own particular place.

For Christ Jesus is your merciful and great High Priest.  In much the same way that He is the new and greater Joshua.  He goes before you into Canaan, opening the way.  He crosses over through the waters of the Jordan, in order to possess the Land of God and bestow it upon you.

He has drawn near to you; not only in proximity, but in making your predicament His own.  He is up to His neck and immersed in the same waters that you are drowning in.  Therein He shares your griefs and bears your sorrows.  He fully takes your sin and death upon Himself, your blindness, your poverty and shame, in order to remove the curse.  At the same time, He dedicates Himself entirely to God on your behalf; wherefore, not Jericho, but Jesus is devoted to destruction, in order to sanctify you in Himself.  He is the sacred Sacrifice, who offers Himself for the Atonement of all sins, for the Redemption of all people, and for the Reconciliation of the entire world to God.

Therefore, He has come, and He has drawn near to you here, in order to take away your sins, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to gather you to Himself and to bring you near to His God and Father as a beloved child.  For so fully has He taken your place, that His place is now yours.

As you bear His Cross and share His death by your Baptism into Him, so do you also share His bodily Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension, in the flesh, to the right hand of the Father.

It is in this way, in Himself, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen, and seated with the Father in the heavenly places, that He gathers and saves the remnant of Israel.  That is the true Israel of God, comprising both Jews and Gentiles alike, both rich and poor, young and old, male and female — even the blind and the lame — all who believe and are baptized into Christ; because He is the Seed of Abraham, the Seed of David, the Seed of the Woman, who has come to defeat the devil, to plunder and destroy the kingdom of death, and to redeem you for Himself.

Therefore, everything that belongs to Christ Jesus, also now belongs to you: Not only His Cross, but also His Resurrection; His Father and His Sonship; His Spirit and His Name; His great Glory, and His indestructible Life; His Kingdom; and His Home and Family — all of these are yours.

As He has been made perfect, in holy faith and holy love, by His sacrifice upon the Cross for you, He brings both you yourself and all your prayers to His God and Father, as your own God and Father, in perfect peace.  “By supplication He leads you.”  Which is to say, not only does He ever live to intercede for you, but He Himself is your Prayer in the ears of God, your sweet-smelling Incense in the nostrils of His Father.  As He is thus heard and received in the heavens, in the Holy of Holies made without hands, in the very bosom of the Father, so are you heard and received.

By His own faith and faithfulness, the Lord Jesus upholds and sustains you.  His steadfast love is your salvation, which endures forever and ever.  Indeed, He holds His Priesthood permanently.

And by His perfect sight, He now grants to you the Beatific Vision of His glorious grace.  He does so in this very Gospel, which is being preached to you; as in the Jordan waters of your Holy Baptism into Him; and in His own holy Body and precious Blood, which are given and poured out for you, that you should thus receive all that you need.  With this Food and Raiment of Christ Jesus shall you forever be satisfied, with exceedingly more than you could ever have imagined.

In Him, in His Face and in His Flesh, in the Sound of His Voice, which is the Gospel, the true Sun has risen upon you, which shall never go down nor be eclipsed.  He shines on you, and He remains forever, your Light and your Salvation.  No more darkness, no more night.  Instead, you live and abide in His glorious, eternal Day — as He abides with you here, and with His Father in heaven.

And in Him you shall see God.  As you do now by faith in His Gospel, so then with your own two eyes, in your own resurrected body, you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.

Take courage!  Arise!  He is calling you to Himself, to eat and to drink; to taste and see; to live.

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

07 October 2012

From the Beginning of Creation, the Lord God Made Them to Be of One Flesh with Himself

There is finally one Marriage, one Husband and one Wife.

There is the one Man, Jesus Christ — and one Woman, made for Him, to be a suitable companion for Him, corresponding to Him in every way.

He is faithful in caring for His Bride, and giving life to her, with His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood: By His Cross and Passion, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead; from His wounded side, in the water and the blood, in the font and chalice of salvation.

By these means of grace, God the Father has made of you a member of the Bride of Christ, and He has brought you to Him, and given you to Him.

Therefore, you are called to be faithful to your Husband and your Head, that is, to Christ Jesus, within your own particular place and station in life (whatever that might be).  For you have been named with His Name; and you have been joined together with Him, united with Him, as one flesh and blood with Him.

You derive your life from Him, and you are called to live unto Him in righteousness and purity forever.  Not that you must earn your keep, or pull your own weight, or make a life for yourself, but that you would receive your entire life from Him, and so live in Christ your Lord, by His grace, to the glory of His holy Name.

What that looks like in holy marriage here on earth is faithfulness and love in the lifelong union of one man and one woman, the male and the female, even unto death: The husband giving himself and laying down his life for his wife, that she might have life; and the wife submitting herself to her husband in love, in the faith and confidence of Christ.

The intimate union of male and female as one flesh, the intimacy of heart and mind, body and soul, belongs to this lifelong bond and commitment of marriage, because it confesses Christ and His Church, and thereby declares the Gospel and the grace of God.  It is to be a bond of faithfulness and loving devotion, because Christ is faithful and devoted in His perfect love for you.

Casual “hook-ups,” temporary and conditional “shack-up” arrangements, perversions of sexuality, and all manner of unfaithfulness, including the breaking of the marriage bond by legal divorce, all confess a false “christ” and a false “gospel,” which do not give life but rob it and destroy it.

Indeed, any and all attempts to engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage, which is to say, outside of Christ and apart from His Word, are not only sinful and unclean, but dangerous, deadly, and doomed to fail.

Of course, the “one flesh” union of husband and wife is also abused and broken within marriage, when spouses do not love and care for each other, but hurt or neglect each other, and turn away from each other, and fend for themselves in competition with each other.

Simply living together in the same house, even sleeping together in the same bed, is not yet, by itself, the intimate communion of heart and mind, body and soul, that characterizes and confesses Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Sadly, one doesn’t have to look far or dig too deep to discover the brokenness, disappointments, failures, and hurts of human marriages.

On top of which are all the brokenness, disappointments, failures and hurts, of those who have longed to be married, or to be given in marriage, but who have no husband or wife to have and to hold, to love and to cherish.

It makes all the talk of holy marriage seem idealistic and naive.

And because of your hardness of heart, even holy Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send a wife away.

However, this permission, which God allowed through Moses, should not be interpreted as acceptance or approval.  It is, rather, an acknowledgment of failure, an accommodation for the sake of avoiding even greater wickedness and further hurt.  But none of this is “good.”  From the beginning, Jesus says, this is not what God intended.  Elsewhere, the Lord clearly declares that He hates divorce, which is so contrary to His love, and so antithetical to His Gospel.

But the Lord God knows your frame, that you are mortal.  He knows that your flesh and blood are full of sin and death.  He knows the hardness of your heart, and of your head.  He knows that you are prone to selfishness, to look after yourself at all costs, instead of trusting Him, obeying His voice, and loving your neighbor as you ought.  He knows that you are likely to lash out in violence if you are backed into a corner and put on the defensive.  And He knows that you still have much to learn, and a great deal of maturing to do, before you will grow into the fullness of the stature of Him who is your Head.

It is also a fact that genuine love, such as holy marriage properly requires, cannot be achieved or obtained by the force of the Law.  Demands and threats and punishments will not bring about the self-giving and self-sacrificing love that belongs to real intimacy.  Your actions can and should be disciplined.  Behavior can and should be curbed and moderated, for the good of your neighbor.  But outward regulations and controls will not change your heart.

So it is that God permits divorce, as a tragic last resort, lest even greater tragedy unfold: lest husbands and wives resort to violence and murder.  So might a parent separate his warring children from each other, for a time, rather than risk trying to force them to get along with each other.

It is not a matter of condoning sin or rewarding stubbornness, but a case of taking sin seriously and choosing the lesser of evils, while working to rescue the children from every evil of body and soul.

Therefore, the Lord your God is patient with you, long-suffering, and slow to anger.  He does not punish you, as your sin deserves, but He bears with you in love, and with mercy, while He deals with you and disciplines you, as a Father cares for His own dear children.

It is more than immaturity and ignorance at work in your hardness of heart; it is sin and death having their way with you, wrecking havoc with your neighbors and with all of your relationships.  But in this respect, it is not unlike that “childish behavior” of which I spoke last week — in contrast to childlike faith.  The hardness of your sinful heart is evident, for example, in the pout and stomping foot and rebellious “no” and temper tantrum of the toddler.  The toddler must grow up, and so must the Christian also learn to live in faith toward God and in love for the neighbor.

The Law exposes your sin, your hardness of heart, your wickedness, your nakedness and shame.  But you learn and grow by repentance, and by faith in Christ, because holy love and holy marriage are found, not in you, but in Him, in His faithfulness, and in His sacrifice for the sake of sinners.

It is not just the “good” little boys and girls that He takes up in His arms and blesses, but He gathers to Himself the colicky infants, the tyrannical toddlers, the spoiled brats, the moody and distant teens, the dead-beat twenty-somethings, and the childish adults who still resort to pouting and stomping and hollering “no.”  He calls them to repentance, to be sure.  Their sins, and all of your sins, are not good.  But so does He also lay His hand on you in Holy Absolution.

And He does not cast you away from His presence.  He does not send you away.

What He permits men to do, because of their hard hearts, He Himself does not do.  He does not divorce His wife, but He wins her back, and woos her to Himself in love, and reconciles her to Himself in the tender mercy of His forgiveness.  He does not consider or count her trespasses against her, but bears her burdens and her weakness in Himself.  He covers her guilt and shame, and clothes her with His own honor, with His own righteousness and holiness.

He does all of this for you, in making you a member of His Body and His Bride, the Church.  This is not idealistic or naive, but this is holy marriage, which is the Love of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  He is faithful in giving Himself for you, that you might be His own, to have and to hold forever.  Even death shall not separate you from Him.

This is where and how you get your bearings and take your cues, whether in your life on earth you are married or unmarried, widowed or divorced.  For you belong to Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, and so you bear His Name in whatever else you are called to do and given to do.  Both marriage and celibacy, here in time, point beyond themselves to the one Marriage of that one Man and His Holy Bride, which is forever and ever.

It is His Cross which sanctifies the crosses that you bear, whether of your spouse and marriage or your celibacy and loneliness.  It is the sacrifice of His Cross that forgives you, redeems you, and saves you from all of your unfaithfulness, from your lust, your fornication and adultery, and from your coldness and hardness of heart.

For He has made Himself to be like you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, and blood of your blood.  He was born of the Woman, that you might be conceived and born of God, by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Therein you are cleansed and sanctified, and clothed in the beautiful white wedding garments of Christ Jesus.  Having no sins of His own, no flaw or blemish, no spot or wrinkle, He has bestowed on you His innocence, and has taken upon Himself your sin and death.  He has borne your temptations and suffered all your sorrows, in order to become your merciful and faithful High Priest, in order to bring you into life with God.

This is what it means for Him to be your Husband, your heavenly Bridegroom.  And this is what it means for you to be His Bride.  He is perfected in this vocation through suffering, by His Cross and Passion, so that you are perfected and glorified in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead.  In His sleeping — the deep sleep of death upon the Cross and in the dust of the earth — you have been taken from His side, and formed in His Image, in the waters of your Baptism, and in the holy and precious Blood of His Chalice.

Thus are you given to Him in holy marriage, here at His Altar.  And thus does He take you into His arms and bless you, for now and for ever.

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