13 February 2013

Return to the Lord Your God


The Heart of God the Father is Christ Jesus.  And the heart of Christ is mercy and compassion.  This is the Treasure of God, which He freely bestows upon His creatures in gentleness and peace; because it is always His nature to be gracious.  The Father treasures His Son, and for His sake He treasures you.  Christ Jesus treasures mercy, and in mercy He forgives your sins and saves you.

This mercy and compassion of God the Father in Christ Jesus is what characterizes the Kingdom of God, and this is what life in His Kingdom is like, the way it is lived in His presence, by grace.

The grace and favor of God is a priceless treasure, indeed.  It is a real prize that remains forever, which gives everlasting life to you.  It cannot be earned or purchased, but only received as a gift; not by works, but through repentant faith in Christ.  Though such repentance and faith are yours, they are not of yourself, but of God.  This, too, He works in you by His grace alone.

You cannot steal this treasure away from God, but neither can it be stolen from you, to whom He has given it freely as a gift by the Gospel.  In Christ, this treasure is yours; and you are His own.

When you live in view of that, in that sure hope and certain confidence of Christ, then your entire life and your whole world are shaped by the grace and favor of God, His mercy and compassion.

It is a matter of where you have fixed your focus; that is where your heart and home are at.  When you are conscious of your life before God in Christ, and you live unto Him by faith in His mercy, then you have true joy, even in the midst of sorrow, and you rest in peace in the midst of death.

But when you are conscious, not of God, but of yourself — when you are not Christ-conscious, but self-conscious — then your body and life in the world are hounded by relentless demands and constant concerns, by worries and anxieties that never fully go away.  The harder you try to get on top of it all, the less you are able to set your heart and mind at ease, or to let your body rest.

If what you seek are the praises of people, their admiration, appreciation, and applause, then you already have what you’re going to get, and even that much will not last for long.  Fifteen minutes of fame?  Maybe more, maybe less.  But not forever, that’s for sure.  And it will not satisfy you.

Life on earth is fleeting and failing.  So is everything about it, and everything it offers from within.  Neither the entire universe, nor any part or portion of it, is self-sufficient or self-sustaining.  Apart from the Word of God, it withers and fades, it dies and decays.

And yet, you hunger for these precarious and perishing things, insatiably, as though they could save you and sustain you; as though they were the source of life and peace and happiness; and as though your appetite gave you a rightful claim to whatever you want.

Driven by your passions, you’re constantly feeding on the world around you, but you are never content, never satisfied.  The more you devour, the more you are consumed by your addictions to that which is not God and cannot give life.

With yourself at the center, as though you were God, you use and use up whatever you find in self-interest, while neglecting the Lord and your neighbor: without faith, and without love.  There are plenty of outright heathen all around you, and professed atheists, who attempt to live without God in the world.  But do not pride yourself on the trappings of religion and philanthropy in your life.  Even your piety, prayers, and charitable contributions are self-serving, and therefore idolatrous, when they are exercised and offered, not in the fear and faith of God, but in order to be noticed and praised by people: in which your concern is not what you can do to serve others, but what others think of you and say about you, and what you can get them to do for you and give to you.

Repent of your idolatry.  Stop worshiping yourself and using your neighbor.  Return to the Lord your God.  Be reconciled to Him, by faith in His Gospel, and live before Him in the righteousness of Christ, your Savior.  He is the One who now and daily calls you to repentance; because of His mercy and compassion for you.  He has not hardened His heart toward you, nor cast you away from His presence.  But His grace and favor are upon you in the Gospel of His own Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead.

Therefore, discipline yourself, in accordance with His Word, and so bear the fruits of repentance.  Not as though to save yourself, but as living in the presence of God, in His Kingdom, by grace.  For to this He has called you, in peace, that His Life might be yours, both now and forever.

Discipline your flesh by fasting, in whatever particular ways will be most helpful to you in curbing and resisting your own particular appetites and addictions.  That may be food and drink, or it may be something else entirely.  Do not despise the good gifts of God, but do not make false gods of them, either.  Rather, temper your consumption.  Learn to live without those things that are not beneficial or necessary, and with less of those things that do still belong to your daily bread.

Do not fast to impress God or your neighbor, but to loosen the fallen world’s grip on your mortal flesh, and to hunger and thirst, instead, for the righteousness of God in Christ.  That is to seek first His Kingdom of heaven, instead of striving to reside in the palaces of earth and reveling in them.  Let your body rather find its resurrection and its real life in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

Likewise, discipline your heart and mind, your lips and mouth, by the prayer and confession of the Word of God.  You will not drive the devil, the world, and your own sinful thoughts and feelings out of your head by your own willpower, but actively take up the sword of the Spirit, and wield the shield of faith, by hearing and confessing the Word that God speaks to you in Christ.  Call upon His Name, in the confidence that your Father in heaven hears and answers your prayers, just as He has promised and has taught you to pray by His Son.

Do not worry whether others are listening or notice.  You are not praying to them, but to the Lord.  Fix your eyes on Him, by fixing your faith on His Word of the Cross, in which His mercy and forgiveness are given; and on the preaching of His Resurrection, in which you are justified, and reconciled to God, and raised up in peace from death and the grave to the life everlasting.

So, too, discipline your hands and feet, your attitude and actions toward others, and the use of your possessions, by having mercy on your neighbor and giving alms to help and support him.  Do so quietly, and in humility before God.  For you, yourself, surely deserve nothing but punishment for your sins, and everything that you have in your hand is nothing but the charity of God.  Therefore, do not toot your own horn, nor embarrass your neighbor by making a show of your almsgiving.  You are not above him, nor is he beholden to you, but you and he alike are beholden to the Lord.

Living before God in the secret place of faith, in the hiddenness of the Cross of Christ, does not mean that you ignore your neighbor or turn your back on your brothers and sisters in their need.  To the contrary, instead of viewing other people as the means to achieving your own goals and advancing your own agendas, in Christ you are able to see them as objects of His affection, dear to His heart, and recipients of His mercy and compassion.  And you are able truly to love them, to serve them for Christ Jesus’ sake, precisely because you have received the treasure of His mercy.

Indeed, you are able to pray to God, your dear Father in heaven, and you are able to give alms, because the Lord your God has had mercy upon you, and has given His only Son to die for you, and has now also given Him to you — into your ears, into your heart and mind, and into your mouth and hands — by the Ministry of His Gospel.  You are able to return to the Lord your God, because He has sought you out and found you, and has come to you in Christ Jesus.

Let such tender divine mercies be your dearest treasure, and so also the character and content of your Christian heart.  This treasure does not decay or turn to dust, and it cannot be taken away from you.  It is given to you freely by God in Christ, and it is not depleted but multiplied by extending it to others in His Name and for His sake.

For Christ Jesus, who is all in all, is all mercy and compassion, and He is the One who saves you by His grace.  He is the One who fasts, in faith before His God and Father, so that, by His hunger and thirst for righteousness, He might establish and obtain the Kingdom of heaven for you.  So has He made Himself nothing, and humbled Himself unto death, that you should now by fed with His body and given to drink of His blood, and in these receive the Kingdom and the righteousness of God.  For having become sin and suffered death, He who knew no sin has borne the curse and consequence of sin, in order to bless you with the Spirit of God, unto the life everlasting.

He who died for you has also risen from the dead, and He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before the throne of God, His Father in heaven.  In that inner room, which is the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, He prays for you, and He is heard.  Therefore, you, yourself, are brought before God, your Father in Christ, and you now abide in His presence.

For not only does the Lord Jesus Christ give you alms, but He Himself is the Gift of God’s mercy to you.  He is the Bread from heaven, who has given Himself for the life of the world.  And He is the true Vine, who has shed His holy, precious blood to make Atonement for you and everyone.

But that is not all.  Not only has He given Himself for you, in order to make peace for you with God.  And not only has God the Father received you to Himself in Christ Jesus, risen from the dead and seated at His right hand.  But also here and now, in this Sacrament of His Altar, in this grain offering and drink offering of bread and wine, the Father feeds you with His Son and comes to abide with you in Him.  He places His dearest and most precious Treasure into your hands.

In receiving what He gives you and pours out for you, you receive the reward of His mercy, and you are returned to the Lord your God, who loves you with an everlasting Love.  For where His Treasure is, there His heart is also.  And here, then, He opens His great heart of mercy to you in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  So does He abide with you, forever and always.

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

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