Do not suppose that you are safe, keeping your head down and focusing on your own family, or, even more narrowly, focusing upon yourself and keeping your nose clean, while the world around you burns. And do not think that your neighbor or the world is the greatest threat that faces you.
For, behold, the storm of the Lord has gone forth in wrath, and it swirls down upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord does not turn back, until He has performed and carried out all the purpose of His heart. There is nowhere you can flee to hide yourself away from Him; nor does it do you any good to cry out, “Peace, Peace,” where there is no peace.
Is His Word not a fire, and a hammer that shatters rocks? Surely it is! For God threatens to punish all those who break His commandments. Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him. But, as He also promises grace and every blessing to all those who keep His commandments, you should love and trust in Him, and gladly do what He commands.
That is not yet the Gospel, but it is the Word of the Lord, and His good and acceptable Will, which you ignore at your own peril.
To fear, love, and trust in God above all things, is to be more afraid of breaking His Law than of dying; more afraid of His fire, which burns forever, than of the fire which burns for but a little while here on earth. It is to trust in Him, to believe in His Word and rely upon His promises, more than you rely upon your own thoughts and feelings and opinions; more than your own wisdom, reason, or senses suggest; and more than your own strength and cleverness may seem to achieve. And it is to love Him more than your parents, spouse, and children; indeed, more than yourself, more than your own body and life.
Christ confronts you with a contradiction, with a Cross, which you cannot control, unravel or resolve.
He has taught you that it is foolish to put your trust in riches, which cannot save you; and that it is foolish to worry about food and clothing, because there are more important things, and your worry does not help, but the Lord your God provides all that you need. And now, He goes even further; He teaches that there can be no compromise between Himself and your life in this world. Even your own household and family shall be divided by the sharp two-edged Sword of His Word, which cuts you to the quick, and pierces your soul, and separates the marrow from your bones. He is relentless in cutting you off from every other god than Himself.
There is no safety or salvation anywhere else, nor in anyone but Him. Yet, do not be naive. He is not “safe.” He has come to cast fire upon the earth. He burns up the chaff, the hay, straw, and stubble, in order to cleanse you and purify you, in body and soul, as silver and gold are purged of all impurities by fire.
This is the irony, the paradox and contradiction of the Cross of Christ: It is by dying that you live. He puts you to death, in order to raise you up in His own Resurrection, unto the life everlasting.
But how shall you bear or survive His coming?
Fix your eyes on Jesus, dear friend; yes, upon this very One who brings, not peace, but division and fire. He is the Author and Perfecter of your faith and life, who has endured the Cross and borne the shame, for the joy of your salvation. Consider Him who has willingly suffered such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart. More than that, consider that He has been baptized, even unto death upon the Cross, in order to bear the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all sin. For that is where and how the Lord has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart. That is what His coming means, and what it aims at.
You don’t have to live in Israel to understand that a cloud rolling in off the Mediterranean Sea is going to bring rain, and that a hot wind blowing in from the desert is gonna be a scorcher. And you know how to read the world in which you live, too, with varying degrees of accuracy; whether it be the weather and traffic conditions, the best time and place to shop or see a movie, the stock market or your sports league of choice. Would that people knew the Word of God and the remembrance of His saints as well as they know the stats and gossip on their favorite celebrities!
But God, the Lord, has not left you ignorant or clueless about His coming and His presence. It is only that you cannot recognize or interpret these signs, except by His Word and Spirit. Fire and water, that is how He comes. The pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day. Fire and billowing smoke upon the Mountain, and towering walls of water, on the right and on the left, through the midst of the Sea. The fire of God’s consuming presence, receiving the whole burnt offering on His Altar, and the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
So, here you are, then, with the Egyptians at your back, and with the Red Sea before you. Caught between the fire and the flood. Between the God whose promise is for you and for your children, and the same God, who commands you to sacrifice your son, your only son, your “Isaac,” whom you love. Caught in a trap, with nowhere to go, and nothing to do but die. Therefore, be still. And know that He, the Lord, is God. He wounds in order to heal. He kills, and He brings you to life.
It is a terrifying thing to be caught up in the hands of the living God. But, as there is no escaping from those hands, see now what those hands have done. They are stretched out upon the wood of the Cross, as Isaac once bore the wood upon the Mountain. Only, here the beloved Son is not spared, but the Father delivers Him up for us all. He whose Word the mountains rendeth, He lays within the grave. He who shall not be tamed, is wounded for your transgressions, chastised for your iniquities, and put to death for your sins. By His stripes and scars, you are healed, and in His Resurrection and Ascension is your righteousness and peace with God in heaven. In His Body, crucified and risen, is your new household and family.
This is the completion of His Baptism, the fulfillment of all righteousness, which He took upon Himself when He took His stand with sinners in the waters of the Jordan River, and He submitted to St. John’s Baptism of repentance. Into the water He goes, until He is drowned and destroyed in the sins of the world, in all your sinful lusts and desires; and then He comes forth and arises, when His God and Father raises Him from death to life again.
This is how He kindles the fire, which God casts upon the earth from heaven. Your merciful and great High Priest does not allow that fire to go out, but He lays Himself upon it as your Whole Burnt Offering. He is the Atonement for all your sins, and the Sacrifice of Propitiation; not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. And as He rises, then, like incense, He is a sweet-smelling aroma, with which His Father is well-pleased: And so are you also received into His favor, forever and ever.
Which is why you flee the wrath of God by fleeing to His mercy in Christ Jesus. You enter the dark passage through the walls of deep water, in the confidence of His Resurrection. You sacrifice your life, goods, fame, child, and wife, in the sure and certain hope of Him who loves you, who has promised you His Kingdom. By such faith, you live in the righteousness of Christ. You shut the lion’s mouth; you quench the fire’s power; you escape the edge of the sword. In weakness, you are made strong; and in the fear of the Lord, you are wise. Because the Mighty One has done great things for you, whose almighty power is made known in His mercy and compassion upon you.
In the world you have tribulation. The Cross does not resolve that conflict, but, far from it, the Cross stirs the pot and fuels the fire. Within and without, you are crucified and put to death. And, as often as you would flee the Cross, as though to find your safety in the world, the Lord pursues you with His mighty Sword.
But, lest you wonder why, let me tell you: He is not mean, and He does not seek your death, but He desires to give you His own Life. He is not safe, but He is good, and it is in love that He pursues you. He would turn you from your sin and death, to Himself, to call upon His holy Name, and to hide yourself in Him.
When you perceive the pillar of cloud arise from the waters of your Baptism, and you hear the Voice of the Spirit blowing across the desert of your dried-up dead bones, know that He who brings you out of Egypt will bring you into Canaan. As surely as your Savior, Christ Jesus, has passed through death into life, so surely does He bring you through the fire and the water with Himself. He has overcome the world, and He has reconciled you and all the world to God.
That is where your peace is found: in the house and home of your Father, in the fellowship of His family and friends, in the unity of His Holy Spirit, in the Holy Communion of His beloved Son.
Not as the world gives, does He give to you here, but He forgives you all your sins; He remembers them no more, nor does He count them against you. He has turned aside His fierce anger from you; because His Son, His only Son, Christ Jesus, whom He loves, has fulfilled the purpose of His heart for your salvation. So shall He sustain you. For you are righteous in His sight, for Jesus’ sake, and He will never let the righteous fall. Many are the afflictions of the Righteous, but the Lord delivers Him out of them all.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.