27 February 2013

The Word of Christ Is Near to You


It’s a rough and tumble world, and it’s easy to get caught up in the crush of the crowd, with so many people, all pushing and pulling at you, threatening to trample you beneath their feet, or else, to drown and destroy you with their endless chatter, everybody talking at you, telling you what’s what, and what to do, and what you should be like.  There’s lots of noise and confusion, lots of words and information, and lots of competition and jockeying for position.

It is both overwhelming and, in its own way, enticing.  Against the onslaught of the crowds, you are tempted to impress them and appease them, to protect yourself from the critics, and to promote yourself with the movers and shakers, in the hopes of becoming someone important.

But none of the people, neither the celebrities nor the crowds, are able to save you or destroy you.  They can neither make you nor break you.  For each and all of them are mortal, like yourself, subject to death and decay, and held accountable to the judgment of God.

It is in the presence of the Lord your God that you live your life and die your death: Coram Deo, that is, before God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth and of all things.  He is the One with all authority—the authority to judge all of creation—because He is the Author and Giver of Life.

Therefore, He is the One, not only with power to hurt and kill, such as fallen man presumes to do with those who are smaller and weaker than himself; but God has genuine authority to condemn both soul and body forever: To “Gehenna,” Jesus says (although it is sometimes translated “hell”).

Gehenna was the name of a valley alongside Jerusalem, where, at various times, even the Israelites had resorted to sacrificing their children, and where an ongoing fire served the potters’ kilns and the constant burning of rubbish and every manner of refuse.  It provides a vivid picture of hell on earth, but only God Almighty has the authority to consign both body and soul to such a place.

And He alone has the power and authority to save you, in body and soul, for the life everlasting.

Therefore, the Lord Jesus exhorts you, not to be afraid of the world and its power-brokers, but to fear, love, and trust in the Lord your God above all things.

A beautiful example is found in the case of St. Polycarp, whom the Church commemorated this past week.  He was a pastor, the Bishop of Smyrna (an ancient city in what is now Turkey), at a time of persecution in the second century.  As an old man, he was arrested and brought before the governor, where he was threatened with martyrdom if he would not renounce his faith in Christ and burn incense to the Roman Emperor.  He refused.  For he was threatened with a fire that would burn for but a little while, whereas he truly feared God and the judgment of eternal fire.

Besides that, St. Polycarp also loved the Lord, his God, who had for so many years been faithful to him; and the old bishop trusted that the same Lord God, who had raised Christ Jesus from the dead, would raise him also from death and the grave (or from the scattering of his ashes to and fro) to live with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Kingdom of heaven forever and ever.

This salvation is real and true, and it is for both body and soul.  For the one true God is the Creator of both the body and the soul, which together comprise the true Man who is made in His Image.

Not only that, but the almighty and eternal Lord, who changes not, has Himself become a part of His own Creation, by the conception and birth of the Son from the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He has lived and died in the Body, with flesh and blood like yours, and God the Father has also raised this incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, bodily from the dead.  So shall your body likewise be raised at the last, and glorified, like unto the crucified and risen Body of your Lord, unto eternal life in Paradise.

Do not doubt that it is true.  For the One who created the sparrows and still cares for them, though they are but a dime-a-dozen, also cares for you, and provides for you all that you need, for this life on earth, and for the life everlasting.  You are precious to Him, and valued most highly.  Consider the price that He has willingly paid for you: not gold or silver, but His own Body and His Blood.

For He who was crucified for you, who has also risen from the dead for you, and lives and reigns to all eternity for you, always interceding for you at the Right Hand of His God and Father, He now serves you in body and soul with His tangible Means of Grace, that is, His Word and Sacrament.

The Word of the Word-made-Flesh penetrates your heart and mind, your soul and spirit, through the ears of your body.  And your conscience is cleansed before the Lord your God by the washing of your body with pure water, that is, with water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word in Holy Baptism.  And your Savior, Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, feeds you with His true Body and gives you to drink of His true Blood, which you eat and drink with your mouth.

Therefore, your body also is justified and saved by the Gospel of God; and, in fact, your soul is not saved apart from your body, for it has no access to God apart from His Word and Sacraments.

Now, then, take this to heart, that the life which is yours in Christ Jesus, which you have by grace through faith in Him, is lived not only in your head and in your heart, but likewise in your body: in your words and in your actions; in what you say with your mouth and do with your hands.

But you already know that your insides and your outsides don’t always match.  You know that what you say is not always what you’re thinking and feeling.  You know that your actions are not always in accord with your own convictions and your actual preferences.

Those differences are not bad, but good and right, when they stem from the discipline of your sinful flesh, so that you do and say what you should, instead of what your old Adam desires.

At other times, however, it isn’t a matter of self-discipline, but of hypocrisy, in which you make an outward pretense for the sake of good impressions, but out of synch with your conscience.

In this respect, there is actually a two-fold danger of hypocrisy: There is, on the one hand, the outward show of false piety, in which you act the part of godly reverence, and you go through the motions of the fear and faith of God, while your heart and mind are still far removed from Him.  Then you are like a white-washed tomb, decorated pretty on the outside, but hiding death within.

On the other hand, there is the hiding and disguising of the Christian faith and life, as though you could carry on with Jesus privately, while outwardly you live like a pagan and talk like a pirate; whether it be out of fear of “persecution” (be it martyrdom or being laughed at), or maybe to compete with the world on its terms, contesting for popularity, power, and prestige—whatever.

One and the same person can be as pliable as Play-doh, shaped by the expectations, or perceived expectations, of the people around him.  So he may be pious at church, profane at school or work, and something else altogether by himself: probably lost and lonely without the crowd to play to, without an audience to perform for.

But the truth will come out.  It will.  Jesus says so.  And that is both a warning and a promise.  Your secret sins are not hidden from the Lord your God.  But, so too, your faith and life in Christ are also known to Him, who loves you.  There is no concealing of your conscience before Him.

Where you actually stand with the one true God will be made known — in your life and in your confession; and in the final Judgment — whether for everlasting life or everlasting punishment.

So, here is what you need to know: True Life is found only in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, and it is had only by faith in Him: in His Gospel of forgiveness.  Not by your works, but by His.  And yet, such faith in Christ cannot be kept hidden in the heart.  It can’t.  Not without suffering loss.  No, faith in Christ is exercised, as it is expressed, with your mouth and with the rest of your body: In worship, and in works of love; and in words of confession, that is, to speak as the Lord your God has spoken to you, and to say what He says.  That is how you know and speak the Truth.

Both faith itself, and the words and works by which you confess the faith, are the gracious work and the good gifts of God the Holy Spirit.  He is near to you, He is actively present and at work in you, by and with the preaching of Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit calls you and brings you to faith in Christ by the Word of Christ.  There is no other way by which you believe and are saved.  And He likewise strengthens and sustains you in this true and saving faith by the same Word of Christ.  Apart from this Word, you die.  By it, you live.

The Holy Spirit preaches Christ to you, so that you believe in Christ, and call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and confession of His Word.  Thus, what He speaks into your ears, comes out of your mouth.  For this is how the Spirit works, in and with the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

The power and authority of this Word is the Gospel.  For by the Word of Christ, your doubts and fears, your denials and failings, and all your many other sins, are freely and fully forgiven: Just as He was crucified for your transgressions, and God raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead.

So it was that Simon Peter, who denied Him, was forgiven and restored to faith and life in Christ.

But to set your heart and mind against the preaching of the Word of Christ, is to resist and reject the Holy Spirit and His gracious work.  So it was that Judas Iscariot ended his own life in despair.

Beware that you do not harden your heart and mind in this way!  Lest you be condemned to the fire that burns forever, and your soul and body be consigned to a worse Gehenna than earth has known.

Rather, hear and heed the Word of Christ that is preached to you.  Hear and receive His Word of Absolution, that is, the forgiveness of all your sins.  For with this Word of His, He sets His own Cross and Resurrection before your eyes, by which He saves you from the fire, forever and ever.

You need not (nor can you!) scale the heights of heaven, as though to bring God down to you.  Nor can you raise yourself or anyone else from the deep dark abyss of death and the grave.  But the Lord your God has come down from heaven, and has gone into the depths, into Sheol, and into Gehenna, in order to raise you up with Himself.  God the Father has sacrificed His own dear Son, in order to atone for all your sins, and thereby to rob death and the devil of any claims on you.

Now the Son draws near to you in peace, and He befriends you with His Word and Holy Spirit.  He reconciles you to Himself, by the way of repentance and forgiveness of sins.  In this way, He returns you daily to your Baptism, and He raises you up from sin and death to life with God.  For the Lord has surely set apart the godly for Himself, and you are godly by the grace of His Gospel.

With this Word of Christ, the Holy Spirit teaches you what to confess, and He likewise gives you the confidence and courage to do so, come what may.

Cling to that Word in both body and soul, as He gives it to you generously in so many different ways: by preaching and teaching, by the Holy Scriptures, by the Catechism, and by the Hymnal.

And for God’s sake, teach these things to your children, and to your children’s children, as you are given the opportunity; that they, too, may live forever with God, and not die.  Read the Bible to them.  Sing hymns with them.  Pray with them, as well as for them.  And bring them to church.

This Word of Christ is not powerless, but living and life-giving.  Indeed, the Lord your God is very near to you, in and with this Word of His: as He preaches it into your ears, as He lays it upon your heart, and as He brings it to confession in your mouth.  So is He a very present help in trouble.

By His dying and rising, He has received all authority in heaven and on earth, that is, the true power and authority of the New Creation, to forgive sins and to save sinners; to comfort you with His forgiveness, life, and salvation; to justify and save you in body and soul, for now and forever.

So does He grant you a quiet night, a restful sleep, and peace at the last.  And so does He raise you up in the true joy of His mercy, which is new every morning, and ever shall be, world without end.

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

22 February 2013

Living at Home in the House of Your Father


Even before you have called, the Lord has answered you in love, and God the Father has given you the Spirit of His Son.  In truth, He has poured out the Holy Spirit generously upon you, in and through Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, by the washing of the water with His Word.

He has surely cast out all your demons by the forgiveness of all your sins.  He has redeemed and sanctified you by the blood of Christ; cleansed your spirit, soul, and body with the Gospel in His means of grace; given you His holy Name, and adopted you as His own dear child and heir.

Not only that, but, having rescued you from the devil’s clutches and kingdom, the Lord, your God and Father in Christ Jesus, has brought you into the Kingdom of His grace, mercy, and peace, into His home, into His own household and family, and has seated you at His Table.

Here the Father feeds you with His Son, who is your Spiritual Food, your Meat and Drink indeed.

Will you, then, live within the Lord’s House, or be scattered?

Having been cleansed of your iniquity and justified by His grace, will you turn away from the Word of God, and return to your wicked ways, and even go from bad to worse?

It is when you dwell in the waterless places, that is, away from your Baptism into Christ, that your restless heart, soul, mind, and spirit become the devil’s resting place and playground once again.

Therefore, do not become complacent.  Do not abuse your freedom by giving yourself over to sin.

If your heart is divided against the Lord your God, so that you do not live with Him but in the devil’s domain — which is to be found, not only in the likes of voodoo and black magic, but as much or more in cases of enmity, hardness of heart, and persistence in unrepentant sins of any sort — if that is the house in which you live, then you shall not stand or abide in the Lord’s House.

But, now, rather, hear the Word of Christ, and take it to heart.  Trust that His Word of the Gospel is Spirit and Truth; and it is for you.

Daily repent of your sins, and return to the Lord your God, who loves you and does not want you to die or perish.  He does not want to let you go, but to give you His own Life.  Why, therefore, should you not live?  Not by your own reason or strength, nor by your good works or hard efforts, but by the Love of God in Christ: Who, in His weakness, is stronger than the devil.

He has redeemed you and rescued you, and with Him there is mercy and forgiveness.  His House stands here for you:  Make yourself at home.  Recline at His Table and rest.  Eat, drink, and live!

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

20 February 2013

The Perfect Righteousness of Your Father


You are to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect: whole and complete, holy and righteous.

Indeed, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of heaven.

But Whoever keeps and teaches the commandments of God, the Law and the Prophets, He shall be great in the Kingdom of heaven.  That is to live according to the Word of God — to find life in His Word — and to confess and teach His Word to others; especially to your own children, that they might learn to love the Lord, and to live by faith in His Word, a good, long life on this earth.

So are you called, on the one hand, to live as an obedient child of God within your own particular place; and then, on the other hand, to become a true father or mother to those who are entrusted to your care.  This rhythm of receiving from your Father in heaven, and handing over what you have received to those who come after you on earth, is fundamental to the Christian faith and life.

For Christ Jesus has come, the Son of God in the flesh, not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them in Himself, in His own body and life.

What does this mean?  The Lord Jesus lives His entire life, and He lays down His life in death upon the Cross, in perfect faith and love for His God and Father in heaven, and in steadfast love and with forgiveness for His neighbors on earth.

He lives ethically and morally, to be sure; that is a given for the One who fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things.  He possesses His own vessel, His body and life, in purity and holiness and peace.  But, more than that, He deals with His neighbor (even you) in gentleness, by grace.

So fully and completely does He trust His God and Father, even unto death, that He also fully and completely offers up Himself and sacrifices Himself, as the Charity of God, in order to save His neighbor from sin, death, the devil, and hell: in order to save you for the Kingdom of heaven.

This, then, is the royal law: that you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  Not only your kinfolk and buddies, and those who do you well, but also your enemies and persecutors, who hate you and hurt you; who take advantage of you, and take you for granted, without any gratitude or thanks.

For the love of God, do not seek revenge, but reconciliation with those who have done you wrong.  By the same token, do what you can to make amends, and to be reconciled with those whom you have hurt.  For your part, you are to be at peace with all people, and to live with them in peace.

So shall you be and live as a son of your Father in heaven.  Which is really to say that you live in Christ Jesus, as He has lived for you, and as He ever lives to do you good, in spite of your sins.

His mercy triumphs over judgment, just as His Cross and Passion, and His Resurrection from the dead, not only prove but have actually achieved, for you and for all people.  By His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death, you are set free from the Law of transgressions, now then to live, by His grace, according to the Law of Liberty:

That is the glorious freedom that is yours through His forgiveness of all your sins.  It is the true freedom of faith in Christ, because there is no condemnation for you, who are in Christ Jesus.

Such is the freedom truly to love and forgive your neighbor; because your life in Christ is secure, and God is your dear Father, and you are a free citizen of His Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.

Therefore, it is the case that you love your neighbor, not only as you love yourself, but, so much the better, as the Lord your God loves you.  That is not to harbor anger and resentment, and not to hurt your neighbor, whether with your fists or your foul mouth, but rather to help and assist him.

It is not to covet what your neighbor has, but, content with whatever the Lord has given you, to use what you have, be it little or much, to care for your neighbor in her need, and in her hurt; to give your neighbor rest, as you are given rest in the Word and works of God; to forgive, as you are freely and fully forgiven; and to be reconciled with your neighbor, as you are reconciled to God.

This is the righteousness of God in Christ, which far and away surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and by which you are saved.  By faith in Christ, by faith in His Gospel, you have entered the Kingdom of heaven, and you live by His righteousness.  In Him, you are right with God.  You are not condemned, but rescued from all evil.  You are safe and sound forever.

This is your confidence and courage before God, which undergirds your charity for other people.

This is your perfect righteousness; because this is the perfection of your Father in heaven, that is, the fulfillment of His good and gracious Will in the flesh and blood of His only-begotten Son, Christ Jesus, your Savior.  He not only fulfills the Law and the Prophets, but He Himself is their perfect Fulfillment: For He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, and He has thereby reconciled the whole world (including you) to God the Father in Himself.

He has made Himself the Poor Man, in order to make you wealthy with His grace.  He has given up His outer coat and His inner shirt, in order to cover your nakedness and shame, to clothe you with His righteousness, His holiness, and peace.  He has gone the full distance to save you, and by His fair Name He has called you from death and the grave into the resurrection and the life everlasting.  So, then, as He offers up Himself in perfect faith and holy love, He also brings you, in and with Himself, to God.  And so are you made perfect in the righteousness of His mercy.

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

Judgment and Mercy

To live righteously according to the Law of God,
does not mean that you judge and discipline your neighbor,
but that you discipline and judge yourself, lest you be judged.

To live peacefully in the mercy of God,
does not mean that you excuse yourself and your sin,
but that you forgive your neighbor and overlook his sins
and gladly do good to those who trespass against you.

17 February 2013

To Be a Theologian of the Cross

What He has always been, and ever shall be, He also becomes, in the flesh, in order to save you.  He who is the Word of God, the almighty and eternal Son, becomes a Theologian, that is, One who studies, prays and confesses, preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Dr. Luther famously describes the making of a real theologian by oratio, meditatio, and tentatio; which is to say, by prayer, by meditation on the Scriptures, and by the agonizing struggle of faith in that Word of God against the assaults and accusations of the devil.  It is a struggle of faith, the dying and rising of repentance, because the Lord God reveals Himself in the hidden Word of the Cross.  So does He work His work of repentance in you, by the way and the means of the Cross.

And so does the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, become a real theologian in the flesh, by prayer and fasting, by the careful consideration and study of the Scriptures, and by the agonizing struggle of faith in His Father, in the midst of the wilderness, in the face of the devil’s temptations.

It is a not a gratuitous charade, but He becomes a real Theologian of the Cross, in order that the Word of God be with you: He’s by your side upon the plain, with His good gifts and Spirit.  The Word draws near to you, here in the wilderness, not only as theology, but as the true Theologian.

What that means, in the first place, is that the Word of God has become like you; not only flesh of your flesh, conceived and born of St. Mary, but also living your life in the world, bearing your sin and its curse of mortality, and being tempted in every way that you are tempted.  He hears your cries of sorrow and anguish, and He sees your suffering and affliction; not from a great distance, but in your place, in the same predicament, in the heat of battle, under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke.

But now the same Word-made-Flesh draws near, in yet another way, by preaching Himself to you: so giving Himself into your ears, into your mind and heart, into your hands and mouth and body.

By His preaching you believe in Him, and you confess His Cross and Resurrection, and you call upon His Name in prayer, with praise and thanksgiving; and by His tender mercy, you are saved.

He, the Word-made-Flesh, the incarnate Son of God, is able to help and save you with His Word and preaching, because He has established His divine Sonship in the flesh, for you and for all people, by His perfect faith and faithfulness.  That is the witness you hear in His Gospel today.

He is tempted in every way, as you are, save only without sin, in order to become your merciful and faithful great High Priest.  Not only does He understand and sympathize with you — not only does He know how you feel, and how hard it is for you — but He is with you in those agonizing struggles; He bears them with you, in order to rescue and redeem you from the devil’s tyranny, and to bring you in safety and peace to His Father, not as a refugee, but as a beloved son or daughter.

He is therefore tempted in all the ways you are, and yet His temptations are also unique, because He is the Christ, your only Savior, and the only-begotten Son of God the Father from all eternity.  That is not to suggest that He has an easier time of it, but quite the opposite: He willingly bears the full extent of the burden, which would otherwise break you and destroy you.

There is a blessed divine Mystery at work in this, for He is not tempted by any covetous lust from within Himself.  He has no sinful heart, no sinful thoughts or inclinations.  But He has taken the weight, the pressure and the sting of those temptations upon Himself, that He might relieve you of that legacy, both by His own faithful perseverance, and by His forgiveness of all your failures.

So He is led by the Spirit in the wilderness, into confrontation with the devil, as your Champion; and He undergoes the full gamut of temptations, in order to overcome the foe who opposes you.

In human flesh and blood, just like yours, He lives as the true and perfect Man.  He trusts His God and Father, and He does not put Him to the test.  But He, the Son, is tested, as Israel was tested, and as you are also tested in the wilderness; and in this testing, He is found faithful.  He prevails in steadfast faith, so that you and all of Adam’s other children might be saved by His faithfulness.  And the content of that great salvation is that you receive the Sonship of Christ Jesus as your own, by the Father’s gracious adoption; just as He has given you and told you in your Holy Baptism.

In this respect, too, the Lord Jesus lives for you, as you are called to live, by faith in the Word and promises of God.  You have heard this before, and again this morning: The devil questions and puts to the test the very thing that Christ Himself has heard and received in His Baptism.  There the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him in bodily form, like a dove, and the Father openly declared to Him: “You are My beloved Son.  With You I am well-pleased.”

So Christ lives and perseveres, in the wilderness, even unto His death upon the Cross, by faith in the Word and promise of His Father; which is not only the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, but also the testimony of His Baptism.  Though He shall be crucified and die, He trusts that God His Father will raise Him up in glory from death and the grave, and the heavens are still open to Him.

Christ Jesus lives by faith in this Word of His Father.  But He Himself, precisely so, is the Word of God the Father to you, and the fulfillment of all His promises to you.  He and His preaching are full of the Holy Spirit, which He has received in His flesh, in order to pour out generously on you.  And so He does.  For everything that He has accomplished and achieved, He has done for you.

He hungers for the Word and Will of His Father, more deeply and more strongly than His empty stomach growls for bread.  But in thus believing the Word and doing the Will of His dear God and Father, He has becomes the Food of God for you, that is, the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God as the living and Life-giving Bread from heaven.

He goes without eating for those forty days, and upon the Cross, and He suffers in His Body, in order that you might eat and be well fed in both body and soul, here in time and there in eternity.  For He establishes the Word of God in His own Flesh and Blood; not only by His Incarnation, but also by His active and passive obedience, by His keeping of the Law, and by His suffering of its judgments in your stead, its punishments for all your disobedience.

That is why the Word of Christ not only teaches and instructs you, but it actually saves you.  His preaching first of all instills in you a hunger for His Word, for His Kingdom and His righteousness — and this same preaching of Christ Jesus also feeds and nourishes you with these very things.

Thus, with His Word to you, the Son of God fulfills the Word of His Father for you.  His Cross has utterly crushed and defeated the devil, all his works, and all his ways, because this Lord Jesus Christ has willingly gone to His death in the holiness and righteousness of perfect faith and love.  And as God the Father raised Him from the dead, He is now the First Fruits of the New Creation.

By His Cross, and in His Resurrection, with His Body and His Blood, He worships and serves the Lord, His God: Not to save Himself, not to bargain or barter for any personal benefit, but in order to save you and others by the grace of God.  For this salvation, there is nothing for you to do or to give but thanks and praise, in which you also become a real theologian of the Cross.

That is the true theology and the fine art of the Christian faith and life: to give thanks for the Cross, by which you are put to death and raised to newness of life, by repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour you in their furious hate and hostility; and though you have the old evil foe on your back, both day and night, hounding and harassing you within and without — the truth of the matter is, that the devil and his minions are defeated; they cannot harm you any more; they’re judged, the deed is done.

The Word of Christ has felled them; that is, the Word of His Cross, which Christ here preaches.

It is by His Cross, by the Fruits of His Cross, that He brings you out of Egypt with His mighty arms and outstretched hands; that He brings you safely through the wilderness, and through the Jordan River into the good Land that He promised: a Paradise flowing with creamy milk and sweet honey (that is, with the pure milk of His Word, which is much sweeter than honey from the honeycomb).

That good Land is not far away, but it is very near to you in this preaching of Christ Jesus.  It is in the Bread with which He feeds you, which is the Word of God made Flesh.  And it is in the good Wine that He pours out for you to drink, which is His holy and precious Blood.  And as God the Father raised this same Jesus, who here feeds you, from the dead, so shall He surely also raise you.

For He is merciful to you, and to all the sons and daughters of Adam, in this Word: His dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Call upon His Name, dear Christian theologian of the Cross, and you shall be saved.

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

15 February 2013

Fasting for and Feasting with the Bridegroom


The heavenly Bridegroom has come, and He is here for you, with or without your prayer and fasting.  But He calls you to repentance, to fast and pray, that you might receive Him in faith and rejoice in His salvation.

For He comes to seek His Bride, to woo her to Himself, and to make her beautiful by adorning her with His own perfect righteousness.  He is, in this same respect, the Good Physician, who does not avoid or keep His distance from those who are sick, but He draws near to them, and exposes Himself to their illness, in order to heal them.

So does He also come to help and heal you.  And to that end, He calls you to give up and leave behind everything that you have clung to and relied upon in the past; which has less to do with your possessions than with your self, your old Adam, your sinful flesh and covetous heart.

When you, yourself, have been converted, from the inside-out, then He shall make you brand new, and all things in heaven and on earth shall be made new for you.  Then you shall divide your bread with the hungry, and welcome the stranger into your home, and clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  Whether with much or little, you will begin to share your hospitality with Jesus and His disciples, even as He welcomes you into His Banquet Hall to share in His Wedding Feast.

This is the real righteousness that is your life and health and strength in the presence of God; namely, that Christ Jesus calls you and brings you, in repentance, from sin and death to Himself.

It is already accomplished and established in Him, who has perfectly fulfilled the Law, on the one hand, but has also borne and satisfied its condemnation and punishment of sin on the other hand.  In keeping company with sinners, including you, He has taken all their sin, their sickness unto death, upon Himself.  Thus has He entered the badlands, the dead zone, the quarantine, in order to defeat the disease, and death and the devil, by laying down His Life and pouring Himself out.

Once for all He has done it.  But His call to repentance, to leave your sin and death behind and follow Him, to receive His righteousness by grace, through faith in His Gospel, that is a daily and ongoing call.  Daily He returns you to your Baptism, to die and rise with Him to newness of life.

It is for such repentance that you now fast and pray, that you might also feast in the presence of your Bridegroom.  For He shall never leave you nor forsake you; although you are frequently taken away from Him by the appetites of your old flesh for the fruits of the old evil foe.  That remains a constant temptation in this life on earth, which you will not escape by your own efforts.

You shall not heal yourself, nor shall you justify yourself by your own piety.

And yet, the heavenly Bridegroom has come and sought you out, and called you to Himself to be His holy Bride.  He has cleansed you, inside and out, with His forgiveness of your sins; and He has clothed you for the Wedding, and for the Wedding Feast, with His own holy righteousness.

Indeed, He has saved the best Wine, surprisingly, for now: His holy and precious Blood, which has burst the old skins of the Law, and is poured out, for you and for the many, in this New Testament.

Here, then, is your great and joyous feasting, even in the midst of your fasting and repentance.  For here, indeed, your Bridegroom is with you — forever and always, even unto the close of the age.

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

14 February 2013

For the Record

It was not the intention of the Lutheran Service Book to commemorate the birthdays of Martin Chemnitz and Philipp Melanchthon.  It is rather these two reformers who are commemorated.  They are remembered on their earthly birthdays (9 November and 16 February, respectively), instead of their heavenly birthdays (when they departed from this life on earth), primarily because the Church has generally tended to avoid commemorations during Lent and within the Octave of Easter.

This year, and at other times when Easter is early, the 16th of February does occur within Lententide, but that is usually not the case.  However, Chemnitz died on the 8th of April, Melanchthon on the 19th of April, and those dates frequently do coincide with the end of Lent or the beginning of Easter.  In addition, the sanctoral cycle in the Lutheran Service Book was developed with the Treasury of Daily Prayer in view, for which those commemorations within the movable Time of Easter are far more difficult to connect to the daily readings and other propers.

Because Chemnitz and Melanchthon are too important to be overlooked or forgotten, and there was precedent for remembering these men on their earthly birthdays in the old Lutheran Annuals, those dates were chosen for the LSB.  Regrettably, the parenthetical notes identifying these dates with their births was retained and actually published in the hymnal, although those notes were only intended as a point of information for the committee as it was working through the data and proposals.  There was no desire to hide the connection to the birthdays, but neither was there any intention of commemorating the birthdays per se.

It is typical to remember the saints on the date of their departure from this earth, but that is not always the case.  In other recent calendars, for example, Melancthon is commemorated, not on the date of his earthly death, but in connection with the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession on the 25th of June; whereas Chemnitz is simply not included.

It is a beneficial coincidence that, with these dates in LSB, the commemoration of Philipp Melanchthon occurs in close proximity to Luther’s (on the 18th of February); whereas the commemoration of Martin Chemnitz occurs shortly after Reformation Day (31 October) and a day before Luther’s birthday, which most Lutherans have been more familiar with.  Both Luther and Chemnitz were named for St. Martin of Tours, who is commemorated on November the 11th.

10 February 2013

For the Joy Set Before You in Christ

This is the Glory of God that shines upon you in the face of Christ Jesus: That the Father, in love, has given His only-begotten Son in the flesh, to die for you, and has raised Him from the dead, in order to justify you in His presence, and to give you the life everlasting in body and soul.

He is the Apostle and the High Priest of the one true faith, and of the Christian religion, by which alone you shall be saved.  For He has been sent by God the Father to preach the Kingdom of God.  And He has come to establish that Kingdom in Himself, for you and for all, by the atoning sacrifice of His death upon the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father.  Heaven and earth are permanently united in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood; so that God abides with you in Him, and you abide with Him in God.

This is the mission that He undertakes, the journey that He undergoes, from the heights of heavenly divine glory into the darkest depths of sin and death, and back to His God and Father again.  What He thereby accomplishes and achieves is not for His benefit, but for yours.  Because what it means is that the Glory that was always His, with the Father and the Holy Spirit from eternity, is now possessed and manifested in His human nature, in His Body; in order that you, also, should be glorified in Him and share in His Glory.

The transfiguration of His face, of His whole flesh and blood, and of your body, also, is by the way of His Cross.  It is by His priestly sacrifice that His Glory fills and permeates His Body, though in it He has borne the sins of the world; for by His death and bloodshed He atones for all those sins, and He sanctifies the flesh of man for life with God.  That Glory of His Cross is now manifest in His Resurrection from the dead.  His crucified and risen Body bears, forever and ever, the Spirit of His God and Father, whom He bestows upon His Body, the Church, through the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, and with His Body given and His Blood poured out in His Supper.

His Cross and Resurrection are His Exodus, by which He brings you out of Egypt, out of bondage into freedom, out of death into life.  His dying and rising are the completion and fulfillment of His Baptism, whereby He brings you through the Red Sea in safety, while Pharaoh and his horses and their riders are drowned; and whereby He also brings you through the Jordan River into Canaan, that is, into blessed Paradise.  As you are baptized into Him, you also pass through death and the grave, into His Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting.  For by your Holy Baptism into Christ, you have washed your robes and made them white in His cleansing Blood; so that you are now clothed in the gleaming radiance of His holiness and righteousness.

What the disciples see in Jesus on the mountain, and Moses and Elijah share with Him in Glory, is also given to His Church, on earth as it is in heaven, and to you, who belong to Him by grace through faith in His Gospel.

Listen to Him.  His Word to you is true and Life-giving, and His lips have been anointed with grace.  His forgiveness of your sins actually does what it says.  What He speaks to you, He gives to you.  Therefore, hear and heed His calling.  Repent of your sins, and believe His Gospel.  Do not fear His Cross, but bear it patiently, and hope in His Resurrection.  The One who calls you is faithful, and as surely as God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead, so shall He also raise you up in Glory.  The guarantee of that is already in your Baptism.

Not only that, but you abide in His Glory, in peace and joy, in the Sacrament of the Altar, which is given and poured out for you to eat and to drink.  This Body and Blood of Christ are the Fruits of His Cross, transfigured by His sacrifice for you, so that your body also, even now, and forever in the Resurrection of all flesh, is glorified in Him.  Even though you are weary and overcome with sleep, yet are you raised up in Christ Jesus to newness of life, day by day, unto the neverending Eighth Day of the Kingdom of God.

The Glory of God is not something you can grab for yourself, or take and put into a box for safe keeping, or manipulate and manage like some kind of product or commodity.  It isn’t for sale at any price, and you can’t make it with your hands, nor achieve it by your striving.  It is elusive and mysterious, but it’s not just that the Glory of God is too hard for you, or too difficult to understand. The Glory of God is the grace of His Gospel, the gift of His Son, accomplished for you, and given to you freely, by His Cross.  You can’t take it for yourself, but it is given to you by His Word.

You do not need to build a house for God.  Nor could you do so.  He is not homeless, in any case.  And not even heaven and earth could contain Him.  But He has come to make His dwelling with you, in order to abide with you, so that you are able to live and abide with Him.  It is in the Body of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, that Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity, is with you.  You’ll not find Him, nor have Him, anywhere else, but He is with you, and He is for you, in the flesh and blood of this Lord Jesus Christ.

Such is the Cloud that both conceals and reveals the Glory of God.  It rests and remains upon Jesus alone.  In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the Prophets, by faithful Moses and Eliljah, by Samuel and Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others.  But now, in these last days, He speaks to you by His Son.  In Him, the Word who is God is made Flesh, and He now tabernacles with you.

His Glory is hidden, for now, under His Cross.  You cannot see it with your eyes, but you hear it with your ears in the preaching of the Gospel, in the forgiveness of your sins.

This is the way and the means by which He journeys with you through the wilderness.  This Gospel of Christ Jesus is the pilgrim’s way.

You do not need to pitch a tent for Him, because He is the Tent of God, which His Father has pitched on earth for you.  In His flesh, the Lord God abides with you, and you abide with Him.

He comes to you, and He is here with you, in the Body of His Church on earth.  But, so also, in His flesh and blood, He takes you with Him up the high mountain to His God and Father.  For not only is He the Apostle who is sent to you by God, but He is also the merciful and great High Priest who brings you to God in Himself.  He is the Sacrifice of your Atonement by His Cross, and now He is the Incense of your prayer and intercession in His Resurrection and Ascension.  As He has died and risen for you, so does He ever live to make intercession for you.  And in Him, your prayers also are heard and received, and they are answered in grace, mercy, and peace.

As the very Son of God is here with you in the flesh, so are you also with Him, abiding in the Glory of His God and Father.  What you behold in His Voice, in His Word of the Gospel, is the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God, which is His gracious presence and power to save.

Do not be afraid.  For in this dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior, who preaches forgiveness and feeds you with Himself — in Him, the Father has chosen you in love, and called you by His Name, to be His own dear child.  And so you are.

Hear now what He speaks to you by His Son: It is good for you to be here.  See, I have built this House for you, and here you are at home.  Behold the face of My Anointed, in whom you know My Peace and My good pleasure.  The Lord, Yahweh, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love; faithful and just, who forgives you all of your iniquity, transgression, and sin, forever and ever.

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

03 February 2013

He Keeps on Preaching with Authority


He comes down from heaven to earth, in order to raise you up from death to life.  He comes and enters in, to set you free from whatever it is that weighs you down and binds you, and to bring you into His own house and home, to live with Him in His Kingdom.

He casts out your demons and heals your diseases, and He bestows the Spirit of His God and Father upon you; so that you shall be (as you are now, by His grace) a beloved child of God in Him: in Jesus Christ, your Lord.

His coming, however, isn’t entirely comfortable, but rather a striking confrontation.  There is, in this, a clash between heaven and hell, between God and the devil; and what is at stake is a matter of eternal life and death.  It is to be taken seriously, but you will only get your bearings rightly by the Word and Spirit of God: in the preaching of Christ Jesus.

The problem and the challenge is, that the coming and the real presence of the Holy One of God appears as a threat to those in the grip of sin and sinful unbelief.  Satan would have the sons and daughters of man receive the Christ as yet another accusation.  That old serpent, the devil, twists and distorts the coming of this Preacher, to stir up guilt and shame, anger and defensiveness.  The wicked foe would do the same to you, as well, if ever he can manage; so that, when you hear the voice of the Lord and the sound of His approach, you are driven by fear of death and destruction, either to fight or to flee.  Despite the fact that this Lord Jesus comes, not to destroy, but to save.

You know how it is, and you have felt this way at times.  Perhaps today, right here and now.  The man with the spirit of an unclean demon is not an outsider.  This guy is “in the synagogue,” in the midst of the people, a member of the congregation.  And yet, he is terrified of Jesus and denounces Him with loud protests: “This ‘goody-two-shoes,’ this so-n-so, is all uppity and ‘holier-than-thou,’ and now He comes in here with His attitude, His nose in the air, to criticize and condemn us all.  His religion is nothing but rules and regulations, requiring strict obedience and outlawing any fun.”

This is such a common perception of Christ Jesus, and of His Christians, too.  You probably have family and friends who have made similar remarks, maybe with loud and angry voices at times. Maybe you have also said or thought the same kinds of things.  And maybe this popular picture of Christ and Christianity makes you edgy and uncomfortable because it cuts too close to home.

To be sure, this distortion of things has some bases in the truth, both the good and the bad of it.  For one thing, the Word of the Lord, His good and acceptable will, does include His holy and righteous Law: There is right and wrong, and you are required to do the one and avoid the other.  You shall be holy, as the Lord your God is holy.  You are called to be perfect, as your God and Father in heaven is perfect.  And this same Law condemns you, and sentences you to punishment, now and forever; because the soul that sins shall die.  That is the truth.

Then there is the other truth of the matter, that Christians too often are vindictive, judgmental, overbearing, and self-righteous.  But, now, don’t start ticking off the list of people you know who are like that.  Examine yourself, your own thoughts, words, and actions, and repent of your sins against the faith and love of God, and against your neighbor.  When you, who bear the Name of Christ Jesus, are characterized by anger, by a quick and harsh temper, by criticism of others, by impatience, and by a reluctance or refusal to forgive those who trespass against you, then you fuel the demonic fires of Satan; and you, yourself, are in need of cleansing from such a spirit as that.

But, for all of that, the true holiness and actual purpose of Christ Jesus are quite otherwise than the demons and unclean spirits suppose and would have you believe.  For while the Lord Jesus and His preachers do preach the Law and repentance, He does even this in the service of the Gospel, for the forgiveness of sins, and for faith and life in His Love.  His purpose is not destruction, but restoration and healing, unto eternal salvation.  His holiness is manifest, not in death, but in Life, and Light, and Love.  His perfection is not that of arrogance or accusation, but of grace, mercy, and peace.  He comes, not with condemnation, but with compassion. And He comes, not to hurt or harm you in any way, but to lay down His own life, for you and for all, in death upon the Cross.

This Gospel of His Cross is what His preaching proclaims.  And with this Word, He releases you from bondage and cleanses you from sin.  He sets free your conscience from the accusation of the Law, and from guilt and shame.  Not that you are free to sin, which leads to death, but that you are free to live a new life: a real life, in Christ, with meaning and purpose.  In calling you daily to repentance, He does not place the burden on you, but He unchains you from the devil’s slavery and the relentless fear of death.  He declares, as at your Baptism, that the unclean spirit must depart from you, that the Holy Spirit may reside in you, and rest and remain upon you, in body and soul.

The Lord Jesus surely is the Holy One of God; not that He should lord it over you with a haughty nose in the air, but that He sanctifies you by His grace and glorifies you with His own holiness.  So, too, He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who is anointed with the Spirit in His Body of flesh and blood, in order to pour out the same Holy Spirit generously upon you: in peace.  And He has been named the Son of God, also as true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to make you a child of His God and Father by the gracious adoption of sons: by His Gospel.

It is God the Father, Himself, not the devil nor the demons, who has already openly declared the Lord Jesus to be His beloved and well-pleasing Son, the Holy One, the Christ: In the waters of the Jordan River, by His Word and Holy Spirit from an opened heaven.

One cannot know or confess Jesus rightly as the Christ, the Son of God, apart from His Baptism; which is also to say, that you cannot know or confess Jesus rightly apart from His Cross and Resurrection; for that is what His Baptism signifies and sacramentally lays upon Him.  Especially from that point onward, that is, from His Baptism in the Jordan River, it is not possible to separate His Word and His works from the Cross on His horizon.  So, too, the life and health and strength that He bestows by His Word and works, are the vitality of His own Resurrection from the dead.

It is with the power and authority of His Cross and Resurrection that the Kingdom of God comes, by and with the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  For the Word of God in His mouth is the forgiveness of His Cross and the Life of His Resurrection.

In truth, the preaching of Christ not only declares the coming or the presence of the Kingdom of God; but His preaching already is the Kingdom of God, because it is by this living and active Word of His Gospel that He calls and gathers the nations to Himself and reigns over them in love.  It is by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection that He treads Satan, sin, death, and hell beneath His feet, and that He raises you up in health and wholeness, to the holiness of a brand new life.

His preaching includes the Law, which always accuses, that is true.  But His preaching is not primarily an accusation, but a removal of the accusation.  It is the Gospel that predominates His preaching, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Then there is no accusation anymore, and no need for any fear of death or the devil.  His Gospel muzzles the demonic accuser and compels him to be quiet.  So does He freely bestow His blessed peace and quiet rest to your heart and mind, to your soul and your body.

It is also for your body, which shall be raised in glory in the Resurrection of all flesh.  For Christ is the Creator of your body, and He has come in the flesh, with a Body of His own, to save your body for the life everlasting.  He has accomplished this great salvation for you by His bodily dying and rising.  And so it is, not only with the preaching of His Word, but with the touch of His hand, that He heals you, releases you from bondage, cleanses you from all evil, and raises you up alive.

As He has made you His own, and given you His Name and Spirit, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, so does He lay His hand upon you, and He feeds you with His flesh and blood, in the Holy Communion.

Both of these Holy Sacraments, like His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and as in Confession and Holy Absolution, derive their power and authority from His Cross.  So, too, all of this is scary, and it seems deadly and destructive, because of the Cross.  For by His Cross, you also are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  You are thrown down, as it were, in the midst of the people, like that poor man in the synagogue.  And surely, it would seem, that will be the end of you.  But, no, even though you die, yet shall you live.  The Lord does not permit the devil to harm you, no matter how fiercely the accuser rages against you.  For the Cross of Christ has done away with sin and has defeated death, so that, now, His Resurrection is your vindication, your justification, and your sure and certain hope.

Satan, sin, and death simply cannot stand before this dear Lord Jesus Christ, who comes and enters in to lay hold of you in love, to stand with you in every trial and temptation, as your Champion and strong Defender, and to save you for life with Himself, forever and ever.

His Word and preaching, His flesh and blood, truly rescue and release you from every evil of body and soul.  He brings you sweet relief from whatever it is that ails you; whether by removing it from you, already, or by granting you the patience and strength to bear it in peace, until the resurrection of your body in glory at the last.  Even now, He is daily restoring you in His Image and Likeness, and He is giving you the true Sabbath rest, by the Gospel.  And as He sanctifies you with His Holy Spirit, through this forgiveness of all your sins, so is He giving you divine Life in Himself.

You have heard how Simon’s mother-in-law was released from her strong fever, and how she was raised up by Christ Jesus, by His Word, and immediately began to serve Him and the rest of the household in love.  This service of love, beginning with the tasks at hand within your own home, and within the household and family of God, also belongs to the new life that is yours in Christ, which you live now by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

Rise up, then, to serve in your own place, as the Lord Jesus serves you here, within His House.  Do not make excuses for yourself, as to why you can’t, or won’t.  But do not suppose that you must sustain and live this life by your own power.  And do not fear that Jesus has gone away and left you to your own devices, efforts, and failures.  He has not.  Nor shall He ever leave you.

The fact that He must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, does not mean that He stops preaching to you.  Just the opposite is true!  He keeps on preaching in all the congregations of His Church on earth, in every time and place, and so also here and now in this city.  Evening and morning, day by day by day, He comes and enters in, He preaches peace, and He lays His hand upon you.  For already in Simon Peter’s home, He began to establish His one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church, in which His Name is preached and praised from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

Do not be afraid.  And do not flee from His preaching.  For here He stands and speaks with the authority of His Cross and Resurrection; not to destroy you, but to save you.  Here He stretches forth His hand to feed you in body and soul, to raise you up with Himself, unto the life everlasting.

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