As the Forerunner is handed over to imprisonment and suffering, and finally to death, so is the Mighty One, the Christ our Lord, who follows after John, handed over to His Cross and Passion. Already the shadow of the Cross is upon Him, even as He preaches the Gospel, and teaches the Word of God, and heals all manner of infirmity, sickness, and hurt. But of course, it is by the Cross that He obtains this very healing, which He now administers in view of His Resurrection.
Although the Cross itself is darkness and death — and make no mistake about it — yet, the Cross of Christ is, paradoxically, the Light that shines in the darkness. For He Who is the Light has entered the darkness and submitted Himself to death, in order to save you and all who dwelt in the deep darkness of sin and death.
He comes to you and brings, not only information, but Atonement and Reconciliation with God. He gathers and embraces all the brokenness of this fallen world into Himself, in order to repair what was broken, to heal the deadly wound, and to bind and unite God and Man, heaven and earth, in His own Body. All of this He does and accomplishes from the inside-out, from within the pitch-black darkness of your sin, and of your fatal sickness of heart and mind, body and soul.
So it is that, in His death and resurrection, there is Life and Light and Salvation, which are for you and for all people. He has taken the place of sinners, of all sinners, as though He were the only Sinner; and He has suffered and died the suffering and death of all men. Therefore, likewise, His Resurrection is also for all men, women, and children, of all times and places.
Now, then, in the preaching of this crucified and risen Christ, and in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood, “the Kingdom of heaven” is at hand. It is here for you, as He is here with you and for you, so that you might live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. For He is your Lord and King, and it is in Him that our God reigns. He does so in love, with mercy and forgiveness.
This coming of God’s Kingdom, this heaven on earth in Christ Jesus, calls you to repentance, which is to say, to your own dying and rising. As the Christ follows the Forerunner into suffering and death, so does He call you to follow Him: to carry the Cross after Him, and to be crucified, dead, and buried with Him. Not to atone for your sins, nor for anyone else’s, but to escape the death-grip of sin upon your heart and mind, body and soul.
As in your Baptism, and so also throughout your days on earth, repentance means dying to all your false gods; renouncing Satan, all his works, and all his ways; and being turned toward the Holy Triune God in the Person of the incarnate Son, to rise from death to newness of life by His Spirit.
Repent of all your sins, therefore. Not only your vices and perverse habits and addictions, which everyone knows are destructive and wrong. But, repent also of your glittering and impressive idolatries, which you proudly display and the world both admires and envies.
What does it mean, after all, to have something or someone as your god? It is whatever you fear, love, and trust. Whatever you rely upon, respect, and regard as your highest and best good. Whatever it is that makes you happy when you have it, and which threatens to undo you if it were to be taken from you or lost. That is your god. And, whether it be good or bad in itself, if it is not the Holy Trinity whom you fear, love, and trust above all else, then it is a false god, a pagan idol.
So, then, where you have made an idol of your job, your income, your work ethic, or your pension – Repent. Where you have made a god of your possessions, your house and home, your vehicles, your heirlooms, or your toys – Repent. And where you have idolized your family, your parents, your spouse, your children, your fiancé/e, or the idealized marriage and family you dream about for yourself and covet in your neighbor – Repent.
So dark is the sin that reigns in your flesh apart from Christ and His Spirit, that it is often God’s greatest good gifts that you are most tempted and prone to make into a false god: whether it be your body and sexuality, or food and drink, other people, freedom and opportunity, or life itself. All of these are good, but none of them is God. Whatever idolatrous grip they have upon your heart must be undone. The Light must shine upon this darkness, in order to expose it for the death it is, and then also to show you the more excellent Way of Life, which is found only in following Jesus Christ, formerly of Nazareth.
Come, leave your nets, your boat, and your father, and follow Christ alone. That is what Andrew and Simon Peter, and James and John the sons of Zebedee did. But what does this mean for you? What does it require of you, when Jesus calls you to come and follow? What does that look like?
It is certainly not about abandoning the vocations and responsibilities to which He has already called you. To forsake your spouse and children, for example, would be sinful and wrong, and that is not at all the way to follow Christ the Lord. But repentance and discipleship are about having Christ Jesus as your one true God, and living by faith in Him, and loving and serving and working in His Name. It is a matter of turning to Him for Life in your body and soul, for now and for ever.
It is not unlike a man leaving his father and mother in order to take a wife and cleave to her; or a woman being given into marriage by her father, and being given a new name by her husband and head. So, too, your identity and all of your relationships are redefined and fundamentally changed by your allegiance to Christ and union with Him.
Come, then, to Him; and cleave to Him who cleaves to you in love; and brings others with you. Call upon the Name of the Lord in prayer, praise, petition, and thanksgiving, as He has called you by His own Name in your Holy Baptism, and as He continues to call you by His preaching and the catechesis of His Word. Come, and hear, and then speak as He has spoken to you in His mercy.
And bring to Him, also, all your sickness, weakness, sadness, and hurt, and all the diseases and the dark despair of your heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. For this dear Lord Jesus Christ, who is here with you and for you, heals you by His Gospel. He surely does. With His forgiveness of your sins — by and with His Word and preaching — He shines His Light into your darkness; He raises you from death to Life, to be a new creation; and He removes the yoke and burden from your back.
The Law of God does not condemn you in Christ, but rather illuminates the Way of Life that you now live in Him.
And that Life of God in you is nourished, nurtured, and sustained by the divine and heavenly Food with which He feeds you here within His Church on earth. Indeed, with His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead, He bestows healing and strength and life to your body, also. Not only in this life, but unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.
So, too, the dying and rising of repentance, unto the forgiveness of sins, anticipates and prepares you for that Resurrection and eternal Life with God. Which is how and why you now live a new life in Christ Jesus, a heavenly life here on earth, as you follow after Him, a Christian disciple of this Lord who is your true King, your Savior, and your God.
There is, then, this newness to your identity and everything you do within your ongoing stations in life. All things are made new in Christ, including all your old routines, your chores and duties, your studies and your job, your family and your friends. Nothing is the same as it was before.
For some of you, this newness of life in Christ may also yet mean the sacrifice of other ambitions for the sake of service in the Church; which could require a radical change in your present plans, and a new path to pursue toward tomorrow: To become a pastor, perhaps; or a Lutheran school teacher; or maybe a deaconess, like Mrs. Rhein. Or, what might seem like a particularly heavy Cross, to live a chaste and celibate life dedicated entirely to the household and family of God and the care of your neighbors in the community, instead of having a spouse and family of your own.
Some of you may be called to cast the nets in the preaching office; others to mend and care for the nets by serving as officers and leaders within the congregation and the Church at large; and still others may remain with father Zebedee in the boat, in order to rear children in the fear and faith of Christ, and to serve and support His Church and Ministry with your offerings and gifts of love.
The freedom to live in any of these ways, in faith and love, in joy and peace, is here for you in Christ Jesus Himself, in His Word, and in His Body and His Blood. For He is the Lord your God, who is here with you and reigns over you in love. He is your Righteousness and Holiness, your Substance and Sufficiency, your Life and your Salvation. You are able to live and to serve in His Name, because He is here to love and serve you, to the Glory of His Holy Name. So does He forgive you all your sins and heal all your diseases; He drives out all your demons and fills you with the Spirit of His God and Father forevermore.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.