If there is a more difficult Word of Jesus than this one, I’m hard pressed to know what it would be. In this case, what He says is not hard to understand, but it is devastatingly difficult to accept and take to heart. A flash of steel, a cut and thrust, and He has pierced your heart and separated the very marrow from your bones. But he who dies by this Sword, lives by this Sword; and, actually, there is no other life than this one.
You may already know the answers and the score, but, even so, this Word of Jesus confronts you with a constant challenge, a daily crucifixion of your body and life, and of your flesh and blood in this world. For, quite apart from your knowing, it is how you live and die that matters here. Theoretical affirmations and the best of intentions won’t save you.
But who is your God? That is the question. Not the means that you enlist to achieve some other end, but the Life itself for which you live and die, and apart from which nothing else matters.
How do you measure and evaluate your life? And if you think of yourself and your life as some kind of independent, self-existing entity, that is already the problem that puts you at odds with the Lord Jesus. But what do you reckon as life? A long and happy marriage? Healthy and successful children? Or your own good health and well being? Property, savings, and investments? Good times, good friends, and a good reputation? A solid job with a significant title and description?
If you’re looking to find your life in any of these things, then you’ve already forfeited your life, whether you achieve your goals or not; because your heart is in the wrong place, longing for and clinging to the wrong gods. In countless big and little ways, your idolatry will show itself in the choices that you make between this and that, in the priorities you exercise from day to day.
If the decisive, definitive criteria of your “life” are anything other than Christ and His Word, then you are worshiping a false god, and, except the Lord cut you to the quick with His mighty Sword, you shall die in your sin, in your false belief, shame, and despair.
But as this dear Lord Jesus, the true and only God in the flesh, in mercy calls you to repentance and puts you to death by His Word and Spirit, so does He bring you to life in and with Himself, both now and forever in body and soul. You find your life in Him, already here and now by faith, and hereafter in eternity, in the Resurrection, by losing the life you’ve been striving to find for yourself in the things of this earth. Finders, weepers. Losers, keepers!
It sounds and seems all wrong, because the way you think is also being crucified and put to death, in order that all things be made new for you with the mind of Christ.
Until you learn to think rightly about God in Christ — which is not simply knowledge in your head, but faith in your heart, fear, love, and trust in Jesus above all else, and the discipline of your flesh by His Word — until you thus learn to think rightly about God in Christ Jesus, you won’t be able to get anything else right, either. It is impossible. Then God’s good gifts will be demons or idols in your life, and you’ll bounce from one extreme to the other until they’ve destroyed you.
The better the gifts, the more dangerous the temptation. Not as though the gifts were the problem; for they are from God, and they are good. But, again, they are problematic for you because your heart and head are all wrong. At the heart of your sin, you fear, love, and trust the wrong gods, which are really no gods at all; they do not give you life; they cannot save you.
It’s not only when you compromise Christ and your confession of Christ for the sake of your family and your place in the world. It’s also when you attempt to “balance” Christ, His Word and faith, alongside your other priorities, as though He were merely one god within your pantheon. There is to be no equal distribution of your affection, allegiance, and attentions. You shall have no other gods before Him; no other gods beside the one Lord, Jesus Christ.
Repent of your idolatry, and redefine your family values. Whether married or unmarried, with or without children; widowed, orphaned, and distressed; or overwhelmed with too many people who depend on you — bow your head and bend your knee to no other name but that of Christ Jesus. Whatever gifts He gives to you in this body and life, be they few or many, receive them in His Name, in faith and with thanksgiving, and use them under His authority, sanctified by His Word.
Practically speaking, you are neither to despise nor to depend upon your peeps and possessions, but simply to love your neighbors for Jesus’ sake; to exercise His good gifts to the glory of His Name, to the praise of His glorious grace; to watch and pray, as you wait upon the Lord and look to Him alone for Life; and to suffer all, even death, rather than deny, disregard, or disobey Him.
Die to the world, therefore, and to your own self-righteous pretense of life in this world, in order to be wed to Christ Jesus and live in Him. Is this not what the Lord your God has spoken? That He should be your Bridegroom, your Husband and your Head, and that you should be a member of His Holy Bride? That you should be named by His Name and adorned with His righteousness; and, forsaking all others, that you should be joined to His Body: of one flesh and blood with Him.
Put yourself to death, and so live unto Christ, by taking up His Cross and following after Him. That is repentance and faith, to be turned away from sinful unbelief to the mercies of the Lord in His Gospel of forgiveness. It is to trust the promise of His Resurrection in the face of the grave.
It is to fear the wrath and displeasure of God, so that you flee from temptation and tremble at the very thought of breaking His Commandments; and that you refuse to be swayed or persuaded by the disapproval, frowns, raised eyebrows, cold shoulders, or threats of peers and princes. It is to love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ, to delight in His Word and the preaching of it, and so to value His Gospel, His mercy & forgiveness, above and beyond all the praise and flattery of men.
This new Life, which is by faith in Christ, begins with and continues from your Holy Baptism in His Name; though it is already the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name which brings you to such faith, and to the waters of His Baptism, that you should thus die and rise with Him, and so live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
This dying and rising of repentance and faith, which is both accomplished in and signified by the water and the Word of your Baptism, is the labor and delivery of your new birth into a new family. Therein you are named by the true God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ, adopted by grace as a beloved son or daughter; for His own dear Son is your true Husband and Head. Henceforth, your heart and mind, your body and soul, are animated by His living and life-giving Spirt, by His Word.
This family and fellowship of the Holy Triune God is your permanent vocation and identity, which already now and ever after redefines and determines your entire place and life in this world and the next. Not what you do determines what you are, but who and what you are in Christ Jesus determines what you do; so that you do care for your neighbors in His Name and for His sake.
There is a readiness and willingness in you to lose all things and to let go of everyone else on earth, lest you let go of Christ and lose Him. It is not your human family, nor your friends, far less your property and possessions, for which you “risk it all” and dedicate yourself “at all costs.” But if you are called upon to put yourself in harm’s way, to defend and protect, and to lay down your body and life in self-sacrificing love for your neighbor, this, too, is in the faith and love of Christ Jesus. And by the same faith, you are ready, willing, and able to risk losing your place in the world and your neighbor’s friendship, for the sake of the friendship of Christ and your place in His family.
Do you begin to see how everything in your life, your day to day decisions and activities, and your long term commitments and priorities, are all now governed by this entirely new set of criteria? Not the ties of human flesh and blood, nor the aspirations and affections of this body and life, but the Flesh and Blood of Christ, His Body and His Life, His Name, His Calling, and His affection for you and for all of the children of God.
You live within a new household and family, which is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the one God and Father of one Lord, Jesus Christ. It is established here on earth, even here in this place, as it is in heaven, by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. He has told you where and how this gift is given and accomplished, and He has attached His Word and promise to this Ministry of His Gospel: To the men who are sent in His Name and stead, He says, “Whoever receives you, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives Him who sent Me.”
Thus do you receive and welcome His prophets and His righteous saints in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ; and you care for His “little ones,” for His dear disciples of all ages and abilities, in all sorts of big and little ways, as you are so enabled by His grace, all of this for His Name’s sake.
In these servants of His, you receive Christ Jesus Himself and the gracious reward of His Gospel: Not a righteousness of the Law, but the righteousness of faith, which is busy and active in love.
Not that you are worthy of this Lord Jesus in yourself, but rather because He is worthy of your faith and love, of your reverence and trust, and because He has called you to Himself by His Name.
In tender mercy and compassion, by His Word and Holy Spirit, He bestows on you His worthiness, His righteousness and holiness. For His sake, you shall live and by no means lose your reward.
Here now, in the gracious hospitality of Christ your Savior, at His Table in His Father’s House, He presses into your hand and places on your lips the pledge and promise of His grace, mercy, and peace toward you, and the surety of your place in the household and family of God.
If there is a more beautiful Word of Jesus than this one, I am hard pressed to know what it would be: “Take, and eat,” He says, “this is My Body, which is given for you.” And again, He invites, “Drink of it, all of you,” as He pours out His Cup, the New Testament in His own Blood, for you, His little one, “for the forgiveness of all your sins,” for life and salvation in Him.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.