22 February 2015

He's By Your Side Upon the Plain

The Kingdom of God is at hand in Christ Jesus, and His Baptism has become your Holy Baptism.  Thus, you are a beloved son of God the Father, and you are well-pleasing to Him. For Christ has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, by and with His own Name.  The Father has opened heaven to you in the Body of the incarnate Son, and has poured out His Holy Spirit upon you.

For all of that, you now find yourself living in the arena between God and the devil, and you are driven into personal conflict with the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh.  Day by day, you are tempted by these enemies of God to doubt, deny, and disobey His Word.

On the other side, your dear God and Father would test you, as He tested Abraham.  He does not tempt you to sin, by no means, but He does try your heart and mind to test, instruct, and strengthen your faith in His Word and in the promises of your Baptism.  So it is that you are daily being put to death, and daily being raised to newness of life in Christ Jesus.

Life is a battlefield when the Kingdom of God invades the devil’s stomping grounds.  Which is why — because the Lord Jesus has been baptized to be your Champion and your Savior — He is immediately driven by the Spirit of God from the waters of His Baptism into the wilderness, there to be tempted by Satan, in order to engage that wicked foe in a strange and dreadful contest.  Thus, the Son of David goes out to meet a bigger, badder Goliath than this world has ever dreamed of.

The wilderness is where Christ contends with Satan, because the wilderness is where you also are tested and trained.  The wilderness is where the fallen children of Adam & Eve learn how to live in Paradise again.  It is the long stretch of desert between Egypt and Canaan, in which the children of God are catechized to enter the Good Land that He has promised.  It is where you are taught to live in the Kingdom of God by faith, and so also to work in love for God and for your neighbor, instead of trusting and loving only yourself.  To that end, it is in the wilderness that you are called to repent and believe the Gospel.  But, of course, it is especially at those points of repentance, faith, and love that you are under attack and assaulted by the devil.

The Lord your God tests you and tries you, in order to clarify and strengthen your faith and your confession.  The devil tempts you into evil, in order to rob you of life and bring you to death and condemnation.  So it is that Satan wickedly entices you to sin against God’s Word, but then, in craftiness and spite, he is also the first in line to accuse you and bring charges against you.

At every point in your life on earth, this battle is waged: In your successes, and in your suffering and failures.  In what you have, and in what you lack or lose.  In what God has promised, and in what you covet for yourself that God has not given you.  Always the devil is tempting you to question and contradict, to ignore and despise what God has spoken, both the Law and the Gospel.

But, now, let God and His Word be true, and know that everything else is a lie and a deception.

Trust the Lord, your God and Father in Christ Jesus. Cling to His Word, come hell or high water against you.  Do not despair of His goodness, nor despise His good gifts of body and soul.

Do not be deceived or misled into evil, which has merely the appearance of “good,” but leads only to death.  Beware the assaults and temptations of the enemy: the lies, the flattery, the questions, and the accusations of the devil; the enticements and attacks of the world; the lusts and desires of your own mortal flesh, which are the rotting cesspool out of which all sin and death proceed.

Sometimes crass, sometimes subtle, the devil is always crafty, and every sin to which he tempts you is dangerous and deadly.  Do not kid yourself.  It is not true that “all sins are equal,” but all sin, by definition, is contrary to the Word of the Lord, and that is always to your detriment.  Every denial, and every disobedience of what God the Lord has spoken is a refusal and rejection of the Life that is found only in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That is why the soul that sins shall die.

Where, then, shall you live?  In the Kingdom of God by His grace?  Or with the devil in his prison house of death and despair?  That is what it comes down to, finally.  You cannot have it both ways.

Repent.  Now is the time.  Do not wait, as though to accomplish your own agenda first, but turn away from evil and do good.  Exercise your faith in deeds of love.  Deny your own lustful desires, and live instead by the charity of the Lord.  For the Kingdom of God is at hand in Christ Jesus.

Remember your Baptism into Him.  Remember what God has said and done.  Recall what you have confessed and sworn by His Spirit.  Renounce the devil, all his works, and all his ways.

Do not suppose that you can live a double life, with one foot in the world and one foot in the Church.  “Here we straddle” will not cut it as a battle cry against the old evil foe, nor satisfy the Lord your God, but will only rip you apart from head to foot in heart, mind, and spirit.  Instead, you must sacrifice your idols, no matter how precious they may be to you.  Obey the Word of the Lord, no matter how difficult it may be, and no matter how ludicrous it may sound.  Rely upon His promises, and call upon His Name in the confidence that He will provide, that He will save you from sin and Satan, death and hell, even forevermore.  Trust Him, that He will do it.

At times it will seem otherwise, as though God were actually against you — as it surely did when the Lord Himself called Father Abraham to sacrifice his beloved Isaac.  But even in the desert wilderness, even as you are called to fast and pray, you shall not starve.  Your God still feeds you.  Nor shall you go naked.  Your God still clothes and shelters you.  You shall not die alone.  Your God is with you always, through death into life everlasting.  Indeed, beloved of the Lord, your God dies with you and for you.  He is your Strength and your Song, your Surety, and your Salvation.

He has set Himself as your great Champion, and He is faithful; He does what He has promised.  There is no shifting or turning with Him.  You are sheltered under the shadow of His wings.

Thanks be to God, His Kingdom does not rest upon your faithfulness, nor even your repentance and faith.  The Kingdom of God is at hand in the Body of Christ Jesus, and only in Him.  It is as sure and certain as His Nativity, His Baptism, His life, His death, and His Resurrection from the dead.  Your repentance and faith, your life, and your salvation are all firmly established on Him.

Consider the example of Christ Jesus; which is always more than an example, because everything He does, He does it all for you, so that you may live in Him.  In the wild desert, in the face of all the wicked assaults of the devil, He receives the ministry of His Father’s holy angels.  And so does He now minister to you by His messengers, both angelic spirits and mortal preachers of the Gospel.

Here, then, be served by the angel of Christ.  For you are His beloved, a son or daughter of His Father by His grace.  For His own sake, and by His victory on your behalf, He is well-pleased with you.  Do not be afraid.  He holds no sin against you.  You are forgiven.  Be clothed in the garments of your Baptism, which are ever cleansed and pristine by His own Blood.  Be fed from His hand with His own Body.  For by Himself He has sworn, that you are His, and He is yours forever.  Heaven stands open to you, and the Kingdom of God is here for you in the Body of Christ Jesus.

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

No comments: