As a son or daughter of Adam & Eve, you spend your whole life trying to exonerate and justify yourself, to defend and excuse your behavior: to yourself, to your neighbors, and in comparison with your neighbors, and even before God when you’re not trying to run away and hide from Him.
But for all of that effort, there yet remains the unavoidable fact of death, which shuts down all of your attempts to make a life for yourself. You can’t argue with death. Not really. Not your own, nor anyone else’s. No matter how hard you work to ward it off or delay the inevitable. No matter how zealous you are in caring for yourself and trying to protect your children from harm.
Sometimes, death and the grave are all that you can see, and there is no help to be found.
As a Christian, a child of God, you persist and persevere in hope, in the promise and assurance of things not yet seen. But as a child of Adam in this fallen world, you flirt with despair and court disaster. You succumb to the dread of death and plunge yourself into faithless unbelief, whether through apathy or apostasy, bitterness or cynicism, or the stubborn denial of God’s Word and promises. Since you cannot see what He has spoken, you feel as though it were not true, and so you tell yourself to give up on God, to go it alone or give up altogether. In this way, your hope has perished ahead of you, and you don’t even bother to pray or ask for help.
Sorrow seeps into your heart and fills it up, driving out faith and the Spirit. Not right away, but inch by inch, the more you dwell upon your own thoughts and feelings, which seem so immediate, so real and so true, instead of on the Word of Christ, which sounds so fanciful, and He so far away.
Without the Word and Spirit of the Lord, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. You feel it in your bones, and the Law of God declares it to be so. You are dust. And that is where that old serpent the devil would drive you or entice you, to make you eat the dust that he is forced to eat.
Bear that in mind: The devil does eat dirt. The would-be ruler of this fallen world has been judged, and he is cast out. And the Spirit has come — who is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life — because the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son, has returned to the Father who sent Him.
Jesus is the One who bestows the Holy Spirit upon His Church, and therefore upon you within His Church, because He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who has been anointed by the Spirit in His own human body of flesh and blood. He received His body from the flesh and blood of St. Mary, a daughter of Adam, and so His body also is one of dust; yet, that very body of Christ has also been filled with the Spirit and anointed by the Holy Spirit for the rescue and salvation of all flesh.
To be sure, it’s not as though the Son of God were ever without the Holy Spirit. But now also in His flesh as true Man He has received the Spirit, who descended upon Him and remains upon Him, so that in this same Lord Jesus Christ the Spirit of God abides with Man forever. You know that to be true from the witness of His Baptism in the Jordan River. So do St. John the Baptist and all four of the Holy Evangelists testify that, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon Him in the form of a dove.
What began there in the waters of His Baptism culminated in His Cross and Resurrection from the dead. For both the dying and the rising belong to this Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which He underwent on behalf of all sinners, and which He has accomplished in Himself.
Thus was He driven by the Spirit from His Baptism into the wilderness, in order to be tempted by the devil: as Adam & Eve were tempted in the Garden, as Israel was tempted in its own wilderness, and in every way as you are tempted. So, then, He is your true Comrade and your Champion.
Having come down from heaven from the Father, and taking human flesh and blood like yours to be His own, He embarks upon His journey back to the Father with you and all of us in hand. He gathers all people up into Himself, into His Body, in order to return us to faith and life with God, and not only that, but to make us the children of His own God and Father in heaven.
He has taken, not only your temptation, but all of your sin and the sins of the whole world upon Himself. He has come, not only as true Man with His own body of flesh and blood, but in the likeness of fallen flesh. That is to say, He has borne and suffered the full curse and consequence of Adam’s sin, the full weight and burden of your mortality, as though every sin were actually His own, committed by Him, and as though death and the grave were His own rightful wages.
So it is that Christ is convicted concerning the sins of the world. He is condemned and crucified under Pontius Pilate, but it is God the Father who hands Him over to the Cross, and it is the Spirit who fulfills the judgment of the Law in His punishment, in His bloody passion, in His death upon the Cross. Thus, when all is finished, He hands over the Spirit He received at His Baptism. For by the death of Christ, the requirements and condemnation of the Law have been fully satisfied, so that Adam & Eve and all their children may now receive the Spirit, not for death, but for life.
Do not doubt that it is so. For the truth of it is manifest and openly declared in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. Here is what His death has accomplished for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve: It has destroyed death and silenced Satan’s accusations. The Lord Jesus did not fight to defend Himself, nor did He answer His accusers, but in faith and love He quietly and willingly submitted Himself to suffering and the sacrifice of His Cross. And see, His Father has exonerated Him and fully vindicated Him by raising Him up from the dust of the earth.
He is not guilty. He is blameless. He is set free from sin and death forever. And so are you.
The whole world is “convicted concerning righteousness” in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Death and the devil no longer have any rightful claim against you, nor against anyone else, not in Christ, the Champion and Savior of all men. There is no condemnation for those who are in Him.
God’s judgment has been given by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. In Him, sin is forgiven; it is no longer counted or considered, nor is it held against anyone, because it is atoned for by His Blood. And the whole world is justified and reconciled to God in His rising from the dead, in His returning to the Father in our human flesh: crucified and risen, glorified, and now immortal.
Now the Holy Spirit preaches these mighty deeds of God to all the nations of the world, in all the languages of earth, in order to make disciples of Christ Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people, and to gather men and women, boys and girls, the young and old alike, from the four winds into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. For the dried up old bones that are resurrected, re-enfleshed, resuscitated, and restored to new life, are not isolated individuals but the whole house of Israel, that is, the Church, the Body of Christ. It is precisely in His Body that all are made alive. And as a member of His Body, you are made alive in Him.
It is by the proclamation of His Word — by the preaching of this Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen — it is by this proclamation that the Spirit calls you daily to repentance, that is, from unbelief to faith in Christ. For there is no conviction of any sin except for that of unbelief, which sets you outside of and apart from Christ Jesus and His salvation. Your unbelief is your rejection of His righteousness in favor of your own, despite the fact that apart from Him you shall not stand.
But the Spirit calls you to repentance, convicting you of sin and of righteousness by the judgment of the Law and of the Gospel. He speaks the truth in love. He exposes your sin for the unbelief it is, and He thereby removes every pretense of self-righteousness within you. That is the truth of the Law, which condemns you. But the Spirit also speaks the truth of the Gospel, which is Christ, and by this Word He justifies you through faith and raises you from death to newness of life.
This is the Spirit’s testimony and His defense on your behalf against all of your adversaries and accusers: that you are a sinner, yes, but that Christ Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and that you are freely and fully forgiven and justified by Christ, by His Cross and Resurrection. On the one hand, the punishment of all your sin has already been carried out — in the Body of Christ Jesus on the Cross — and on the other hand, the innocence and righteousness of Christ are counted as yours.
That is the truth of the Gospel. It is not an empty or powerless word, but the very Word of God, which is not only true but Truth Itself, and it establishes the truth concerning you, both now and forever. It is a living and active Word, by which the Holy Spirit comforts you in sorrow, and grants you peace in place of fear, rest from your weariness, and perfect health and strength and life.
The Spirit brings you through the waters of Baptism with Christ into the wilderness, where you now also bear the Cross as a Christian, as you live by faith in the Word and promise of your Father. Here you find yourself in a desert of dry bones, and you yourself are crucified, dead, and buried. That is what daily repentance entails. And, yes, you are still mortal; for now you get sick, you suffer, and you die. That should come as no surprise, nor is it a denial of the Resurrection and the Life that are yours in Christ; for you know that He has also experienced and suffered all of this.
So surely are you also raised up in and with Christ, and you are brought into the Land that God has promised you. Already He has brought you into His Church, which is the Body of Christ, and here you live, just as He lives. Not only that, but even now under the Cross you are glorified with the Glory of Christ Jesus, which shall be openly revealed in the resurrection of your body at the last. As Jesus returns to His Father by way of His Cross in His Resurrection and Ascension, so are you brought to the Father as His dear child: as His very own, dearly-beloved, and well-pleasing child.
That shall be so in the final Judgment Day, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the last. And so is it most certainly true here and now, even in the midst of the wilderness, as you hear and receive the Word of Christ; as your sins are all forgiven; as you are cleansed and refreshed by the waters that flow from the side of Christ; and as you are fed with His Body and His Blood in His Supper.
In giving you Christ Jesus in these means of grace by this Ministry of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit gives you everything that Jesus, the Son of God, receives and has from the Father. He does so by the proclamation of the Word of Christ. He guides you into all Truth by speaking what He hears, which is the Truth of the Gospel, namely, your justification and forgiveness.
This new language of the Holy Spirit is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, and that is neither gibberish nor fantasy but the accomplished fact of His Body put to death and raised again to life eternal. In His Body you also are redeemed, raised up, reconciled to God, and righteous in His sight. That is what He says to you, and that is what His Word does for you and gives to you.
Though it seems such a small and simple thing, and it may seem as though it were powerless to change anything, this Word fills your heart and mind, your body and soul, and even your mouth with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who drives out sorrow and replaces it with joy and peace. For with the Word of Christ, the Spirit refutes the rhetoric of the devil; He defends and protects you against the devil’s accusations; and He comforts you, in order to deliver you from hopeless despair.
With this Word of the Gospel, the Spirit opens your lips to show forth the praise of the Lord, to speak the mighty deeds of God in Christ. So it is that you, your sons and daughters, your nursing infants and young children, speak and sing this powerful Word to the glory of God and to the comfort of one another. For this Word of the Gospel of Christ is the Truth, also in your ears and on your lips, by which He breathes His Life-giving Spirit into you and your children, and to your children’s children, that you and they may live forever in the one Body of Christ Jesus.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.