24 February 2016

Finding Your Place with God in Christ

We cannot remember and rejoice in St. Matthias, the Apostle, without recalling and mourning for Judas, that wretched Apostle whom he replaced, who sold out the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.

Like everyone else, Judas was looking for peace and rest.  But what he found was only despair.  In guilt and shame, anxiety and fear, he ended his own life in a suicide of soul and body.  In doing so, he abandoned his vocation and office and went to his own place of death and destruction.  Hence the sobering Word of Jesus, that it would have been better for that man had he never been born.

How is it with you?  Are you also looking for safety and security but failing to discover it?

Whatever the particulars of your situation, you do carry a heavy load, and you do get tired, surely, because you are crushed by sin and death, and you are tempted constantly to look for life and love in all the wrong places.  Yet, there is no real life or true love, nor any lasting peace and rest, until you rest in God your Creator by faith in Christ Jesus your Lord.  Apart from Him, your homestead and your household are desolate even while they persist, and you will not abide in them for long.

Examine yourself honestly, therefore, and ask yourself: How have you gone about seeking relief and satisfaction?  Is it by your own wisdom, works, and ingenuity?  You won’t find rest that way, because you won’t find God that way.  And it will not work for you to find or make “a place” for God in your life.  But, no, your place and your life must be found entirely and only in Him.

So, for example, with respect to your vocation and your place in the world, it is not the case that your calling and stations are means by which you are to achieve and obtain a life for yourself.  They are rather the way you are given to live the life that is yours by the grace of God, wherever He has put you and positioned you in relation to others.

But do you, then, go about your vocation and stations in life in faith and love, being content and at peace with God and with His good gifts of body and soul?  Or do you actually strive to make a life for yourself, a name and a place for yourself, whether by the manipulation and misuse of your office, or by moving outside of your God-given place in search of that which He has not given?

Are you driven by the pursuit of wealth or by the lusts and passions of your flesh?  By ambitions of fortune and fame?  By recreation and pleasure?  Or simply by a desire to be left alone?  What is your personal Tower of Babel, your stairway to heaven?  For what do you sell out the Lord?

The fact still remains, that you’ll not find what you’re looking for, not really — you’ll not find life and love, nor peace and rest — not apart from the Lord your God.  And you won’t find God by any wisdom, reason, strength, or intelligence of your own.  Indeed, you’ll not find God at all till He finds you and addresses you with His Word, His Law and His Gospel.  You’ll not find Him at all, except as He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus.

So He has, and so He does.  But how?

The one true God has hidden Himself and His righteousness from the prying eyes of fallen man.  He has hidden Himself and His Kingdom from the wise and intelligent, from the grown-ups and the self-accomplished, from the independent do-it-yourself-ers.

But He reveals and gives Himself to the nursing babies, to infants and toddlers, to the handicapped and simple-minded, who are so small and weak and utterly dependent on others to care for them.

And so does He reveal and give Himself, likewise, to those who are like little children — that is, to those who are reduced to nothing in contrition and repentance, who live by faith alone in the providence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Father makes known the Son, and the Son makes known the Father, to those who by the Holy Spirit recognize their sin, their weakness, and their utter need for everything, and who by grace believe the Word and promises of God, that He will help and save them in His mercy, forgive them all their sins, and give them life with Himself.

That is how the true God is, and that is how He deals with you — for Jesus’ sake.  It is the good pleasure and the gracious good will of God that He makes Himself known in love; that He bestows life and salvation, not to the great and powerful, but to the One who is gentle and humble.

Which means, in the first place — and everything else pertaining to life and godliness depends on this point — that the one true God is both hidden and revealed in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, crucified, risen from the dead, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father in heaven.  For He has come in mercy, in meekness and compassion, to lay down His body and life for your salvation.

This one Lord Jesus Christ, and He alone, reveals the Father to you by His grace.  He does it by His Word and in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He does it by His Means of Grace through the Ministry of His Gospel, wherein your Savior and your God is both hidden from your senses and revealed to faith alone: from the waters of His Baptism to the fruits of His Cross and Resurrection.

Indeed, that is the very point and purpose of the holy office which Judas abandoned and to which St. Matthias was called and ordained by the Lord (as a precursor and prerequisite to Pentecost): That by the apostolic doctrine and fellowship, by the Ministry of the Word, and in the Breaking of the Bread, you should know the Lord Jesus and belong to Him as a member of His Body.

Now, then, are you weak and weary, weighed down, and burdened?  Do not deny that you are — by your sin and its consequences, by your mortality and the perishing of your flesh.  But do not despair or lose heart, either!  Rather, repent of your sins, and come to Jesus.  Take His yoke upon you.  Learn from Him the Way of Life and of Love everlasting.

Sounds good, right?  But where and how do you do this?  What does it even mean, exactly?  And what does it look like in actual practice to believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and come to Him?

It is a passive activity.  An active passivity.  It is not what you accomplish, but what you receive.

Hear and heed the preaching of the Word of Christ.  Listen to Him!  That is the key, as the Father has told you on the Mountain, and as the Father now speaks to you by His Son.

Receive and make use of the good gifts that Christ Jesus freely gives you by the Ministry of His Gospel in His Church.  You won’t save yourself by the good work of going to Church, as those who don’t go often protest.  But it’s a start.  And it’s far more certain that you won’t save yourself by not going.  For it is within the life of the Church in the Means of Grace that the Father reveals the Son and pours out the Spirit upon you in Him, and the Son brings you to the Father in Himself.

So give attention to His preaching and teaching, and follow Him by faith in His Word.  Confess and pray what He has spoken.  Remember your Baptism, and bring your children to be baptized, to be taught, and to practice what the Lord Jesus has commanded.  Live content wherever He has stationed you in this body and life, doing whatever it is He has given you to do there in love for Him and for your neighbors.  Carry out your duties faithfully, in obedience to His Word, trusting that He forgives your failings and raises you daily from death to righteousness and life in Him.

What all of this means, and what it looks like, to say it simply, is received in and with the Cross of Christ.  As He Himself was crucified, dead, and buried, and as St. Matthias and almost all of the Apostles were martyred for their confession of Christ, so are you also put to death in order to live.

You are crucified with Christ by daily contrition and repentance to begin with.  So also do you bear the burdens of your office, and you suffer the sin and sorrows of your neighbors.  And perhaps you will be persecuted in some sense.  In various ways, you share the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But how can He describe that Cross as a light and easy burden?  What kind of rest is that?

Well, dear friend of Jesus, it is peace and rest for your soul, even in the midst of adversity, and it shall be the resurrection of your body, as well, at the last and forevermore.  For in His own gentle humility, even unto death, Christ Jesus has atoned for your sins, conquered death, and reconciled you to the Father in heaven by the way and means of His Cross.

And in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has established a place for you, a home and a family in His Church, in heaven and on earth.  Here and now, under the Cross and from the Cross, He gives to you His good gifts: Apostles and Prophets in His Holy Scriptures, pastors and teachers in His Pulpit and at His Altar, to serve you with the Gospel of His Atonement and His Righteousness, to forgive you all your sins in His Name and stead, and to give you Peace and Rest in His Body.

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

No comments: