Here today in the Cross of Christ, and in His Body and His Blood, in His forgiveness of all of your sins, you know the Love of God. You know the Love of Christ, both for His Father and for you. And in the Cross and in the Sacrament, you behold the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ. Not because you have turned toward Him, but because He has turned His Face toward you.
He has set His Face toward Jerusalem. He has set His Face toward the Cross. And He has thereby set Himself to bear your sin and your death, in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.
In setting His Face toward Jerusalem, His eyes and His heart remain fixed upon His Father, that He should do the Will of His Father, and that He should thus bring you to the Father in Peace. For having come down from the Father in heaven, and having descended even into the depths of your sin and death, He returns to the Father in heaven with you in tow.
He does it by the way of His Cross. He is lifted up first of all in death, that in His victory over death He might rise and ascend to the right hand of God, and seat you there with Himself in the Kingdom of His Father, in the House and at the Table of the dear Father who loves you in Him.
He is taken up to God by the way of the Cross in human flesh like yours. But He is Himself true God. It is no angel who accomplishes your salvation, but God in the flesh. For it is God who was conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And it is God who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, who suffered, and died, and was buried in a cave, a hole in the ground. He made His bed in the dust of the earth, so that, in His rising from that bed of dust, He should raise you, a child of Adam, to be a child of the Living God, to breathe His Holy Spirit, to live and not die forever.
He sets His Face toward Jerusalem and toward the Cross, bearing sin and death in His own Body for the salvation of all mankind. And so has He done it. He has borne the weight of the world, and the weight of the world’s sin upon His back. He has taken all your sin and death up into His own holy wounds. He has shed His Blood for you, and with that Blood He has made Atonement for your sins. He has redeemed you, lost and condemned creature that you were. He has reconciled you to God. He has established peace for you. He has saved you by His Cross, and He would save you still. He would save you this day by His Word and the preaching of the Cross.
As you are His disciple — as you are baptized into Christ and taught by His Word, and as your ears are blessed to hear and receive the very Word of Christ — so take up His Cross, and follow Him. For it is also by way of His Cross that you ascend to the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ. It is by the way of His Cross that you enter the Kingdom of God.
You bear the Cross, not as though to redeem your own life, nor as though to make amends, to reconcile God, or to atone for your sins. You could do none of this, but neither is it necessary.
You bear the Cross as a blessed communion with Christ Jesus, the very Son of God, who is your Savior and Redeemer, who has atoned for all your sins, and who has reconciled you to God. You bear His Cross, that you might be united with Him in His death, and in His Resurrection, and in His Ascension. You bear His Cross, in order that you might know God — not according to His wrath, as you deserve, but according to His mercy, to the praise of His glorious grace.
It is something the world cannot understand. It is something your old Adam cannot understand. It is something that even the Prophet Elijah could not understand, until He was taught by the Lord. Nor the Apostles, James and John, those sons of thunder, who would have called down fire from heaven against the Samaritans, because the disciples did not yet know the Way of God in Christ, which is the Way of His own Cross and Sacrifice for the forgiveness, life, and salvation of sinners.
It is by the Cross that you know God rightly, as He truly is. It is by the Cross that you know Him, as you are known by Him who loves you, who did not spare His only Son but opened up His heart and gave Him for us all. Who opens up His heart and gives Himself to you right here and now.
If you would know God, then you must know Christ Jesus, the Son of God from all eternity, the Son of Mary, the Son of Man. The Champion of Mankind. The One who is not ashamed to call poor, miserable sinners His brethren. The One who is not ashamed to know and love you.
To know Christ Jesus is to know His Cross. That is where you know the Love of God, which constitutes His very Being. That is where you know His strength — in His great weakness, even unto death, which was not thrust upon Him, nor forced upon Him, but was laid upon Him in love by His Father, and He willingly took upon Himself in love for His Father and for you.
To know God is to know this Christ, the Crucified One, who by His death destroyed your death. Who by His bleeding and dying paid for your sins, suffered your punishment, and made Peace where there was no peace. His Cross is the Victory, which is yours by grace through faith in Him.
To know the Cross of Christ is also to know your own death and resurrection. Not as punishment, but as putting to death the lies of the devil in you heart, mind, and soul. When you know suffering and pain and sadness and disappointment in your life, do not conclude that God hates you. Do not suppose that He has turned Himself away from you, nor that He is turning you away from Him. Do not suppose that He is punishing you, although He may, indeed, be disciplining you in your body and life, in your words and actions, as a father disciplines the son whom he loves.
Do not suppose anything. But hear the Word of Christ. Believe the Word of His Cross. Know the power of His Resurrection and the grace of His indestructible Life, which He has established for you and for all in His own crucified and risen Body. Know that to be true. And knowing His Cross, know your own death in Him. Know it as a discipline and catechesis from the Father who loves you, and from the great Good Shepherd who shepherds you, the perfect Teacher who teaches and trains you, who goes with you all the way and is your very present Help in time of need.
The Son of Man has not come to destroy your life, but to save you, and to give you life. His Cross upon you is not punishment, but it is repentance, which He has accomplished for you in Himself, and which He works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit, unto faith in His forgiveness of sins. For by the Cross He calls you away from yourself and your sins. He puts you to death. He buries your father alright, that old Adam who lives in you. He does not leave you to do it, for you could not. You could not kill that old Man. You could not bury that old father. And no matter how you tried, you could not flee. No matter where you went, you could not escape his haunting presence.
When you look at your flesh, you see sin, and you see death. When you examine your heart, you know your wretchedness. When you are honest with your thoughts, you know how perverse and pathetic they are. Whether it be lust, or jealousy, or anger, or greed, or pride — you could not bury your father. But Christ, by His death, has buried your old Man with all your evil lusts and desires.
Christ therefore calls you to put yourself to death by the way and means of His Cross. To detach your heart and life, your body and soul, from your allegiance and attachment to this world, to its idols, and to all of its familiar comforts. To leave behind everything you have loved and relied upon, in order to follow Him alone; to fear, love, and trust in Him alone as your true and only God in the flesh, in His Cross and Resurrection, in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments. To lean not on yourself, nor on your own wisdom, reason, or strength, but solely on His Word and Spirit.
He calls you to put yourself to death — not by suicide, which is a sinful exercise of unbelief, but by the Cross, that is, by repentance for your sins, and by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.
But understand that He calls not only your sins to die, but all of you, beginning with the best and proudest parts of you. He calls you to put yourself to death, even to your family and friends, to your house and home, and to your occupations and outstanding achievements. Not by murder and destruction — God forbid! — but by an adamant refusal to worship any other God than the God and Father of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. So would He have you die to all that you depend on in yourself, not least of all your own attempts at piety and reverence. Not only your filthy rags, but all of your very best righteousness, and everything you worship in yourself.
When He calls you to take up the Cross and follow Him, He would put all of you to death. He would undo you entirely and bury you to the world. And that certainly can feel like a punishment, that is to say, as retribution for your sins, a pound of flesh and vengeance for your wrongdoing. But He lays the Cross upon you and puts you to death in this way, so that you would henceforth have your life always and only in Him. That you would not search yourself for life and light and love, which are not there, but that you would behold the Face of God the Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son, and know Him rightly by knowing His mercy, and His forgiveness, and His life.
Let go of the past. Not simply the regrets, but all of the idols and false gods you are so proud of! Remember Lot’s wife, and do not look back to that which is behind you. There is only death to be found back there in that. There is only sin to be found in your flesh and its accomplishments.
Do not be bitter, then, about the Cross that is laid upon you now in Christ, your Savior. For the Cross has been His work for you. He has redeemed you with His innocent suffering and death, and with His holy and precious Blood. Such a costly price He paid for you who are so valuable to Him.
There is no longer any sin to be atoned for. There is no more curse yet to be undone. Even the last great enemy, death, is forced to serve Christ until it, too, shall finally be put away forevermore.
You are set free. For freedom, Christ has set you free. You are free to love your God and Father in heaven, to love your Lord Jesus Christ, and to love your neighbors, your family and friends, and even your enemies, in and with the mercies of God, your Savior. You are free to live and to love in this way, because your life is no longer a contest or a competition.
There is no contingency on you or on your life. There is no condition to be met or achieved. You are loved by God. You are saved by Christ. The One who calls you to follow Him has already blazed the trail for you; He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death on your behalf.
He has set His shoulder to the plow. And He has not looked back. He has taken it upon His broad shoulders, and He has not set it down. He has plowed the earth with His Cross, sowed it with His flesh, and fertilized it with His blood. He has buried Himself in the ground, and He has risen from death and the grave, and has ascended to the right hand of the Father. In His Body, you have life.
Foxes have holes. Birds of the air have nests. But the Son of Man, your Savior, had no place to lay His head, except upon the wood of His Cross, and then upon the stone of His borrow tomb. Yet, by His death and burial, He has made of that hole in the ground, of that cave, a place of Sabbath Rest for you and all His saints.
Do you hear the gentle blowing at the mouth of that cave? It is the gentle voice of the Gospel. It is the Life-giving breath of Holy Absolution. It is the preaching of the Spirit, who speaks Christ. It is the forgiveness of all your sins. It is the Voice of the risen Lord Jesus, who called Lazarus from the grave, and who now calls you also by name to Himself: “Dear little lamb, follow Me.”
He has made a nest for you. You know that He loves the sparrows. You know that He provides a home for the swallows, a nest in the Altars of God. You know that He feeds the young ravens when they do cry. But He loves you a whole lot more than any of these birds of the air! And as He has given you Sabbath Rest by His own rest in the tomb, so has He also made a nest for you, little bird, right here at the Altar of God, where He feeds you with His own Body and His Blood.
Here there is safety. Here there is Peace. Here is your home and your family. Here is where the heart of God is opened to you in love. For here is where the Light of the revelation of the Glory of God is turned toward you in the Face of Jesus Christ, your Savior, in His Word and in His Flesh.
Lift up your heart, beloved of God, and set your face on Christ, for He shall not turn you away.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.