01 February 2017

The Peace of God in the Face of Christ

Not only do all men die because all men sin, but all men fear death because they sin.  And all the sons and daughters of Adam & Eve are held in slavery by their fear of death.

Not everyone recognizes their fear for what it is.  It hides itself under a thousand other fears and emotions, under anger and anxiety, frustration and impatience.  There are those who deny their fear of death, even as they run from it and hide from it in their reckless behavior and frantic pursuits.  There are even those who seek to escape their fear of death by taking their own lives, which is of course no victory at all but capitulation and defeat.  And then again, there are those courageous men and women who, for duty, love, or glory, master their fears in order to serve and protect their neighbors in harm’s way.  But even those brave souls are not without fear on the front lines.

All men fear death.  By nature you also fear death, both your own and your children’s.  Indeed, you fear death more than you fear God, because you have made yourself and your children into your false gods and idols.  That is at the heart of your sin, but death brings an end to your idolatry.

Your only hope in the face of death, and your only rescue from the terrible slavery of fear, is the Lord your God, the Author and Giver of Life, who by His Word creates and sustains all things in heaven and on earth.  He is your only hope, not only because He is the only One who can save you from sin, death, and the devil, but because He is the Living One who is alone the Source of Life.

The Lord your God is your only hope, but He is also the greatest danger and threat to your life.  It is His holy and righteous Law that exposes your sins, condemns you, and threatens to punish you with temporal and eternal death.  Not the devil, but the Lord your God is the Judge who convicts you and sentences you.  All men die, because all men sin, because God has cursed and punished sin with death.  He has not relinquished His authority.  He deals with His own Creation.  He disciplines His Creation.  He places it under a curse and bondage.  In hope.  But what is your hope?

God is your only hope, and yet, you are deathly afraid of Him and His authority.  You do not fear Him as you ought, but you are afraid of Him in unbelief.  You are terrified of His expectations.  You cannot abide His presence, because He is holy and you are not.  He demands perfection, and you are not perfect.  He commands you not to sin, not to disobey, not to touch the fruit, not to take what is not yours, not even to covet what is not yours; but you have done and continue to do all of these things, for which you are justly condemned and rightly deserve to die.  God is your only hope, but how shall you stand and survive before Him?  For no man can see His face and live.

So you are caught in this vice grip of your sin and death.  You and your children.  You have sinned against the Lord your God, the Author and Giver of Life, and there is no one else in heaven or on earth who can save you from His hand or redeem you from the righteousness of His holy Law.

This is the accusation, the fear and despair by which the devil tempts you to sin, to grasp for what is not yours.  To do what you should not.  To chase after the wind because it seems so appealing.  It is by this accusation, and by this fear of death, that the devil drives you away from God.  To run away and hide from your only hope.  It is by this fear of death, that the devil threatens you by night as by day, so that you have no peace within or without.  And by this fear he holds you in bondage.

Against these assaults and accusations of the devil, you have only the Word and promises of God, that is, the same God whose Word exposes your sin and condemns you.  You have only His Word, and the prayer of faith which looks for and clings to His mercy and hopes in His Redemption and the consolation of His forgiveness.  That is all that you have, and it is to this the Spirit calls you: To lay hold of His Word; to hear it, believe it, confess it, and pray it; and to wait upon the Lord.

It was in such faith that Hannah called upon the Lord.  And He answered her prayer with the gift of a son, Samuel.  By the grace of God, Hannah prayed in faith and hope, and not in selfishness or fear.  She sought and received a son from the Lord, not that she might cling to the child, and not to glorify or save herself, but to give him back, to entrust and dedicate him to the Lord forever.

She cared for him and nursed him for just a few years.  And then, while he was yet a little child, as young as our youngest communicants, she brought him to serve before the Altar of the Lord, as he did for the remainder of his life.  It was in faith that Hannah prayed for him and then gave him back to the Lord her God.  And just think what fruits of faith her prayer and sacrifice bore.

This little Samuel was the one by whom the Lord restored His Word to Israel.  He was the one by whom the Lord fought back against the Philistines and began to deliver His people.  He was the one by whom the Lord gave to Israel her first king.  And he was then also the one who anointed David, the man after God’s own heart, from whose line the Savior of the world would come.

That is what Hannah’s faith and prayer and sacrifice wrought, by the gracious providence of God.

Mothers, think of that, and bear that in mind as you bear sons; that, in giving them up to the Lord, you give grace to His Church on earth, by which He serves His people and grants them life.

Wonderful and wondrous are the works that God accomplished through His servant, the Prophet Samuel.  But even Samuel got old and died.  As did Abraham before him, and Isaac and Jacob, and Moses and Joshua.  As even great King David and all his sons would die.  So did righteous Simeon know that he, too, would die — but not without seeing the Lord’s Christ, the Son of St. Mary.

The faith of God’s people, the Redemption of Jerusalem, and the true consolation of Israel depend upon this Lamb of God, which He provides for Himself.  For sacrifice and propitiation in place of all the sons and daughters of Adam & Eve.  The Ram who is given in place of Isaac.  The Passover in place of the sons of Israel.  The Seed of the Woman who finally breaks the curse of sin and crushes the devil’s head by undoing the power of death with His own death and His own Blood.

That’s what the Law of Purification was teaching.  After bearing a child, whether a daughter or a son, a woman was unclean for a period of time, a period of purification.  Then, after 40 days in the case of a son, or 80 days in the case of a daughter, she would return to the Lord’s House and offer sacrifice, a lamb for a sin offering and a turtledove or pigeon for a thank offering.  For every woman’s son might be the Christ, and every woman’s daughter might become the mother of the Christ.  And so it was that, in childbearing, not only was the curse of sin brought to bear upon the woman, but also the promise of the Christ, the Seed of the Woman.

The Law actually says that, whenever a woman produces a seed, she is to do this thing.  Thus, every seed of every woman was given as an echo of the promise that God had given to Eve and to Adam in the Garden.  His Law was not to be a burden on His people, but a continual proclamation of His promise.  Of purification.  Of propitiation.  Of life instead of death.  Of forgiveness for sins.

That’s likewise what the dedication or redemption of the firstborn sons was all about.  For God had redeemed His people of Israel by that terrible last plague, when all the firstborn sons of man and beast in Egypt were slaughtered by the Angel of Death, the Angel of the Lord.  But the sons of Israel were spared by the lamb that God provided, by the blood of the lamb which covered their doors and the flesh of the lamb which fed them.  Thus He bought the sons of Israel, He purchased and won them.  They were His own possession; not only by Creation, but also by this Redemption.

So it was that all the firstborn sons of Israel were the Lord’s.  But He took the sons of the Levites to serve Him, whereas all the other firstborn sons were redeemed from sacrifice and service by the price of five silver shekels.  It was a testimony, again, that all of those sons belonged to the Lord; and that all of the people belonged to Him.  That Life was from Him and found in Him alone.

And every firstborn son was a promise that pointed to the Seed of the Woman, who would redeem Israel, not only from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin, death, and the devil.  That is the Redemption for which Simeon and Anna waited in the Temple in hope.

It is ironic that God would choose to give a Savior by the bearing of a Child.  But already in the Word of the Lord to Eve, after the Fall into sin, there was both death and life at work, both the curse and the promise.  In the woman’s bearing of children, the strange and dreadful strife between death and life would be engaged and fought again and again and again.  Especially in the case of a firstborn child, a woman was confronted with great hope and great danger.  She might very well die in labor or bleed to death afterwards.  And yet, out of her labor, out of her anguish and pain, out of her suffering and sorrow, there comes life.  Thus, when Eve gave birth to her firstborn son, she cried out, “I have gotten a man, the Lord!”  She hoped in the promise.  But she had yet to wait.

Waiting and watching in the midst of sin and death, that is how faith lives.  For in the midst of the curse, in the midst of much blood, in the face of great danger and the fear of death, God promises the Seed who by His Blood would redeem the Woman and the Man and all of their children: The Destroyer of death, born of the Woman under the Law to redeem those who were under the Law.

In retrospect we know that the Law of Purification and the Law of Redemption were really all about the Son of St. Mary, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, theologically, it was not only because of their poverty that Mary and Joseph did not bring a lamb but only birds for her purification.  The Law provided this option for those who could not afford a lamb.  But we understand that the very Son St. Mary carries is the Lamb, who is given not only for her but for you and for all by the Father.

He is the perfect Sacrifice.  He is the One who takes the place of Isaac and Israel and all people.  He is the Lamb who is offered for the propitiation of sins, and for the purification of His Church.

He is not redeemed from sacrifice or service.  We may assume that Mary and Joseph paid the five silver shekels, but St. Luke does not record it.  The Lord Jesus is not redeemed from sacrifice or service.  He is presented, and He is dedicated, and He is consecrated for sacrifice and service: For the Redemption of Israel.  Not the Christ but His people are redeemed and rescued from death.

He is not bought back with five silver shekels.  But He shall in time be sold out for thirty pieces of silver, in order to redeem us all by His suffering and death, by His holy and precious Blood.

So out of death there comes life.  From the labor of childbearing there comes a child, and from the Cross of this Lord Jesus Christ there is the Victory over death and the grave that is manifested before all of the nations in His Resurrection from the dead.  It is this Victory that becomes yours in the fall and rise of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  You fall before the Law of the Lord, but He raises you up by His Gospel.  For He is the One who wounds in order to heal, who kills in order to make alive.  He has not come to destroy you, but to give you life in Himself.

He is the true Passover Lamb of God, who is sacrificed in place of Isaac and Israel, in the place of all the sons of Abraham, and in the place of all the sons and daughters of Adam.  So His Blood now marks your door, and neither Satan, sin, nor death shall be permitted to have you.  So, too, is Mary’s little Lamb presented to you here, within the Temple of His Church on earth.  He is given into your arms, into your embrace, into your mortal body.  You eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, according to His Word, and you have His Life in place of your death.

There is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared; but in this fear of the Lord, there is no longer any fear of death and the grave.  Instead there is perfect Peace and real Joy.  For though you die, yet shall you live.  In the face of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, you do behold the Face of God, and yet you are met, not with condemnation, but with the comfort and consolation of His mercy.

So do you live and abide in the Temple of God, which is the Body of Christ, crucified and risen, eternal in the heavens, and yet, here on earth for you in His Church.  As you receive His Body and His Blood, and as you live by faith in His Word and promise, so do you dwell in Him, and He in you, both body and soul, in the presence of His gracious God and Father.  So are your prayers heard, and they are answered.  And so do you live forever in the City of the Lord your God.

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

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