28 June 2017

Built on This Rock, The Church Doth Stand

Lutherans have sadly sometimes erred in robbing St. Peter in order to give St. Paul his due.  But the Church, in her God-given wisdom, has chosen to remember and give thanks for these two great Apostles on the same festival day.  And if St. Paul shall be the champion of Justification by grace alone through faith alone, then St. Peter shall be the principle example that “such faith” is not the one thing left that you must do for yourself.  To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is not of yourself, but God has instituted the apostolic Office of Preaching and the Sacraments, by which He obtains faith where and when He pleases in those who receive this Ministry of His Gospel.

And in all of this, at all times and in all places, it is all about Jesus.  Everything, everything, everything depends on Him.  Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no Church; there is no Gospel; there is no faith, no forgiveness of sins, no life or salvation.  Apart from this only Son of the Living God, there is no Father and no Holy Spirit; no heaven, no earth, nor anything else.

So, what you need — in the deepest, most profound and significant way — is Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus.  This your song must ever be, the faith in your heart, and the confession on your lips: That He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who became flesh and bore your sins in His own Body to the Cross.  That He was crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification.  That there is salvation in no one else, in no other Name in heaven or on earth.

There are those who thus conclude that celebrating the memory of the saints and Apostles detracts from this faith and confession of Jesus the Christ.  And some have likewise gone so far as to suggest or imply that even the institution of the Church on earth and the pastoral office are somehow a distraction from the one and only thing that really matters.  As though the Lord Jesus Christ were accessible to you apart from the preaching of His Word and His Holy Sacraments.

Perhaps you have adopted the same false thinking and fallen into your own version of the same error, by supposing that you can live and get along just fine without God’s Word and the preaching of it, without returning every day to the significance of your Holy Baptism, without confessing your sins and seeking Holy Absolution from your pastor as from Christ Himself, and without the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus on any given Sunday.  After all, you may say, at least you “love” Jesus, and you “believe” in Him, and that’s all that really matters.  Right?

But how could it be that you claim to love Jesus, and yet not long to hear what He says to you?  And what does it mean to say that you believe in Him, if you are not clinging for dear life to His Word of forgiveness, and if you are not living in the way that He has called you and commanded you to live in the confidence of His promises?  Just who is this “Jesus,” whom you claim to love and trust, if you imagine that you are able to have the Son of God apart from His flesh and blood?

It should come as no surprise, in such a case, that you do not speak the Gospel to others; that you do not serve your neighbor as you should with deeds of love and real charity; that you do not forgive those who trespass against you; and that you rarely bring anyone to Church.  Not when you have fabricated for yourself a disembodied “Jesus,” neither God nor man, who never says or does anything, but who is simply tucked away as a warm fuzzy in your own self-centered heart.

Repent of your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Lord.  For the Son of Man, Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, He is not as you imagine.  Even the guesses of the people then, that He was John the Baptist or one of the Prophets, were closer to the truth than your fairy tales.  But none of these are sufficient, either.  If you would be saved, you will need a far different Jesus than that.

Thankfully, the Lord Jesus Christ, conceived and born of St. Mary, is the personal Word of God the Father from all eternity, who has become Flesh for you and your salvation.  The Word of God, who is the Word-made-Flesh, that is Who and What your Savior is.  And so it is that He is near you, in your ears and in your heart, in your mouth, and in your life, by the preaching of His Word, and by the administration of His Body and His Blood, crucified and risen, given and poured out.

It is for this purpose, that you should thus be rescued from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and saved for eternal life with God in body and soul, that the one Lord, Jesus Christ, called, ordained, and sent St. Peter and the other Apostles, including St. Paul, to preach repentance in His Name unto faith in His forgiveness of sins, to catechize and baptize disciples across the nations, to the ends of the earth and the close of the age, and to administer His Holy Supper in remembrance of Him.  For it is by these ways and means of His Gospel that the Son of God is with you and saves you.

There is no Church, because there is no Gospel, because there is no Jesus Christ — not for you at least — except by this preaching and administration of His Word and Flesh.  As St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Church at Rome: How shall they believe in One whom they have not heard, since faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, unless they are sent?

It is in this sense that St. Peter is the Rock, as the Lord Jesus declares in this familiar Holy Gospel.  Not by any merit or virtue of his own person or his personal faith, which was wobbly at times.  But specifically as a Confessor of Christ, which is to say, as a Minister of His Word, and as the first of those twelve holy Apostles who were called and sent to preach the Gospel in His Name.

So long as we bear in mind that Christ Himself, and He alone, is the Builder of His Church; and so long as we do not forget that the Church which He builds is His Church — it does not belong to Peter, to the pastors, or to the people, but to Christ — then we shall not take offense that Christ has chosen St. Peter and the other Apostles to be the Rock-foundation of His Church on earth.  As St. Paul writes, Christ Himself is the Cornerstone.  He gives strength and shape and stability to the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets; and through them, that is, through their Ministry of the Word, Christ Jesus Himself is at work to establish, to build, and to uphold His Church.

The most central and characteristic aspect of this Holy Ministry is the preaching and practice of the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  Thus, when Jesus the Christ addresses Simon Peter as a Minister of His Gospel, and when He describes the Rock-Foundation of this apostolic Ministry for His Church on earth, He focuses upon the Office of the Keys and Holy Absolution.  Everything in His Church is so arranged for the forgiveness of sins.

Those who attempt to define and describe the Church apart from this Ministry of the Gospel and the Office of the Keys — who move the forgiveness of sins from the center to the periphery — invariably return to the legalism of the Pharisees, misunderstanding the Christian faith and life primarily in terms of the Law instead of the Gospel.  When the Word and work of Christ Jesus, His Body and His Blood, His free and full forgiveness of sins, His Life and Salvation, are set aside or marginalized, then the house is built upon the sand, and it cannot help but fall into great ruin.

Such were the false confessions that St. Paul, in particular, had to preach and teach against.  So, as I have said, where St. Peter is the Apostle who embodies especially the Ministry of the Holy Gospel as the Word and work of Christ Jesus, St. Paul is the Apostle who exemplifies the Life that is lived by grace through faith in the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, it is not a lazy or lethargic life, not in the home, nor in the world, nor in the church.  It is a busy and active life that never ceases to praise God and care for the neighbor, to bear the Cross and sacrifice in faith, hope, and love, in prayer and thanksgiving.  But it is all of that, and you also live that life in Christ, because it does not rely upon your own reason or strength, but it returns daily to Holy Baptism, depends upon the Word of Holy Absolution, and feasts upon the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.

It is a robust and vigorous life that you live in Christ Jesus, by His grace, through faith in His free and full forgiveness.  For by His death, He has destroyed death; and by His rising again, He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized in His Name.  His holy and precious Blood cleanses you of all your sins, within and without, and His own Flesh strengthens and preserves your body and soul in His Life and Salvation.  So it is that, safe within His Body, within His Holy Apostolic Church, the gates of hades shall never prevail against you.  Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns eternally, so shall you rise and live in Him.

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

25 June 2017

That You May Be His Own

If you believe in your heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that He bore your sins in His Body to the Cross, and that He was put to death for your transgressions; and if you believe that God the Father raised Him from the dead for your justification, then confess with your mouth and with your life that this same Jesus is your Savior and your God.

In all that you say and all that you do, let it be known before men that you belong to Him who paid for you with His holy and precious blood.  Hear and heed His holy Word, and live by that Word.

For you are called to be and to live as His disciple.  Which means that you follow Him and listen to His teaching, and that you also learn from His example and His life.  You are His apprentice, and from Him you learn how to live, and how to die, to the glory of His holy Name.

So also, find your true home and your true family in His Church.  Understand that your identity, and your entire place and purpose in life, are found within the Body of Christ, His holy Church.

When Jesus speaks of the divisions that will come within families, He certainly does not advocate animosity for its own sake.  You should not seek to be at odds with your spouse, your children, or your parents.  But neither should you serve and accommodate any of them at the cost of your faith, at the expense of your confession, or in any way that would compromise the Word of Christ.

Your allegiance belongs to Him.  And anyone who loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than Christ, is not worthy to be His disciple, and will not enter the Kingdom of God.  You are to love and serve your family, of course, in accordance with the Word of God, and so also in the fear of the Lord, in the faith and worship of Christ above everything else.  But it is blasphemous idolatry to put your parents, spouse, or children ahead of Him.  Wherever you are doing so, repent.

Do not love anyone more than you love Jesus.  I’m not talking about your feelings and emotions, but about your words and actions, your commitments and priorities.  Do not be afraid to count the cost and bear the consequences of following the Lord.  Do not be afraid of what others may think or say or do to you.  And do not fear what may become of you.  But fear, love, and trust in God.  And finding your life in Christ Jesus, so live as a slave unto righteousness in Him.

Now, St. Paul carefully explains that, when he speaks of this slavery to righteousness, this slavery to Christ, he is speaking with human terms.  It means that you belong to Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you for Himself.  Not with gold or silver, as you know, but with His own Body and Life, with His own Flesh and Blood; that you should be His own, and live under Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  Thus it is that your true value and worth are indicated by what the Lord Jesus Christ has paid for you.

But, in fact, you are a slave to whatever you obey.  You are a slave to whatever master you follow, whether the Lord or your own fallen flesh.  And if you are a slave to sin, then you do the works of unrighteousness, which lead to death.  But if you are a slave to Christ, that is to say, by His grace, through faith in Him, you do the works of righteousness and life to the glory of His Name.

So, then, do not live as a slave to sin and death.  Nor suppose that your sins are harmless or okay.  If you live as a slave to sin, then you belong to sin, and you are subject to death, both now and forever.  For the wages of sin is death, as Holy Scripture plainly says.

Live instead as one who has died and risen with Christ, as dead to the world and alive to God.  For if you are a Christian, that is precisely who and what you are.  That is what God has accomplished in you by His Word and in your Holy Baptism.  You have been crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus.  So are you also raised to newness of life in and with Him.  Live, therefore, according to His Word, in the confidence and courage of His Resurrection, as a member of His Body.

It is a matter of confessing what you have heard and received from the Lord Jesus Christ.  As you have been called and brought to faith and life by His Word of the Gospel, so confess that Word of His Gospel with your words and actions.  In that way you glorify God and serve your neighbor.

As it is not only your soul but also your body that has been redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, and cleansed in the waters of His Holy Baptism, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and saved for the Resurrection and the Life everlasting, confess your Lord in and with your body.

Day in and day out — week by week throughout the year, throughout your life, from childhood into old age — work not for your own benefit, but work to serve your neighbor within the office and station in life to which the Lord has called you.  That is where He wills you to work in love for your neighbor, to live and serve according to His Word, as Christ also lives in love for you.

You need not wonder where or how you are to live.  Your job and duties may be tedious and boring.  They may be difficult and thankless.  They may get no attention or acknowledgment, even from those whom you serve.  Nevertheless, it is to such work that your own dear Father in heaven has called you in His Son.  He is well aware of you and your labor.  He sees and knows what you are about.  And He is pleased by your faithfulness.  Your faith and love in Christ are not in vain.

It is certain that you will not atone for your sins or justify yourself before God by your good works.  That is not the point or purpose of His Commandments or the duties He has given you to do.  But by your labors of faith and love, according to the Word of the Lord, within your office and station in life, you do confess your Lord Jesus Christ and glorify your Father in heaven.  That is the point.

Therefore, do not be lazy, slack, or cavalier in regards to the life that you are called to live as a Christian in the righteousness which is by faith in Christ.  Take that calling as seriously as the Cross and Passion of your Lord, and live it boldly in the hope and promise of His Resurrection.

By the same token, flee immorality.  That’s not just advice.  That, too, is the Word of the Lord.  Do not give your body over to lust of any kind, whether for your neighbor’s wife, or for pictures in a magazine or on your computer, or for money, or food, or position and prestige.  Covetousness is the root of all temptation, which conceives and gives birth to sin, which matures fully into death.

Therefore, do not live according to the lusts of your flesh, but turn around and run the other way.  And pray without ceasing that God would strengthen and sustain you in the faith, to do not what is deadly but what is good and right and acceptable according to His Word.

Do not live as though you were still dead in your trespasses and sin.  Do not continue in your evil deeds as though you still belonged to them, as though sin and death were your lord and master.  Do not go about your days and your deeds in this body and life on earth as though you were nothing more than a mass of decaying flesh, instead of the very temple of the Holy Spirit, a living being of body and soul, in whom Christ Jesus lives and abides by His grace.  Do not deny His Resurrection, nor disavow the Kingdom of your God and Father, as though it were a fantasy.

Remember that you are the Lord’s, His own precious possession, His child and heir.  Not only are you His creature, but all that you are, and all that you have, has been bought and paid for by Christ Himself, at the cost of His own Body and Life, by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  You belong to Him in life, in death, and in the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting.

For now, your life in Christ is hidden under His Cross.  You cannot see it, except through a glass darkly.  For He lives and dwells in thick darkness, in the midst of sin and death.  So you do not see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life with your mortal eyes or in your mortal flesh.  It is revealed to you only in His Word.  But even that can sound like such a soft and subtle whisper in your ear, which the wild world threatens to drown out with all its noisy chaos and confusion.

What, then, do you experience?  Fightings and fears within and without, and the war that rages in your members, in your body of death.  You find yourself returning to the slavery of sin, day after day, over and over again, even when you know better and desire to do better.

You are too easily persuaded by the sinful world around you, by the devil, and by your own sinful flesh.  And you are too sluggish to follow Christ, to live as He lives, to do as He has called you.

But now, do not despair, and do not be afraid.  Rather, repent of your sins each day, and bear the fruits of repentance.  Trust Christ, and live according to His Word, by faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  For you are called to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus, your Teacher.  Which is to say that you must continue to be instructed by Him, to be catechized by His Word and the preaching of it.

To be a disciple, which is to be a Christian, is to be a lifelong student of Christ Jesus.  It is to be a slave of this one Master.  For you are not above Him, but you are called to be like Him.  Listen to what He says.  Let His Word have its way with you, instead of insisting on your own way.

Hear and heed His Word of the Law, which reveals His good and acceptable Will.  For it is neither safe, nor godly, nor okay, to ignore or disobey the Lord’s Commandments.

But together with His Law, hear also His Word of the Gospel.  For what He teaches and reveals in His Law, He has accomplished and fulfilled for you and for all in His own Body and Life, by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, in holy faith and perfect love.

God’s Law accuses and condemns you because you are a sinner.  But God’s Law also sets before you a picture of Christ, who has lived as the true Man in perfect faith toward His God and Father and in perfect love for His Father and for all of His neighbors, including you.

He does not rob you.  He does not take your life.  He is not unfaithful in His promises to you, nor does He cast you aside for your unfaithfulness.  He does not speak against you.  He testifies on your behalf.  He declares you righteous for His own sake, with His own perfect Righteousness.  He gives you His own life, at His own expense, and with that He gives you all good things.

When He preaches His Law to you, it’s not because He’s already done His part and now it’s your turn to carry the weight for awhile.  He preaches His Law, as He does all things, that He might call you to Himself in peace.  That He might turn you away from sin and death and back to Himself.  That He might gather you to Himself and embrace you with His love, and bring you to the Father.

So it is that His Word of the Gospel does not command you but forgives you.  It rescues you from death.  And it brings you to life with God.  Because Christ has become your Righteousness, and Christ has become your Holiness.  His Cross and  Resurrection have reconciled you to God the Father.  His Word of the Gospel thus lays hold of you in love and brings you into safety forever.

Whatever sins have dwelt in your heart and mind, and whatever sins you have committed with your body, Christ forgives you by and with His Word of the Gospel.  And by this same Word He brings you into the presence of God, cleansed and holy, pleasing and acceptable to your Father in heaven.

Hear also how He confesses you before both God and man.  Hear how Jesus confesses you in the presence of heaven and earth.  He proclaims you to be His own.  He forgives you all of your sins.  And He feeds you with His own Body and Blood, the Ransom with which He has redeemed you.

The Son of Man comes to you here and now.  He comes to you in love, who has given Himself for you on the Cross, and who has been raised for your justification.  He has opened heaven to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  For Christ endures to the end.  And Lo, He is with you always, even to the close of the age, and unto the life everlasting.

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

18 June 2017

The Compassion of the Good Shepherd

The Lord Jesus comes to you with divine compassion.  It is that which moves Him toward you, in order to help you, to heal you, and to give you life.  And all of this He does and accomplishes for you by the way and means of His Word, especially by the preaching of His Gospel.

Without this preaching of Christ Jesus, you remain lost and helpless, troubled and tossed about, a sheep without a shepherd, subject to every predator that comes along seeking to destroy you.

It is the case, therefore, that you do need the preaching of the Gospel above and beyond everything else in this body and life, irrespective of your health or wealth or position.

Your Father in heaven can and surely will take care of your temporal bodily needs.  He daily and richly provides you with a place to live, with clothes to wear, and with food and drink.  The fact that you worry and fret, and work and agonize over these earthly concerns, as though it were up to you or within your power to provide them for yourself, goes to show just how deeply your sinful heart is ensnared by idolatry and unbelief.  You do not trust the Lord your God to do for you as He has promised, but you trust and rely upon yourself and the powers that be in this dying world.

But what you really need, if you are going to live — if you would abide as a child of God and have a home with Him forever in His Kingdom; if you would not be found naked and ashamed, but clothed and righteous and holy — what you need is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

So it is, then, because He loves you with divine and holy love, that with divine compassion Jesus calls and sends some of His disciples to be the ministers of His Gospel.  He sends them with His own authority, as you heard Him indicate last Sunday, in order to deal with you in His Name and bestow His Spirit upon you, by speaking to you as He speaks, and by doing for you as He does.

And those men whom Jesus sends, even to the close of the age, they preach and teach, they cast out demons, they heal diseases, and they raise the dead.  Not for this body and life, but for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of body and soul in the Kingdom of His Father.

The authority with which Christ Jesus sends His servants is the authority of His Gospel — that of His Cross and Resurrection.  It is the authority to forgive sins and thus to bestow life.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation; but without forgiveness, there is only death.

In and with the preaching of this Gospel of forgiveness, the Kingdom is at hand.  Indeed, it is here for you, right here, right now, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is freely given to be freely received in repentant faith, which is the only way that you or anyone receives it worthily.  That person is truly worthy who believes the Word of Christ, which does not depend on you at all, but only on Him.

Those who receive the preaching of His Gospel in faith, receive the blessing of His divine Peace, such as the world can never give and you could never have apart from His Cross and Resurrection.

This preaching of the Gospel is your best and only hope.  Apart from it, you will die forever.  To reject it is more dangerous and damnable than the perverse wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You are right to be concerned about the sexual immorality that is increasingly rampant throughout our country and modern culture.  And you should be even more concerned to repent and to flee from your own lustful thoughts, words, and actions.  Resist and avoid such temptations, and seek help for your addictions. But for all of that, do not underestimate the even greater danger to be found in the despising of God’s Word and in the refusal to hear and heed the preaching of Christ.  Rather, recognize the connection between such hardness of heart and the perversity of your sins.

The more you are invested in your own desires of the flesh, in your own passions and pursuits, and in the spending or stockpiling of what you regard as your own wealth, the less time, attention, and space you allow for the Word and works of God, by which alone you will ever and forever live.

But now, seek out, prioritize, and give your attention to the preaching and teaching of your pastors, whom your Lord Jesus Christ, the great Good Shepherd of the sheep, sends to you in His mercy.

When the called and ordained servants of His Word come to you and speak to you in His Name and stead, by His divine command and with His divine authority, you are presented with the most decisive choice you could ever be given.  Not just a matter of life and death, but of heaven or hell.

Nor does turning your back, neglecting, or ignoring this preaching of Christ get you off the hook; for that is simply the most passive aggressive and typical way of despising the Word of the Lord.

But when a preacher of the Gospel is rejected, and his preaching of the Word of Christ is refused, it is the Lord Christ Himself, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of heaven, which are thus rejected and refused.  Not to the detriment of God, who needs nothing from you and is not out to get something from you, but to the tragic loss of all who will not hear Him.

When the preacher of the Gospel is driven out and shakes the dust of that place from his feet, it is entered as evidence for the final judgment.  What that place deserves is eternal fire and brimstone.

Even so, what the preachers of the Gospel suffer for the sake of Christ and in His Name, is itself a confession, a witness, and a proclamation of the Gospel of His Cross.

Whereas without the Word you are a sheep without a shepherd, the shepherds who are sent to care for you, to feed and protect you, are sent to become sheep in the midst of wolves.  Just as the great Good Shepherd of the entire flock has become the Sheep led to the slaughter, the Passover Lamb of God who lays down His body and life and sacrifices Himself; who sheds His holy and precious blood for the atonement of His people and for the propitiation of the sins of the whole world.

He is the first One to be handed over and scourged.  He is also hauled before governors and kings.  He is mocked and scorned and put to death upon the Cross.  And all this pain and grief that Jesus endures — His holy Cross and Passion — that is the source and substance of the Holy Gospel, to the ends of the earth and even to the close of the age.  All so that the lost sheep of every tribe and tongue and nation might be restored, through the preaching of this Gospel, to the true House of Israel, which is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Body and His Bride — which is indeed the very Kingdom of heaven, even here and now in the midst of suffering, sorrow, sin, and death.

It is to and for this great salvation that divine compassion moves Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God: unto death for you and all people.  For those who reject or receive Him, He does it, that one and all may be redeemed and justified, and reconciled and sanctified.  Not by gold or silver, but by and with His own blood, shed for you and all upon the Cross, and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, here at His Altar in the Holy Communion.

Bear in mind and take to heart, therefore, that as this precious Blood of Christ is far more precious than gold or silver, cash or credit, or anything that money can buy, so ought you prioritize and prize the New Testament in His Blood, the Cup of His Salvation, and the priceless Gift of His Holy Body, far and away beyond the wealth of this perishing world.

Not that you should despise the good gifts of God’s creation in this body and life, which He showers upon you in grace, mercy, and peace.  But do understand that these are His gifts and not your due; they are given to be received in thanksgiving, to be sanctified by His Word and prayer.

Whatever your occupation, and whatever treasures of this earth the Lord may entrust for a time to your stewardship, it is all to be turned toward the purpose of receiving, supporting, and extending His Kingdom through the Ministry of His Gospel.  By your contributions to His Church on earth, and by compassion and tangible charity to your neighbors, including those who sin against you.

Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, celibate, married, or widowed, parent or child, you are as responsible for the gifts of God entrusted to you within your office and station in life, as were the Holy Apostles for the Ministry of the Gospel to which they were called, ordained, and sent.

But whether you do your part or not, whether you live and remain within His Kingdom or wander far and wide from His pastures, the Good Shepherd continues to send His preachers to preach in His Name and stead to all the nations of the earth.  So long as it is day, until that night comes when no man can work — until that great and terrible day of judgment comes — the Lord Jesus sends shepherds to His sheep.  To give freely what cannot be bought.  To bestow the gracious blessing of His Peace and rest.  To announce that His Kingdom is at hand in this preaching of His Word.

It is by this Ministry of the Gospel that Christ Jesus loves you, and cares for you, and provides for your eternal well-being.  Do not despise His compassion by closing your ears, turning your back, and hardening your heart against this preaching of His Gospel.  Where you have done so, repent.

His Gospel is true, whether you believe it or not; whether you receive it or reject it.  It is true, either way, without any contingencies.  It is what it is, with or without you.  But the Lord in His mercy, with deep, divine compassion, would have you receive it in faith.  His Gospel is for you.

Be certain of this: There will come a day of reckoning, also for you, as it once did for Sodom and Gomorrah.  So hasten while you can to be found in Christ Jesus, and be at peace with God in Him.  Hear and heed His Word of the Gospel while it is spoken to you.  Receive it worthily, and do not despise it, lest it be taken away.  Behold, now is the acceptable time.  Now is the day of salvation.

Jesus’ little lamb, beloved sheep, do not despair.  Your Shepherd sees you, and He loves you.  He does not leave you distressed and dispirited.  Here He is at hand to shelter you with His Cross and to nourish you with His own flesh and blood.  He has not cast you away nor taken His Spirit from you, but by His grace He counts you worthy to receive His Peace.  All of your sins are forgiven.

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

11 June 2017

Knowing the Holy Trinity in Holy Baptism

Throughout the Holy Scriptures, mountains are often the place where God comes to His people and reveals Himself to them.  In the Old Testament, God first came to Moses in the burning bush on Mount Horeb, “the Mountain of God.”  Later, He gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  And on Mount Zion He established His Temple.  In the New Testament, Jesus is frequently on a mountain, whether it be for prayer to His Father or preaching the Word of life to the people.  The Sermon on the Mount is one obvious example, and a few months ago we heard again about the Mountain of Transfiguration.  In each case, the mountain is the place where God reveals Himself to man.  And in every case, the God who reveals Himself on the mountain is the Holy Trinity.

Certainly, the Word of our Lord Jesus on the mountain this morning is the clearest revelation of the Holy Trinity, as He commissions the Apostles to baptize “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  But this one true God, who changes not — YHWH, the Creator of the heavens and the earth — He has always been the Holy Trinity.  And while this great Mystery cannot be comprehended with your intellect, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been the Object of all true faith and worship, from the foundation of the world, even to the close of the age.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity is not simply a dogmatic fact; it is the essential reality of who God is and of all that He has done to give life and to love His good creation.  The Persons of the Trinity are not a matter of divine trivia, as though God might just as well have been some other way.  No, the Triune God — the one true God in three divine Persons — is the Fountain and Source of all life and salvation.  And each Person of the Holy Trinity is actively involved in this divine work.

The Father — who with fatherly, divine goodness and mercy made all things and still preserves them — loves the world, has had mercy upon us, and has given His only Son to die for us.

The Son, out of love for His Father, and out of His great love for you and for all people, came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man; He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, He suffered and was buried, and has risen again.

And as you could not by your own reason or strength believe in this Lord Jesus Christ or come to Him, the Holy Spirit unites you with the Son, makes you a child of the Father, and bestows on you the blessings of the Cross and Resurrection: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  This He does through the Church, calling you by the Gospel, enlightening you with His gifts of faith and love in the Liturgy, sanctifying you in the divine Life, and preserving you within the Body of Christ.

But the Mystery of the Holy Triune God is not an easy thing to understand or talk about.  If you try to make logical sense of it, you’ll likely end up with a headache.  It’s much easier to talk about Jesus.  And so it should be; for you do not know the Triune God except through Jesus Christ.

The Holy Triune God and His great salvation are revealed in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  And in Him, the smallest child understands the Trinity as well or better than the greatest theologian.

Of course, the Incarnation of the Son of God is a great Mystery, as well, on par with that of the Holy Trinity.  But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come to tabernacle with you in flesh and blood like yours, in such a way that you are able to receive Him and to rest yourself in Him.  As your merciful and great High Priest, He has bridged the gap between God and man within His own Body, in His perfect life, by His innocent suffering and death upon the Cross, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  His own Body, crucified and risen, is the Mountain of God, that is, the Place where God and Man have come together perfectly and forever.

The question, then, is where shall you go to find Jesus.  And the answer is given in this Gospel.  For just as Jesus designated the mountain where He would meet the disciples then, so has He indicated the ways and means by which He comes to you and reveals and gives Himself to you.  He has given you His Word in the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles.  And He has attached His Gospel–Word and promises to the waters of Holy Baptism and to the bread and wine of the Holy Communion.  And as the Father has sent Him, so does Christ send His ministers of the Gospel to speak His Word and work His works with His authority in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this Ministry of the Word, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Holy Sacraments, you hear and receive Christ Himself, according to His promise to those whom He sends: “He who hears you, hears Me; and he who receives you, receives Me.”  By the Word of Christ Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit, who is actively present and at work in the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ, you are reconciled to God the Father and united with Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  In Him, the Word-made-Flesh, in the fellowship of His Body, you abide in communion with the Holy Triune God.

That has been the case from your Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is the Mountain where you meet the Lord and abide in fellowship with Him, unto life everlasting.

The link between Baptism and the Holy Triune God is evident already at the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.  For it was no joke when the heavens were there opened, and the voice of God the Father declared Christ to be His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit came down to rest upon Him in bodily form as a Dove.  God has thus declared that He is manifest and made known in Baptism.

As always, this Self-revelation of the Holy Trinity is given in and with the Body of Christ Jesus.  You encounter the Holy Triune God in the waters of your Holy Baptism, therefore, because you are united with Christ in the washing of those waters with His Word and Holy Spirit.

In Baptism, God became your Father, and you became His child, a joint heir with Christ.  You were anointed with His Spirit, who brought Christ and all His benefits into your heart and soul, body and life.  All of this because Christ Himself was baptized for your salvation, and His Baptism has become your Baptism.  He entered the water for you, and you have entered the water with Him.

Holy Baptism is thus a place of a great exchange.  Christ goes into the water holy and righteous, but He comes out saturated with all of your sins and the sins of the whole world, and bearing all your griefs and sorrows in His own Body to the Cross.  Whereas you go into the water utterly corrupted by your sins, inside and out, but you arise and emerge from the washing of the water with the Word cleansed and forgiven and adorned with the beautiful righteousness of Christ Jesus.  You know some of the baggage you have carried into that water, but Christ has taken it all away.

In this “Great Exchange,” it is also the case that, just as Christ participated in your sin by taking it upon Himself, so through your Baptism do you participate in His Cross and Resurrection.

Holy Baptism is thus your personal Good Friday and Easter.  You are crucified with Christ and die with Him, so that you also rise with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  And as you are buried and raised with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in your Holy Baptism, so are you also given the Name of God Himself, because you are there adopted as His own beloved child.  You not only learn to know the Holy Trinity, but you are taken into the arms of God as a member of His family.

Just think of what that means: You bear the Name of the Holy Triune God!  You are His child!  As you go about all your days and deeds in peace — at work, at home, at school, wherever — you are and you live as someone who shares the divine life and eternal blessings of the one true God.

The Lord Jesus has therefore taught you and tenderly invited you to pray to His God and Father as your own dear God and Father.  For in Christ you bear His Name and are His child.  So do you pray that His Name would be hallowed in your body and life, in all your words and actions, as you gladly give attention to His Word and the preaching of it, and as you live according to His Word.  Just as Christ has instructed His servants: “Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

You hallow God’s Name and use it rightly when you call upon His Name in every trouble with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; when you worship Him in the Spirit and the Truth.  Indeed, the only proper response to the Holy Triune God is worship.  And all true and right worship begins and continues, not with your works and sacrifices, far less with your promises and pledges, but with the Word and works of God in Christ, and with the gifts Christ freely gives you in His Name.

To worship the Lord your God is to acknowledge and confess Him as the true and only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, the Redeemer of all mankind by the blood of Christ, and the Sanctifier of the Church by the Word and Sacraments of Christ.  To worship the Lord your God is to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.  To look to Him and rely on Him for life itself and all that you need.  Such worship is rooted in His Holy Baptism, and it lives in the hearing of His Word and in the eating and drinking of His Supper.

But instead of such worship of the Lord your God, who in love has given you life in body and soul, how often do you worship yourself instead?  How often do you fear people more than God, and love the praises of people more than God?  And how often do you doubt His Word and promises?

In fact, doubt may be the most frustrating thing you face as a Christian, because it is the opposite of faith and worship.  It is the lingering well-spring of the sin that remains within your fallen flesh.  Remember how Satan tricked Eve with seeds of doubt?  The devil attacks you in that way, too.

But now repent of your sins, of your doubts and fears and unbelief, and of all your selfishness and self-idolatry.  Return, instead, to the significance and reality of your Holy Baptism, and to your life with God in Christ.  Rejoice and give thanks that, although you have been disobedient, unfaithful, and lazy, and although you have wandered far and wide from the Lord your God, He is and remains your faithful God and Father in Christ Jesus, who is your merciful and great High Priest; and that the Holy Spirit also helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you in peace.

Remember that you are baptized into Christ Jesus, who was crucified, dead, and buried for your transgressions, and that God the Father raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification.  All that He has accomplished and obtained on your behalf from His own Baptism to His Cross and Resurrection, He has given to you in your Baptism.  Indeed, He has given Himself to you, and He has bound you to Him, that you should be with Him where He is, just as He is always with you.  In the preaching of His Word, in His forgiveness of your sins, and in His Body and His Blood, He is a very present Help in trouble; He is closer to you than a brother, than a mother or a spouse.

As often as you confess your sins according to His Word, you return to the waters of your Baptism into Christ.  The Law of the Lord drowns and destroys the Old Adam in you with all your sinful thoughts and desires, and the Gospel of the new and better Adam, Jesus Christ, raises you from death to life in Him by His Holy Absolution of all your sins in His Name.  And as often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood in faith and with thanksgiving, you are returned to the ongoing reality of your Holy Baptism, and to the life that is yours in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Like a little fish you were born in the water, and as a little fish you live your whole life in the water of your Baptism.  As Dr. Luther would respond to his own doubts and fears and the frequent assaults of the devil in his life, you also may confess: “I am baptized.”  The Holy Triune God has named you with His Name and bound Himself to you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  You are buried with Christ in His death, and you are raised with Him in His Resurrection.  You are adorned with His own precious blood and beautiful righteousness.  You are pleasing to God.

God’s own child, I gladly say it, you are baptized into Christ.  So has your God and Father set His Table and invited you to recline here at His Feast within His House, to rest yourself in the Body and Blood of His Son.  As He was given into death for the atonement of the world, so is He given and poured out for you here, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for life and salvation in Him.  By the Holy Spirit, receive these gifts in faith and with thanksgiving, and so rejoice in the Lord.

By His grace, acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of this true faith; and worship Him in peace and joy, since He has had mercy upon you in this one Lord, Jesus Christ.

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

04 June 2017

The Water of Life from the Body of Christ

The high and holy Feast of Pentecost is of course a day of the Holy Spirit, as we confess and give thanks for His presence among us, and for His creation and preservation of our faith.  Today is therefore also a day of the Church; for whenever we confess the Holy Spirit, we also confess the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Indeed, the Holy Spirit and the Church go together, hand-in-glove, in such a way that you neither have nor confess either one without the other.

But the Feast of Pentecost Day, like every day in the life of the Church, is above all a day of Christ.  For the faith that is worked in you by the Holy Spirit is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Holy Spirit is the Body & Bride of Christ Jesus.

The singular aim and purpose of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ as the Son of the Father, as the Word-made-Flesh, and as your Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  That is what the Spirit does —  by the preaching of the Gospel, in the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism, and around the Table of our Lord in His Body and His Blood.  That is what the Holy Spirit does on this great and glorious Day of Pentecost, and that is what the Church now celebrates in the Spirit.

Pentecost is arguably the most ancient liturgical feast of the Church, since it was a Jewish Feast already prior to the coming of Christ.  Celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover — just as we celebrate today on the fiftieth day of Easter — the Jewish Feast of Pentecost was one of three major pilgrim festivals observed each year in Jerusalem, as per the Word of God.  The other two were the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, the latter of which is central to this Holy Gospel.

The Jewish Feast of Pentecost was primarily a festival of the harvest.  On this day the Jews would offer the first-fruits of their wheat harvest to the Lord, and thus acknowledge Him as the Source of all creation, life, and growth.  And along with that confession of the Lord’s ongoing providence, the Jewish Pentecost also commemorated the covenants of the Lord — from His Covenant with Noah and the whole creation following the Flood, to His Covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai.

For the Church today, the new and greater Feast of Pentecost celebrates the life of the Church in the new and greater Covenant, that is, the New Testament of the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, given and shed for the life of the world.  So also do the Holy Apostles, by the Spirit of Christ, harvest and offer, not wheat, but three-thousand people as the first-fruits of His Holy Gospel.

To understand this fulfillment of the Old Testament Pentecost in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, it is helpful to consider the Feast of Tabernacles, which is actually the context and the setting of this morning’s Holy Gospel from Saint John.  Knowing what’s going on with that occasion reveals a great deal about Christ, His Salvation, and the gift of His Holy Spirit.

The last, great day of the feast, mentioned by St. John, was the eighth day, the “Day of Rejoicing.”  But on each of the preceding seven days of the feast, the priests marched in procession from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple and poured out water at the base of the Altar.  This daily water-ritual was the central and most important activity in the week-long Feast of Tabernacles.

The public reading of the Scriptures at this feast included Prophecies from Zechariah and Ezekiel, which taught that rivers of living water would flow from the Temple and bring life to all the earth.  Hence the significance of the water-ritual, and the even greater significance of our Lord’s Word.  He stands up in the middle of the feast, and He cries out a sermon on those Prophecies of living water, identifying Himself as the true Temple of God, and His own Body the Altar of Sacrifice.  Out of Him flow the living waters of the Holy Spirit.  Whoever is thirsty must drink from Him.

Immediately following this Word of Jesus, St. John clarifies that the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified on the Cross.  But in due time we hear the fulfillment of His Word.  For in the perfection of His Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus hands over the Spirit from the Cross.  It is not that He simply breaths His last, but that He bestows the Holy Spirit as a gift to all those who believe in Him and look to His Cross for life.  And it is also in that same Hour, as He is glorified in death, that blood and water flow from out of His wounded side, comprising the very River of Life that He prophecies this morning at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.

With the water from His side He has washed you in your Holy Baptism and poured out His Holy Spirit upon you.  And the blood from His side He pours out for you, and for the many, for the forgiveness of your sins, and for life and salvation.  As St. John also writes in his first Epistle:

“This is He who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ.  Not only by water, but by the water and the blood.  And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is Truth.  For there are three which bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood.  And these three agree as one.”

Now, keep these words in mind as we consider three things that happened at once in that Jewish water-ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles.  One priest would enter the Temple with a golden pitcher full of water from the Pool of Siloam; another priest would enter with a pitcher of wine for the drink-offering; and both of these men would come to the Altar for the burnt-offering sacrifice.  The water was poured into a funnel on the east end of the Altar, the wine into a funnel on the west, and both emptied out at the base of the Altar.

There can be no mistaking the fulfillment of this entire water-ritual and its significance in Christ.  For He is both the Temple and the Sacrifice, the Lamb of God who gives Himself entirely to the Father in death for the sins of the world and for your salvation.  His Cross is the Altar.  The water flows out of His side, and with it is poured out the Holy Spirit.  The wine is likewise poured out for you as His Blood, which flows as a River of Life from His crucified Body into all the scattered nations of the earth.  Thus are all of the Prophecies and Promises of God fulfilled in Christ alone.

So it is that St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon focuses on Christ.  For everything begins and ends with the Person and work of the incarnate Son of God, crucified, risen, and ascended in the flesh.

St. Peter pulls no punches in his preaching of the Law.  For the crucifixion of this Man of God, Christ Jesus, he calls the people of Jerusalem to repentance.  And by the Cross of Christ you are also called to repent, to confess your sins and believe the Gospel, since it was for your atonement and salvation that the Lord Jesus Christ was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death.

But that is not the end of the story, nor the end of St. Peter’s sermon.  He moves from judgment and the Law to the sweetest Gospel of forgiveness.  For God raised this same Jesus from the dead for your justification.  It was impossible for death and the grave to hold Him.  By His death, He has destroyed the power of sin and death; and so it is that you shall be raised in His Resurrection.

As Adam was first given life by the Breath or Spirit of God, so did Christ Jesus receive the Breath or Spirit of God in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours — at His Baptism in the Jordan River, and in His Resurrection from the dead — in order to bestow the same Spirit upon you and all who are baptized into Him.  Thus does He pour out the Spirit upon you, and breathe the Spirit into your body and soul, through His Word of the Gospel, His Holy Absolution of all your sins.  Thus are you a new creation in Christ Jesus, and thus do you live a new life by the Spirit of God.

Repent, therefore.  Confess your sins, and give heed to the Word of the Gospel.  Return to the significance of your Holy Baptism.  Or, if you have not yet been baptized, submit yourself to be baptized by the washing of the water, Word, and Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And according to His Word, as sure and certain as His Cross and Resurrection, you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is for you and for your children, and for all whom the Lord calls to Himself.

That is the significance of Pentecost for you.  It begins with Christ Himself, with His Baptism in the Jordan River, when He received the anointing of the Spirit in the form of a Dove; and with His Sacrifice on the Cross, when He poured out the Spirit for His Church in the water and the blood.

But this true Pentecost continues, even to the close of the age, in the Holy Baptism of each new Christian in the Name of this Lord Jesus Christ, and in the New Testament of His Blood.  By these fruits of His Cross, you receive the living and life-giving Spirit of God in both body and soul.

That great River of water and blood, from the crucified Body of Jesus, continues flowing in the Church at all times and in all places, wherever the Ministry of the Gospel is carried out in the Name of this same Jesus.  It became an overwhelming Flood on Pentecost, a cascading waterfall of Spirit and Life, a raging rapids of forgiveness and salvation, and, most important for you and for your children, a gracious washing of regeneration and renewal in the waters of Baptism.

Nor does it stop there, but it springs up in you and overflows for others.  The Spirit of Christ is alive and breathing in you, in such a way that you have also become a part of His River of Life.

To begin with, your Baptism is not a private or family affair; it ushers you into the Church as a member of the Body of Christ, just as it did for those several thousand Christians who were baptized on that first Christian Pentecost.  St. Luke goes on to describe their ongoing life within the Church in this way:  “They devoted themselves continually to the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship, to the Holy Communion, and to the prayers of the Church.”

So, too, in your life as a disciple of Christ Jesus, baptized in His Name and catechized by His Word, you continue to live as you continue to devote yourself to the Life of His Church in the Liturgy of His Gospel.  And it is the same Spirit of Christ Jesus who unites you with the Apostles, with the Christians of all times and places, and with your brothers and sisters in Christ to this day.

Outside of the Church, apart from the Body of Christ, there is no Holy Spirit, and there is no life, but only sin and death and hopeless despair.  Breathing your own air, stewing in your own juices, you are consumed by your sins; you cut yourself off from God and suffocate without His Spirit.

But as you drink from the spiritual fountains of Christ in His Church, and as you breathe the Spirit of God in the hearing and confession of His Gospel, you are given an indestructible life in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.  You are filled with the Spirit of hope and confidence in Him, who strengthens and sustains you through faith in the Gospel.  And by your words and deeds of faith and love, you confess the Lord your God and His great Salvation.  You inhale and exhale the Spirit of the Living God, and you give the spiritual drink of the Gospel to those who thirst.

As you live through all the ups and downs of your pilgrimage on earth — as you suffer through the hardships and frustrations of so many different kinds of trouble, through infirmity and sickness, your own mortality, and the death of your loved ones — you do so in the confidence of Christ, your crucified and risen Lord, who has ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father Almighty, where He ever lives to intercede for you in love.  This Lord of lords and King of kings, He has made His enemies a footstool for His feet, including that last great enemy, death, which has already been defeated by His Cross and in His Resurrection, and which is soon to be swallowed up forever!

Here, then, is a pure River, the Water of Life, as clean and clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God and from the Body of the Lamb who was slain, and yet, behold, He lives.  Thus do the Spirit and the Church say, ‘Come!’  And so let him who hears this Word say, ‘Come.’  And let everyone who thirsts, whoever desires, come and drink freely, without cost, this Water of Life.

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