18 February 2018

Man in the Middle Between God and the Devil

The Kingdom of God is at hand in the Person of Christ Jesus, in His very flesh and blood.  He has entered the wilderness and passed through the waters of the Jordan, in order to join Himself to you, and you to Him, both now and forever.  Therefore, you also are a beloved and well-pleasing child of God in Christ Jesus, who has poured out the Spirit of His Father upon you.  He has named you with His Name, and whatever belongs to Him is now yours by faith in His Word.

With that, you now find yourself living in an arena between God and the devil.  Day after day you are driven into conflict with Satan, the accuser, the old evil foe, who tempts you to doubt and disobey the Word of God, to question His promises, and to contradict His commands.  Whereas your God and Father does not tempt you to sin, but He does test you, and He tries your heart and mind in the midst of adversity, in order to strengthen your repentance, faith, and life in Him.  Thus, by the Holy Spirit, you are daily being put to death and raised up to newness of life in Christ Jesus.

The truth is that life is a battlefield when the Kingdom of God invades the devil’s stomping grounds.  It cannot be otherwise.  There will be no peace, no truce, no armistice between God and the devil.  And if you are the Lord’s, you cannot remain neutral or be left in peace in the midst of the battle.  Nor can the Lord Jesus Christ.  For He has been baptized to be your Champion.  And so He is driven by the Spirit immediately from the waters of His Baptism out into the wilderness, there to be tempted by the devil and to engage that wicked foe in a strange and dreadful contest.  He is the Man in the middle, who goes down into the valley between God and the devil in order to fight for you.  He goes to meet the foe, to defeat him on your behalf, to win the victory for you.

It is in the wilderness that Christ engages this conflict and contends with Satan, because it is in the wilderness that you are tested and trained.  The wilderness is where fallen sinners learn how to live in Paradise again.  It is where you are called daily to repentance and taught to live in the Kingdom of God by faith in His Word.  And it is precisely at those two points that the devil attacks you, as he tempts you to continue in your sins, and as he wickedly denies the promises of the Gospel.

The devil has nothing but hatred and animosity for you, and he is driven to destroy you.  He often covers his vicious assaults under the guise of goodness and light, but he is not your advocate or friend.  Though he first of all entices you to sin, Satan is then also the first in line to accuse you.

The battle is waged at every point in your life, and it shall not be over until your Baptism is finally completed in your death from this world.  At all times, the Lord is at hand to sustain you with the preaching of His Word, whereas the devil keeps attacking with his lies and deceptions.  When you prosper, the devil tempts you to pride and complacency.  And when you suffer, the devil either brings to mind your many sins and condemns you, or else he shifts the blame to God Himself, as though the Lord did not love you and had no care or concern for you, in spite of His promises.

Sadly, the devil’s greatest ally in his hostility is your own covetous desire, your lust and greed and selfishness.  Those passions of your fallen flesh are the seed bed of all temptations.  And the devil stokes those flames into a relentless craving for what the Lord has not given you, and a desperate clinging to what you do have, as though such things were your god, your life, and your salvation.

But now, repent of your sins, resist the devil with his tricks, and return to the Lord your God.  Listen to the Word of God, which the Father in heaven speaks to you by His Son in the flesh, and do not doubt that what He says and promises is true.  In fact, let God be true, and everything else a lie.  Cling to His Word, come hell or high water against you, and do not despair of His mercy.

Do not suppose that you will ever be able, apart from His Word, to keep your bearings in the midst of temptation.  Your heart and mind, your wisdom, reason, and strength are all fallen and falling apart, as much or more so than your mortal body.  And you are no match for that serpent, the devil.  On earth is not his equal.  Left to your own devices, Satan will deceive you and destroy you.

Sometimes he is crass, and sometimes he is subtle, but the devil is always clever and crafty.  Make no mistake, he is smarter than you.  He knows not the wisdom of God in Christ, but the devil is no dummy in the ways and wisdom of the world.  He knows how to attack you at precisely those points where you are weakest.  And every sin to which he tempts you is dangerous and deadly.

There is no such thing as a harmless sin.  Do not excuse yourself by measuring your sins against your neighbor’s.  The only legitimate measure is the Word of the Lord, which you have not kept.  And do not suppose that, when you are tricked and deceived by the devil, you shall simply be let off the hook scot free.  “The soul that sins will die.”  That is both God’s Law and the devil’s boast.

Where, then, are you going to live?  That is the question.  Will you live in the Kingdom of God?  Or will you live with the devil in his prison house of death and despair?  That is what it all comes down to.  You cannot reside in both places at once.  You can’t have it both ways.  “Simul iustus et peccator” does not justify your sins or make them safe and okay.  It rather affirms that both the Law and the Gospel are the Word of the Lord.  So, where do you stand?  With God or the devil?

Repent of your sins, and do not despair, but do repent.  Now is the time.  Do not imagine that it can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  Have you not heard the preaching of the Lord and His servants?  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.

Sacrifice your idols, no matter what they are, and no matter how precious they may be.  Is it your son, your only son, whom you love?  Is that what you must give up to fear, love, and trust in God?

“Abraham,” God said, “take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and sacrifice him to Me at the place where I will tell you.”  Abraham is always being called to go someplace he has no clue about.  But he goes in faith, his own dear son bearing the wood on which he is to be slain, because father Abraham trusts that God the Father in heaven will provide for Himself the Lamb.

So he stretches out his arm, and he is ready to sacrifice his son, in the confidence that God, the Lord, will raise Isaac from the dead, as needs may be, in order to keep and fulfill His promises.  And to be sure, the Lord is merciful.  He spares Abraham that which He does not spare Himself for you and your salvation.  For the Father gives His only Son in the flesh, who is indeed the Seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus, even to death on the wood of the Cross, the Lamb of God in place of all the sons and daughters of man.  And He raises this same Jesus from the dead for you and for all.

To sacrifice your idols, then, is not to put your children to death, nor to destroy the good gifts of God in this world.  It is, rather, to put to death in yourself your love and desire for creatures — in deference to the Lord your God, your Creator and Redeemer — by repentance and by faith in Him.

But is what God says to you too hard for you to believe?  And is what God commands and requires of you too hard for you to bear and do?  Does it sound crazy to suppose that living by faith in His Word and walking in the ways that He has set before you is ever going to prosper or work out?

But what is it that so frightens you?  Why do you cling so desperately to your spouse and children, to your stuff, and to your place in the world?  Is it because you think that your life is found there?  Will any of these people or things raise you from the dead or preserve you in the judgment?

Repent of your sins and sacrifice your idols.  Worship the Lord your God by faith in His Gospel.  Not that He needs anything from you, but that you need Him for everything.  Rest your hopes in Him and call upon His Name.  Rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that He well provides for you.  He saves you from every evil of body and soul.  He raises you up, even from death and the grave.

Remember that you are baptized, and remember what God has said to you and done for you by that washing of the water with His Word.  As father Abraham clung to the Covenant of Circumcision and persevered in the promises of God, so cling to the Word and promises of God in Christ Jesus, in whose Name you are baptized, whose Cross you bear, and whose Resurrection you share.

Renounce the devil, all his works and all his ways.  That’s not a one-time deal; it’s a lifelong battle and a serious business.  But your life and your allegiance belong to the Holy Triune God.

See here, you will not starve.  The Lord your God will feed you according to His mercy.  And you shall not go naked, for God the Lord will clothe and shelter you in peace.  Nor shall you die alone.  The Lord is with you, in death as in life, and in the Resurrection.  He is your sure and certain hope.

There is no temptation with which you are tempted that He has not also endured and resisted on your behalf — in flesh and blood like your own — even in the wilderness of your sin and death.  And there is no suffering that you suffer that He has not also suffered in your place, that by His Cross and Passion He should overcome them.  He has defeated your enemies.  He has atoned for your sins.  He has conquered your death.  His Resurrection from the dead is God’s own pledge and promise to you, which stands fast and forever, as Christ Himself lives and reigns to all eternity.

He has set Himself to be your Champion.  He is by your side upon the plain.  He has taken His stand against the roaring lion that threatens to devour you; He has smashed his teeth and broken his jaw.  He has crushed the serpent’s shifting, hissing head beneath His own bruised and bloodied heel.  He is faithful, and He does what He has promised.  There is no shifting or turning with Him.

The devil is always shifting and turning.  When one strategy fails, he simply switches to another.  He’ll tell you one thing in the morning and another thing at night.  From one day to the next, from one week to the next, the devil is full of nothing but constant lies and deceptions.  He cares nothing for the truth, but only for your death and your damnation by whatever means he might employ.

Your own sinful heart is likewise full of guile, and the world is also deceitful and dishonest. But not so with your Father in heaven.  He speaks from His heart in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, and His Word is always the Truth.  He will not change His mind concerning you.  What God the Father says to you in Christ is and always shall be so.  You are sheltered under the shadow of His wings.

Christ be praised, the Kingdom of God does not rest upon your faithfulness.  It does not even rest upon your repentance or your faith.  It does not depend on you.  But the Kingdom of God is at hand for you in the Body of Christ.  It is as sure and certain as His Nativity, as His Baptism, as His life, His death, and His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  So it is that your repentance and your faith, your life and your salvation, rest firmly upon Him.  And He shall not be moved.

Consider the example of your Lord Jesus Christ, therefore — though it is always much more than just an example — because everything He does, He does it for you, that you might live in Him.

Amid the wild beasts and the wicked assaults of the devil, the Lord Jesus, in humility and faith, relies upon His Father and receives the ministry of His Father’s holy angels.  So, too, He sends His ministering spirits to care for you, both His holy angels and His mortal preachers of the Gospel, in order to preserve your faith and life in body and soul, even unto life everlasting.

He provides the sustenance that you need in the midst of the wilderness.  Not miraculous bread from desert stones, but the Living and Life-giving Bread of His own Body, which is given for you.  As He thus serves you with Himself, will He not also freely give you every good thing?

It is most certainly true.  For you are beloved of the Lord.  You are a son or daughter of the Father in Christ Jesus, and He is well pleased with you.  That is the truth.  Your sins are all forgiven, and God holds none of them against you.  From the waters of your Holy Baptism, He has clothed you in the righteousness and holiness, the innocence and blessedness of Christ, the incarnate Son.  He cleanses and restores you with His holy and precious Blood, which is poured out for you to drink.

By Himself He has sworn, He has bound Himself to you.  He is yours, and you are His forever.  The heavens stand open, and the Kingdom of God is here, for you.  Amen, Amen, so shall it be.

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

14 February 2018

Live and Abide in the Righteousness of Christ

Let it be noted that our Lord Jesus does not forbid or denounce prayer, fasting, or almsgiving.  He rather indicates the “why” and “how” of these fundamental Christian disciplines.  As an exercise of faith and love, they serve to cleanse the Christian life and facilitate the fruits of repentance.

To pray at all times and in all places is the calling and occupation of all Christians.  It is the very voice of faith and a participation in the priestly intercessions of Christ Jesus, who is our merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God. As He offered Himself once for all upon the Cross, and as He prayed for those who were putting Him to death, so does He teach you to pray without ceasing and not lose heart.  To pray and intercede, not only for yourself, but for all people, for kings and all those in authority, and for your enemies and those who persecute you, as well.  That is the central activity and practice of faith toward God and of fervent love for your neighbors.

To fast is an exercise of self-denial, a conscious and deliberate resisting of your fleshly appetites.  It stands in striking contrast to the grasping and eating of the forbidden fruit by Adam and Eve in the Garden, whereas it follows the example of your Lord Jesus, who fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness and even then rejected the devil’s temptation to turn the stones into bread.  By fasting, you train yourself to hunger, not for the food that perishes, but for every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and for the Living Bread with which He feeds you from heaven.

And to give alms is to provide for the care of the poor and needy with gifts of charity above and beyond your regular support of the Church and Ministry.  Almsgiving appropriately accompanies the discipline of fasting, as that self-denial allows for greater generosity in serving your neighbors. Not simply “giving up something for Lent,” but sacrificing yourself to love and care for others.

Each of these most basic disciplines can be helpful in turning you away from a preoccupation with yourself, and in turning your attention toward God in faith and toward your neighbors in love.

But prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are therefore not to be undertaken as a system or a process for obtaining a righteousness of your own, neither before God nor in the eyes of men.  The point and purpose are most emphatically not that you should try to impress anyone in heaven or on earth!

To be right with God is first of all a matter of the heart, prior to anything else you may do or say, whether praying, fasting, giving alms, or whatever else you may do.  It is a matter of the heart — that is to say, not the romance of Valentine’s Day, but genuine repentance and faith in the Word of the Lord.  It is in repentance and faith that you live before God in peace.  It is in repentance that you fast, and from a heart of faith that you pray to your Father in heaven.  And as you thus deny yourself and trust the Lord, calling on His Name for all that you need, so do you also sacrifice and give of yourself in love for your neighbors, dealing with them as the Lord deals with you in mercy.

Whatever it is that you treasure, that is where your heart abides and lives.  And by the same token, wherever you invest your heart, that is where your treasure is found, whether with the Lord, the one true God, or with the many and various idols of this perishing world.  Your “god” is whatever you fear, love, and trust, whatever you worship from the heart with your body and life, with your time, treasures, and talents, and with your thoughts, words, and actions.

The heart comes first, in so far as where you stand with God.  And when there is faith in His Word in your heart, then you will pray and fast and give alms in love for Him and for your neighbors.  But if you do not trust His Word, then nothing else you do (or don’t do) will make things right.

In hearing this admonition of the Lord, do not suppose that faith is the one thing you must manage and do for yourself.  The Lord is not directing you away from an external self-righteousness to a new self-righteousness of the heart.  Nor does He commend a self-righteousness of the head, either, as though you could think and know your way into the kingdom of heaven.  His goal, again, is not that you should refrain from praying, fasting, and almsgiving in favor of some new strategy.  It is rather that you be turned inside-out and away from yourself altogether, in order to hear and receive the Word and promises of God and to find your righteousness in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

So there is both Law and Gospel here.  And to begin with, the Law confronts you with the question of where and how you are living in relation to God and your neighbor.  That is getting to the heart of the matter, as the attitudes of your heart are manifested in your outward actions.  How, then, do you think and speak and act with respect to God and the people He has placed around you in this body and life?  Are you trusting Him and loving them with all that you are and have?

The answers are not pretty, are they?  Not if you are being honest with yourself.  Your life in the flesh, your words, and your actions are often as ugly as a smudge of ashes on your forehead.  It is true that appearances are neither the problem nor the solution.  Neither what you do nor how you look doing it will justify or save you.  Apart from faith in Christ, you are dead and dying in your sins.  But you are called to live in faith toward God, to call upon His Name in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, to deny yourself and take up your Cross and follow Christ Jesus in love for others.

Realize, and take it to heart, that your entire life in body and soul, in heart, mind, and spirit, is lived in the presence of God.  That is always the case, whether you know it or not.  And in His presence there is no possibility of pretense.  Hypocrisy will not fool Him, who knows your heart and mind better than you know yourself.  But the answer and solution to hypocrisy is not to persist in sin, to neglect your neighbor and your duties, to ignore the life of the Church, or to abandon all piety.

As Holy Scripture says: “The judgment begins with the household of God.  And if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel?  If it is with difficulty that the righteous are saved, what will become of the godless and the sinner?  Therefore, let those who suffer according to the Will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

Which is to say that you bear the Cross in faith and love, in patience, in prayer, and in charity.

But how often do you go about your days and spend your nights as though you (not God) were the heart and center of all that is important?  And how often do you regard the Lord God Almighty as your Sugar Daddy in the sky — as a means to some end, a last resort, or your ace in the hole — as though He were your servant instead of your Lord?  Do you ignore Him until you realize that you need something from Him?  And do you then suppose that you will bargain or barter with Him in exchange for His goods and services, or simply pay Him off?  Do you live as though your body and life were your own to do with as you like, and not a sacred trust and a divine stewardship?

Such sinful, self-idolatrous attitudes and actions pervade your fallen heart and mortal flesh, as your deadly inheritance from Adam.  Which is why you return to the dust from which you are taken.  And because you are dying and slipping away from yourself back into dirt, your lack of faith in God is further manifested in relation to your neighbors, whom God has given to you here on earth.

Frightened by your own mortality and the transience of this world, yet lusting all the more for the flesh and its passions, you view and treat your neighbor as a competitor for these finite things.  You maneuver and manipulate and jockey for position, and you cut your neighbor off wherever you can, in order to gain something for yourself, despite the fact that it won’t last.  Consumed with yourself and your own ambitions, you consume the people whom God would have you care for.

When your neighbor has something you want for yourself, you’re willing to flatter and shmooze, to grovel and beg and grease the palm, or to scheme some strategy for getting it from him or her.

But when your neighbor appears to be useless and inconsequential for your purposes, you write him off and ignore him, as though he were a nuisance and a bother to be avoided or driven away.  You do not see your neighbor as a person like yourself, as a human being to love and care for, but as an object to be gained, as a tool to be used, or as something to be discarded and forgotten.

What may be even worse, as Jesus reveals this evening, is when you serve your neighbor with alms and charity, not out of love and mercy for the Lord’s sake, but so that you might exalt yourself and appear to stand above your neighbor as though you were his savior and his god.  The remedy, of course, is not that you should refrain from almsgiving, but that you should care for your neighbor in the quiet humility of repentance and faith, giving freely as you have received from the Lord.

These sins against God and your neighbor are not only the cause and consequence of your dying; already they are the death that reigns in your heart and in your flesh apart from the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  And yet, so great is your selfishness, so deep is the perversity of your heart and mind, that you justify your sins and presume to wallow in the filthy rags of your own self-righteousness.  But attempting to advance yourself in this way is simply to rush headlong into death and damnation.

The Gospel, therefore, is not a strategy of self-justification or self-advancement.  It rather replaces your sinful self-righteousness with the perfect Righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has in fact become your Servant in peace and love.  He forgives your sins and gives you life in Himself.

It is not by your works, but by His works that you are saved.  Not by your piety, but His.  Not even your faith, but His faith and His faithfulness have become your righteousness and your salvation.

With fear, love, and trust in His Father above all things, He sacrificed His entire body and life and shed His holy, precious blood to atone for your sins and the sins of the whole world, to reconcile the world to God.  In love for you, His neighbor, He sacrificed Himself in order to save you.  He gave Himself over to death on the Cross in your stead, in order to give Himself to you in mercy by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Though you were at enmity with Him, He reconciles you to Himself.

It is His Righteousness that is credited to you in the presence of God forever.  As He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, so are you justified in Him.  In His crucified and risen Body, you are raised up from the dust of the earth to live with God in the Kingdom of heaven: Already here in time (by faith), and hereafter in the resurrection of your body to life everlasting.

This Righteousness of Christ and His great Salvation are His divine charity for you, the alms that He gives freely to you and to all others, not to His own advantage but to your eternal benefit.  He fasted and humbled Himself as a Servant, even unto death upon the Cross, that He might now feed you with His Body and His Blood.  And as He prayed faithfully on His Way to the Cross, so does He also, in His Resurrection, ever live to intercede for you before the Throne of God.  He is your merciful and great High Priest, and it is in and with Him that you live and abide with His Father.

So it is that, as He calls you to repentance tonight, throughout the Season of Lent, and throughout all your days in this world — as He calls you away from yourself, away from your selfishness and sins, away from your death and damnation — He calls you to this Righteousness of His, which is yours by His grace through faith in His Gospel, that you might receive it from Him as a free gift.

His Life is an example for you to follow.  His prayer, fasting, and charity are the pattern in which you are to live and walk by faith, in love for Him, for His Father and the Holy Spirit, and for your neighbors in the world.  But His Life for you is more than an example.  It is your Righteousness.  It is the beautiful robe with which He covers your nakedness and shame, as He forgives all your sins with His blood, as He clothes you in and with Himself, and as He feeds you with Himself, from the waters of your Holy Baptism to the resurrection of your body in His glory at the last.

He calls you to hide yourself in Him, to live and abide in Him, and thus to stand before His God and Father in heaven with all boldness and confidence, in His Righteousness and purity forever.

It is true that you are dying.  That fact we acknowledge and confess.  But so do we also affirm and believe that, by your Baptism into Christ Jesus, you have already died — to yourself and to the world, to sin, death, and the devil — and that your life is now hidden with Christ in God: Hidden where no man can see, but your Father sees, who loves you as His own dear child for Jesus’ sake.

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

11 February 2018

The Glory of God in the Body of Christ

The ministry of the Law is not without divine glory.  Indeed, it appears to be the height of glory.  And to be sure, the Law is the Word and Will of God.  It is holy and just, and it reveals what is good and right and true, what is acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.  His Law is impressive, and it is powerful.  It shakes the very mountains, and it crushes hearts.  It is not without divine glory.

But the righteousness of the Law cannot save you.  It does not make you righteous but condemns you.  It is not the Law with its rules and regulations, with its commandments, with its virtues, that reconciles you to God in peace.  Nor is it the Law that glorifies you with the very glory of God.

When you are confronted with the Law and its demands, with its commands and prohibitions, and with its threats and punishments, it will either terrify you by exposing your many sins and failings, or it will mislead you into selfish pride and presumptuous self-righteousness, as though you were actually keeping the Law and doing alright in your efforts and accomplishments.

The Law will either frighten or deceive you in these ways, not because the Law is bad or dishonest, but because of the hardness of your heart.  You cannot keep the Law.  You cannot save yourself.

But God never intended that the Law should save you.  His Law does not give you life but guides the Life that He gives you by His grace.  It points you to the life and love of God, which are in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  The Law points to Him.  And on the Mountain of Transfiguration it gives way to Him who is its perfect fulfillment.  Moses and Elijah cast their crowns, so to speak, at the feet of Him who is the King of heaven, who has come down in the flesh to justify and save you.

Now, you should understand that, because the Law of the Lord is the Word and Will of God, and especially because it points to the incarnate God, Christ Jesus, in whom it is fulfilled, to contradict the Law or disobey it, to disregard it or reject it, is all the more deadly and damnable than trying to save yourself by keeping it.  It is surely better to live according to the Law than to break it.  For if you reject the Law of God, if you disobey His holy Commandments, if you persist in unbelief and hatred for your neighbor and for God, then you will surely die in your wickedness.

It is no small thing to break God’s Law, to break His Commandments, to turn away from Him.  It is no small thing when you fail to pray, or fail to hear His Word and take it to heart.  It is no small thing when you make other gods out of your possessions, or your friends and family, or your security in this world.  It is no small thing when you disobey your parents and other authorities, when you disrespect them in your thoughts, words, or deeds.  It is no small thing if you fail to love your neighbor, if you hurt instead of help, if you take instead of give.  If you persist in such things, you will die in them.  They are contrary to the Word and Will of God.  Repent, and do otherwise.

Refrain from doing evil, and begin to do what is good and right according to God’s Word.  But do not suppose that you will save yourself by keeping the Law.  That you cannot do.  It will not work.  If you try to save yourself by keeping the Commandments, then you remain under the curse and condemnation of the Law.  You cannot keep it perfectly, so attempting to acquire life for yourself by the standard of the Law will not result in life but death.  Anyway, the purpose of the Law is not that you should save yourself, but that you should love and serve your neighbor and glorify God.

The fact is that you consistently fall short of that divine and holy purpose of the Law.  So, when God comes down with Commandments etched into stone and confronts your stony heart, then there is wrath and fear and terror and dread.  Not the promise of life but the threat of death.  You rightly quake at His presence, for you cannot stand before Him with any righteousness of your own.

But when the Lord your God comes down from the Mountain in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son, then the greater glory of God is revealed in mercy and compassion.

When Moses had asked to see God’s glory — to see an indication that God would be and remain with His people — the Lord sheltered Moses in the cleft of the Rock.  And the Rock that followed them was Christ.  Thus showing His glory to Moses in the promise of Christ, God declared, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I have compassion.”  That is to say, not according to any of the works of the Law, but according to the grace of God Himself.  That is the mercy and compassion of God which is found in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

It is when He comes down from the high Mountain, as you have heard this morning — not with tablets of stone and Commandments of the Law, but with His own Body prepared for the sacrifice of His Cross — that is where and how the greater glory of God is revealed and manifested for you.

Everything that the Law of God commands — His good and acceptable Will, which is summarized in faith and love toward Him, and in love for the neighbor — it is all fulfilled and accomplished in the flesh of Christ, in His Body crucified and risen.  That is where everything is accomplished.

This good work of Christ in the flesh, the voluntary sacrifice of His Body on the Cross, and the shedding of His holy, precious Blood — that is not simply the penalty of your sin, the undoing of what you have done wrong.  It is more than the Lord cleaning up after your mistakes.  It is the Lord your God doing what He intended from before the foundation of the world.  It is God loving as He does, because He is Love.  It is the Father giving His Son, and the Son submitting to His Father in holy faith and perfect love for God and man.  It is the pinnacle of divine glory in the flesh.

This is what the Law was always really about.  Not your fulfillment, not your self-righteousness, not your self-salvation, but rather the gift of God in the Body of Christ Jesus.  His works are the true keeping of God’s good and gracious Will for you.  The life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son in the flesh is the full realization of His divine glory for you, that you should live and not die.

So, when Jesus comes down from the Mountain of Transfiguration, He is not leaving His divine glory behind.  He is proceeding to the divine glory of His Cross and Passion.  But of course that  contradicts everything you think you know and understand.  It contradicts your experience, your wisdom, reason, and all your senses.  Even the disciples who were catechized by Christ Himself, who saw His glory on the Mountain, were confused and frightened when His true and greater glory was accomplished by His Cross.  Yet, everything hinges and depends on that Sacrifice of Christ.

The glory of the Law must give way to the glory of the Cross, by which the Lord establishes His own righteousness for you in His Body of human flesh and blood.  That is the righteousness with which you are justified, by which you stand before God the Father in heaven and are at peace.

So also, all of the miracles that Christ performs — and those of His Prophets before Him and His holy Apostles after Him — all of those miracles are gathered up into the Resurrection of His Body from the dead.  All of the life that He grants to both body and soul are accomplished and fulfilled in His Body, which is transfigured by the Cross into the glory of His Resurrection from the dead.

It is in that same Body of Christ Jesus — crucified for you under Pontius Pilate and risen from the dead forevermore — that you behold the true glory of God and are brought to Him in peace.

You cannot see it with your eyes.  Even here at His Altar you do not behold His flesh.  And if you could see His crucified Body, then, just like the disciples, you would likewise be confused and frightened.  But do as God has spoken, as He has invited.  Listen to this beloved Son.  Hear His gracious Words to you.  For His Words in your ears declare to you what this hidden Body of Christ really is, and what it does, and what it means for you.  It is given for you, as His Blood is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation.  There indeed is the glory of God, which is given to you by His grace.  It is all right here.

The Word of Christ Jesus, that is, the Gospel of His forgiveness, that is how you hear and know, believe and trust that God is now your own dear Father in heaven, and that His good and gracious Will is not to crush you, condemn you, and kill you, but to save you for eternal Life with Him.

Thus, the highest Mountain of God is not Mount Sinai, where He gave the Law to Moses and established His Covenant with Israel.  Nor is it the Mountain of Transfiguration, where the glory of Jesus was manifested in expectation of His Cross and Resurrection.  No, the highest Mountain of God is Mount Calvary, where the Son of Man fulfilled the entire Law and established the New Covenant in His Blood by His death upon the Cross.  That is where He is lifted up to the heights of true divine glory, for that is where He saves sinners according to His mercy and compassion.

So, too, the true Mount Zion, where the glory of the Lord resides, and where His holy Name abides among His people on earth as it is in heaven, is not the Temple in Jerusalem, which has long since been destroyed.  The true Mount Zion is right here at this Altar, the Altar of the Holy Communion.  It is therefore to this place that the Word of Christ brings you in love.  It is here that you find life.

Here at His Altar is the center of Life, the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  And here, by His Word, with His own Body and His Blood given and poured out for you — regardless of your age or education, no matter how much money you make or have, or what you have done in the past, or what you will yet do and accomplish — here God feeds you with Himself, His flesh for yours.

Thus are you transfigured by the glory of God in the flesh of Christ.  Your body of flesh and blood is transfigured by His Body and Blood to live by faith in Him and with love for your neighbors.  Not by impressive deeds of glory and grandeur in the eyes and estimation of the world.  No, the glory of God transfigures your life in such a way that you go about your days in humble service and self-sacrifice.  And even if no one else notices, your Father in heaven sees you.  He beholds you in the very glory of His beloved Son.  As you are baptized into Christ, to you also He says, “You are pleasing to Me.  I love you and delight in you.  All of Mine is yours.  So, even though you die, yet shall you live.  And so shall you be raised in your body, glorified and perfect forever.”

The gracious Word of the Lord Jesus Christ, His Gospel of forgiveness, has clothed you in His garments of righteousness and holiness.  You are not condemned, you are forgiven, and you are set free.  You really are free.  Free of guilt and shame and condemnation and death.  Free to live.

Your flesh also is glorified by the flesh of Christ.  Not simply in your heart and head, but in your body, too, you live in love, both here in time and hereafter in the resurrection to Life everlasting.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection you are saved, as sure and certain as God Himself is true.  For Christ the Lord has in fact set up His Tabernacle on earth among men.  Not on a high mountain that you could never hope to climb, but right here in your presence, His flesh for your flesh, His Body for your body.  This is where He lives for you.  And as He lives, so shall you live forever.

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

04 February 2018

The Lord Jesus Brings Forth the Fruits of His Word

What you are to learn, above all, from the Parable of the Sower, is that everything depends upon the Word of God in Christ — who is Himself the Word-made-Flesh.  Everything depends upon God’s Word, and specifically upon His preaching of that Word, His sowing of that Seed.

Apart from the preaching of this Word of Christ, there is no Christianity; there is no genuine faith, no discipleship, no forgiveness of sins, no real life, and no salvation.  There are no such things at all except by the preaching of Christ Jesus.  For His Word is all knowledge, all truth, and all faith.

Those who claim to worship any god at all — by whatever name — apart from the Word of Christ, are idolaters.  They have been deceived, and they have become deceivers.

But let us get personal and right down to it.  The Word of God in Christ is your true spiritual food.  It is your sustenance, your breath of life, and your hope for the future.  In short, the preaching of His Word is the source and substance of your entire Christian faith and life.

Here then, from this pulpit, is that Seed which is the Word of God, which even now is being sown among you by the Sower, who is none other than your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  If you have been given ears to hear, therefore, hear what Jesus says to you this morning.  Receive His Word into your heart, and keep it always close at hand.  That is what it means to be His disciple.

It is by this preaching of His Word — by this sowing of His Seed — that Jesus Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, gathers people from all nations to Himself and calls them to discipleship.  And it is then to His disciples, by the ongoing catechesis of His Word, that Jesus explains the Parables and reveals the Mysteries of the Kingdom of God, which cannot otherwise be known or understood.

“Discipleship” and “Catechesis” are two sides of the same coin, two sides of one and the same way of life in Christ.  That is the life that is lived by faith in the preaching and teaching of Christ.  It is not optional but essential, not as a means to some other end, but as your very life with God in Christ Jesus.  For the “knowledge” of His Mysteries is not an academic exercise, nor simply a matter of memorizing theological facts, but a living and active relationship with the Lord Himself.

Such life with God in Christ is rooted in the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He accomplishes His purposes in you.  He plants the Seed in your heart by the preaching of His Word.  He waters that Seed and causes it to thrive by your Holy Baptism and its ongoing significance.  He prunes and cultivates the plant that emerges, and He weeds and plows your soil, with His Law and His Gospel, especially in Confession and Absolution.  And He nurtures the growing plant within your body and life by the means of His own holy Body and His precious Blood in the Holy Communion.  It is thus by His Word and Sacraments that He bears His good fruits in you a hundredfold.

It is Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who accomplishes all of these good works by His grace.  For the Mysteries of the Kingdom are found in Christ Himself, in His own flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary, in His Cross and Passion, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  But these great Mysteries of God are made known to you — indeed, they are given to you and shared with you — in the Mysteries of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, and the Body and Blood of Christ, given and poured out for you and for the many by His grace alone.

Bucking up against this gracious work of Christ Jesus, every catechumen, every Christian, every disciple of Jesus is hindered by the devil, by the world, and by the sinfulness of your fallen flesh.  Those enemies conspire to snatch the Word from your ears, from your heart, and from your life.

So are you tempted to sin, distracted from the way of life in Christ to which you are called, and driven from His Word into false belief, despair, and all manner of shameful vices.  Sin, death, and the devil are out to end your life forever.  They aim to prevent you from the final resurrection of your body from the dust of the earth on the last day.  And they will stop at nothing to destroy you.

The devil, to begin with, is a wicked and powerful foe, who will lie, cheat, steal, and do whatever it takes to drag you from the Word, and the Word from you!  He is like a roaring lion, St. Peter warns, always on the prowl and seeking to devour you, as surely as his birds devour the Seed.

As if that were not bad enough, the devil is aided and abetted by your own flesh, which hardens itself against the Word of Christ and constantly resists the dying and burial of your sinful nature, and so also the rising of the New Man in your body and life.  You resist and flee from the Word of the Lord, because you love and trust yourself more than you fear, love, and trust in Him.

Not only that, but all around you the world with its treasures and pleasures entices you with its false and empty promises of life and happiness.  Thus are you so easily entangled by the passions and pursuits of sin, whether gluttony and pride or jealousy and bitter resentment.  Either way, the Seed of Christ is choked and suffocated and prevented from growing and producing fruit in you.

But now, let us think about these challenges more concretely, with specific reference to the actual life of the Church.  As of this Sunday (Sexagesima) we are roughly sixty days from the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, eight weeks from those most sacred and life-giving Mysteries of the Kingdom of God, which are the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord.  It is therefore not long before the season of Lent will begin, for the purpose of preparing you for those life-giving Mysteries by the means of the Word of God, by His Law and His Gospel, calling you to repentance and faith.

So the question is, Will you hear that Word of God and keep it?  Will you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it?  Will you hungrily consume every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God?  Or will you despise God’s Word and turn a deaf ear to it?  The Third Commandment has taught you to fear and love God by gladly hearing and learning His Word and the preaching of it.  But do you?  Are you truly glad whenever you are told, “Let us go up to the house of the Lord”?

It is fine that you are here this morning.  Christ be praised!  But is the Seed penetrating your ears into your heart?  Or does it enter one ear and exit the other?  Are you hearing and heeding this Word of the Lord, or is your mind wandering elsewhere?  Are you eager and delighted by this Word of Christ, or must you constantly fight the urge to check your watch or drift off to sleep?

Do you seize every chance to be planted with the Seed that is sown?  Or do you perhaps consider your Sunday morning brunch to be more satisfying and worthwhile than Bible class?

Do you give attention to the Word of God throughout the days of your week?  Are the rhythm and routine of your life governed by the prayer and confession of His Word and faith in harmony with the liturgical life of His Church, or by politics, sports, and the entertainment industry?

How often do you remember your Baptism and what it means for your life and behavior as a child of God?  And how often do you practice what the Catechism has taught you — which you swore to uphold, even at the cost of your life, when you were confirmed — that is, to consider your place in life in view of the Ten Commandments, and on that basis to confess before your pastor those sins which are brought to light in your thoughts, words, and deeds?  All for the sake of hearing and receiving that most precious Word of Christ: His Word of Holy Absolution.

Actually, each and every Word of Christ is so precious — and so vital to your Christian faith and life and salvation — that you ought to be scrambling to lay hold of every Seed that you can.  There should not be a single Seed wasted!  But it would seem that the devil knows better than you do how essential that Seed is; for he knows that, without the Word of Christ, you are not able to believe, you cannot live, and you will not be saved.  How tragically sad, that the devil and his birds are more zealous to snatch the Seed away from you, than you are to hear it and take it to heart!

As Dr. Luther chastised the people of Germany in his day, where such contempt for the Word of the Lord persists and prevails, He will send such a famine of His Word upon you that you will finally learn to hunger for it, and yet you will find nothing, and you will perish forever without it.  That is what ingratitude for His Word and neglect of His Word rightly merit and deserve.

Thanks be to God that He has not taken His Word away from you.  Not yet.  The Sower continues to sow His Seed here in this place, in your hearing.  Indeed, He is so reckless in His grace and generosity, so foolish in His divine Wisdom, that He sows the Seed even where it would seem to have no chance whatsoever of growing: By the wayside, on the rocks, and among thorns.  Which is to say that He is so reckless, and so gracious, that He preaches His Word even to you!

Not only that, but the Word that Christ the Sower preaches to you — the Seed that He sows — is chiefly His Word of the Gospel, that is, the forgiveness of all your sins, by which He also changes your heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  And by its own mysterious power, which is the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, this Seed, the Word of Christ, is able to implant itself within you, and to convert your trampled, rocky, weed-infested heart into a noble and good heart.

Do you see, and do you hear and understand?  It is not the soil but the Seed, that is, the Word itself — the Word of the Gospel of Christ — which grows and brings forth fruit.  And as such, the key to the good soil, and the key to its fruitfulness, is entirely in the hearing and keeping of that Word.

The only way by which the enemies of the Word are overcome is by the hearing of the Word, and by continuing to hear it; because the Word itself is the only remedy for all that stands against it.

It is a sure and certain remedy, because it is a sure and certain Word.  “My Word, which goes forth out of My mouth, shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the purpose for which I speak it.”  Thus says the Lord!  And as He has spoken, so has He done, according to His good and gracious Will.

As God the Father has spoken to you by His Son, the Word-made-Flesh, even unto death on the Cross, so has He raised Him from the dead as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.  And the same Lord Jesus Christ has called you to Himself by the persistent preaching of His Word, by the faithful sowing of His Seed.  He has thereby made you His disciple.  And He has made known to you the truth, even the Mysteries of His own divine Kingdom.

He has not only caused you to hear His Word, but He has also enabled you to “keep it.”  And what is more, because that Word is chiefly the Word of His Gospel, “keeping it” means, primarily, not obedience (as to some rule or command) but receiving and trusting (as with a gift and a promise).

Thus does your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, sow His Seed within your heart, and cultivate your field, and bring forth in you the fruits of faith.  And so shall He also raise you up in the flesh on the last day, and bring forth you and all His disciples as the fruits of His own Resurrection.  From start to finish, it is His preaching of His Word that accomplishes everything for you, and in you.

So, then, at all times and in all places, in every situation and circumstance, take it to heart that everything depends upon the unfailing Word of Christ: Not upon you; nor your own goodness, which is nothing; nor your sincerity, resolve, efforts, or striving, none of which are capable of producing anything but more and more sinfulness apart from Christ.  But everything depends upon His Word, which will not fail to accomplish the purpose for which He continues to preach it.

By His Word, He has forgiven all your sins, and He continues to forgive you.  He has granted you faith in Himself and in His Word, and by His grace He keeps you steadfast in His Word and faith throughout your life.  He has made known to you the Mysteries of His Kingdom, which He also bestows upon you and shares with you here and now, by and with and through His Word, in the gracious giving of His own Body and Blood, which are indeed the firstfruits of His Holy Gospel.

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

03 February 2018

Blessed Is She Who Believes the Word of God

This Word of our Lord confirms what His servant St. Luke has demonstrated from the beginning of the Holy Gospel — that the Virgin St. Mary is doubly blessed.  She who conceived and bore the very Son of God within her womb, who nursed Him at her breast and nurtured Him in childhood, also heard the Word of God, believed it and confessed it, and kept it in holy faith and love.  She is the first and foremost of all saints, who treasured these things and pondered them in her heart.

There is no competition between the blessings of the Blessed Virgin.  That she became the Mother of God by His Word and Spirit does not exclude but invites her fear, love, and trust in Him who remains her Creator and Lord even as He becomes her Child, the Fruit of her womb.  He is her own Savior and her God, even as He becomes and remains forevermore her own dearly-beloved Son.

Blessed is she both in faith and in love within her vocation and station and life, as you also are blessed by God’s Word and faith and by His calling within your own office and your place in life.

She is highly favored by the Lord, as He declares to her through the Archangel Gabriel.  She is the object of His grace and mercy, and she becomes the specially chosen instrument of His peace.  As a true daughter of Abraham, both according to the flesh and according to faith in the promises of God, she is holy and righteous in the presence of the Lord.  And His Word is fulfilled in her — for you and for all people — as she conceives and bears the promised Seed of Abraham in her body.

It was that same Word of God, made flesh of her flesh and blood of her blood, which she also kept and pondered in her heart by faith, as in her body by grace.  To that Word she submitted herself, and by that Word she lived.  She learned from her Son, as you are likewise taught, to pray to God, “Thy Will Be Done.”  “Behold the servant of the Lord.”  “Let it be to me according to Thy Word!”

St. Mary’s confession, her prayer, and her faithfulness are exemplary throughout all generations.

Thus do we give thanks to God the Father for this Blessed Virgin, this sainted Mother of His Son, our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  For she is most assuredly a gift of His grace for our salvation.  From the Garden of Eden to the Resurrection of the dead and the Life everlasting, she is the Woman whose Seed has crushed the head of the serpent, that old dragon who is called the devil and Satan.

We are strengthened in our faith by the mercy of God toward St. Mary of Nazareth, as also by His mercy toward all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve in giving Himself to us poor sinners as her own dear Son in the flesh.  For it is by His great mercy and not according to any human merit.

And again, we are strengthened in our own life and in the works of our callings by the example of St. Mary.  For she has done exactly as she has advised: “Whatever the Lord says to you, do it!”

Beyond all that, in a special way, we see in the Blessed Virgin Mary a living icon of the Church, the Bride of Christ, the Woman who conceives and gives birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit.  To that blessed, holy Church you also belong by the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, your Holy Baptism and your faith and life in Christ are no less miraculous and merciful than the conception and birth of the Lord Jesus Himself.

And the life to which you are called is lived under the Cross in the hope of the Resurrection, no less than St. Mary’s entire life was lived in the shadow of the Cross of Christ, her Son.  She, like you, was given to rely upon and cling to the promise of His Resurrection.  And so was she, like you, sustained in her faith and saved from sin and death by the fulfillment of that sweet promise.

We are not wrong to consider the “passion” of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  For God the Holy Spirit prophesied through Simeon that a great Sword would pierce her own soul on account of Christ, her Son.  This Child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, not least of all His own dear Mother, St. Mary.  Her sufferings and her sorrows save no one, not even herself.  But sufferings and sorrows there were throughout her life.  Long before she would stand at the foot of the Cross, she bore the Cross in her vocation as the Mother of the One who would be crucified.

And yet, together with the whole Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been crucified for our transgression and raised for our justification, blessed is she under His Cross.  Indeed, blessed is she by the Cross, unto the Resurrection of her body and the Life everlasting of her body and soul in the crucified and risen Body of her Son.

Blessed is she among women!  More blessed, indeed, is the Fruit of her womb.  For her Son, Jesus, is her own Savior as well as yours.  He is the promised Seed of the Woman, the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Seed of Judah and of David, in whom all the nations of the world are blessed.

To bear this Seed, this Fruit of her womb, is surely her great work of love within her vocation, all by the grace and choosing of God.  Not that she deserved it, but that she did it by holy faith, by the strength that God provided through His Word and Holy Spirit.  So are you also called to live and to love, to serve your neighbor in peace, and to bear the fruits of faith in Christ within your place.

To be sure, they are great and mighty things that God has done for His handmaiden, the Blessed Virgin Mary; and not for her only, but through her for you and for all the children of men.

It is all the more remarkable and marvelous that her singular blessing as the Mother of God — her unique blessing as the Woman who bore the incarnate Son of God and nursed the infant Lord Jesus at her breast — that blessing which belongs to her alone is exceeded by the blessing that you and all the baptized are granted to share with her in Him whom she bore for us men and our salvation.

As you have heard from the lips of Jesus Himself this morning, that greater blessing is to hear the Word of God and to keep it.  To treasure all these things by faith; to ponder them in your heart and mind, in your prayer and confession; and to live according to the Word and promises of God in Christ Jesus, in the confidence that He is faithful and that He will surely do what He has spoken.

To be and to live as such a child of God, by such faith in Christ, the Word-made-Flesh, is finally and forevermore a surpassingly greater grace and blessing than even to be the Mother of God!

And all the more so shall we say that she is blessed indeed who is both the Mother and a child!

For she became the Mother, so that you also might become a child of God in Christ, her Son.  Through her He became like us, of the same flesh and blood as your own, so that, through Him, you should become like God and share with St. Mary and all saints in the Kingdom of His Father.

It is true that none of you will ever become the Mother of God.  St. Mary alone is blessed in that way, for which we give all thanks and praise to her Son, Jesus, and for which we rightly honor her on account of Him.  But here for you is something even better:

As God the Son received St. Mary’s flesh and blood and made it His own, conceived and born as true Man within her womb, so does He give His Body and His Blood to you.  As He nursed at her breast, so does He feed you at His Altar with His own flesh, by and with His Word.  Thus does He abide in you, and you in Him, both body and soul, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

Blessed are you who believe what He says!  For so shall it be to you according to His Word!

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