21 March 2018

The Household and Family of Forgiveness

By the King of Peace, in the City of Peace, God establishes a House and a Home for His family.  Not by the great and mighty King David, who was a man of war, but by his son, King Solomon, whose very name means peace, God builds a Temple in the City that He has chosen, where He causes His Name to dwell among His people.  And this is already about Jesus, the true King of Peace, who in the same City of Jerusalem establishes His own Body as the very Temple of God.

The point is not that God would have some place to live, as though He were homeless.  For even the heavens and the earth cannot contain Him.  But He dwells with you here on earth, in order that you may have a place to live with Him.  Not by any works of your own, but solely by His grace.

He has created you to live in relationship with Him.  So, to bring about that relationship, even after the fall into sin, He does this great good work.  He sacrifices His Son, in order to reconcile you and all the world to Himself in Peace.  By the Blood of Christ He atones for your sins, so that nothing stands against you.  He has set His heart at peace with you.  There is nothing from His side that prevents you from coming to Him and living with Him.  No Word of the Law to condemn you.  No threat of judgment hanging over your head.  He has dealt with it all in the death of Christ.

And in raising the same Christ Jesus from the dead, the Body of Christ has become the Temple of God.  His Body is a House of prayer for all the nations, whom He calls to Himself by His Gospel, enlightens with His gifts, sanctifies in body and soul by His Spirit, and preserves in the true faith.

Come, then, to the House of God in Christ.  Here you really are at home.  Here is where you live.

It is here in this place, in the Church of His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, in the Body of Christ, that God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell in the midst of sinners, in order to save them by His grace through His forgiveness of sins.  He abides with you here, that you might live with Him.

By and with His Word of the Gospel, by and with His forgiveness of your sins, the Lord your God has named you with His own holy Name.  He has written it on your forehead and your heart in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  Thus, you are His own dear child and heir.  You are a member of His Household and Family in Christ Jesus, a member of His Body and Bride.  Indeed, you are built upon Christ, the Cornerstone, as a living stone within the House of God.

You’re part of the Church.  And that is where and how you live the life that God has given you.

Understand, therefore, and take it to heart, that God has so arranged and ordered His Church on earth — the entire Household of His Family, the Body of Christ — He has so arranged and ordered everything for this purpose: For reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins.

He has accomplished reconciliation and peace by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.  And it is for the bestowing of His Peace on you and all people that He has established His Church on earth and preserves her in the world.  And everything within His Church is for the forgiveness of sins.  If the Church were a fig tree, the forgiveness of sins would be its fig.  That would be its good fruit.

Everything we do as a congregation of the Church, everything you do as a member of the Church, and everything you are to be about as a living stone of Christ, the Cornerstone, is to have this at its heart and center: The Forgiveness of Sins.  Forgiveness that you receive by the grace of God, that you might live by faith in Him.  And the forgiveness of your neighbors, as God forgives you.

God is quite serious about this forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of His people to Himself and to each other in Christ Jesus.  It is no lark.  It is no joke.  It is what the Lord is all about, that you should not die in your sins but live with Him in faith and love, as He has always intended.

It is precisely for this purpose that God establishes His Church and causes the forgiveness of sins to be given and received through the external ways and means of His grace, mercy, and peace.

So it is that Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament, and St. John’s Baptism on the cusp of the New Testament, and the preaching of St. Paul and the other Apostles — all of these things have and exercise the authority of Christ and His Cross, all for the sake of the forgiveness of sins.

You have heard a portion of the prayer that Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, and perhaps you have noticed how often in that prayer the purpose of the Temple is identified with the forgiveness of sins.  Wherever in the world the people of God find themselves, and whatever their circumstances may be, they are to look to that place where God causes His Name and His Glory to dwell, and there find His forgiveness, according to His Word.  Not only Israel, but also the foreigner who turns to God by turning to the House that God the Lord establishes for His Name.

So, too, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the sending of St. John the Baptist, who goes before the face of the Lord preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And to this day, even to the close of the age, your pastors are likewise called and sent to exercise the same authority of Christ in the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

Who am I to speak such a word?  I am nothing.  But according to my office, I speak not my word but Christ’s.  And by His Word your sins are forgiven before God in heaven.  It is just as valid and certain on earth as it is in heaven, because God causes His Name to dwell here with you in this way.  When your pastor speaks in the Name of Christ, it is Christ Jesus who speaks and forgives.

It is a Word of reconciliation that God has entrusted to His Church, and to His ministers of the Gospel.  As Christ Himself is the Word of God, so does He deal with you by and with His Word.  He speaks to you by the mouth of His servants, that you might hear with your ears, believe with your heart, pray and confess with your lips and your tongue, and so live by faith in His Name.

That is how you live within the Church, and that is how you live with God, namely, by the hearing of the Word that He speaks to you by His Son.  And by confessing that Word you say what is most certainly true, because you say what God has said.  You confess your sins, which is to speak what God has spoken by His Law.  And you confess His Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins.

In making that confession of your sins and of faith in the Gospel, you come with your words and with your body to that place where God has caused His Name and His Glory to dwell on earth for you and for the many.  You come to that man, to that Font, to that Altar, to that bread and wine, to that House where God abides with you and with His people with His forgiveness of sins.

And as you hear, so do you also speak.  Not only in confessing, and not only in praying, but so also in speaking forgiveness to your neighbor.  That is not optional.  It is the way of the Christian life.

The forgiveness of your neighbor’s trespasses against you is so fundamental to the Christian faith and life that our Lord on several occasions says, quite straightforwardly, that if you do not forgive your brother his trespasses against you, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

That is a Word of the Law that ought to cause you to tremble to the very core of your being.  And it ought to bring you to repentance for your failure to forgive.  To forgive as you are forgiven is so bound up with faith in Christ and His Gospel, that where you refuse to forgive you harden your heart against the Gospel and drive faith and the Holy Spirit altogether out of your heart and life.

It is fundamental that you forgive.  The fig tree that does not bear this fruit of forgiveness shall be cut down, and thrown into the fire, and burned.  It is impossible to live with God where forgiveness is denied and rejected; to deny and reject it for your neighbor is to deny and reject it for yourself.

What, then, are the mountains that are standing in your way?  As you contemplate your brothers and sisters in Christ — yes, even your brothers and sisters in Christ — what are the mountains that would seem to prevent you from being reconciled to them?  What is it that is getting in the way and keeping you from seeing them as God sees them, even as He also beholds you in Christ Jesus?

Have you been so badly hurt that you simply cannot bring yourself to forgive?  But is that not to measure and evaluate the cost and conditions of forgiveness, as though it were not by the grace of God but an indulgence to be bought and sold, bartered and negotiated?

Do not suppose that you will live by such a way or standard of the Law.  And do not suppose that you will be able to obtain forgiveness for yourself while you deny it to your neighbor.  For by the measure with which you evaluate and judge your neighbor, you also will be measured and judged.

If you have failed to forgive your neighbor — if there is anyone you have refused to forgive — Repent.  Insofar as it depends on you, be at peace with your neighbor.  Forgive your neighbor from the heart, as God in Christ so graciously forgives you.  And bear fruits worthy of such repentance.

God goes looking for fruits on the fig tree, even out of season, that is to say, even where the world would never expect or fathom such grace.  Because there is a Tree that He has planted, which bears Fruit all year long, in season and out of season.  And the fruits of that Tree are for the healing of the nations.  There is no season in which you cannot forgive the sins of your neighbor, because there is no season on earth when the Tree of the Cross is not bearing the fruits of forgiveness.

The first fruit of repentance, then, is to hear and receive and trust that forgiveness which God speaks to you in Christ by His Word of the Gospel.  To hear it and not despise it.  To seek it out and ask for it.  To lay hold of it, and to depend upon it.  So that your own sins no longer tyrannize you and drive you into death, and so that the sins of your neighbor no longer loom so large, either.  So that you are able to live your life in the world in relation to your neighbor in the peace of Christ.

To live by such repentance and forgiveness is to live by faith in the Word and works of God.  For the House that He has built is a place of Peace, though not confined to any one location.  You are at Peace with God within His House when you believe the Gospel that is spoken to you.  When you take to heart the forgiveness of sins that has been established for you in Christ.  When you know and trust that God has reconciled you to Himself, and you are reconciled to Him.  And thus, being reconciled to God in Christ, you are reconciled to your neighbors through the forgiveness of sins.

Repent.  But do not be afraid.  It is not too late.  And though it is impossible for you, it is not too hard for the Lord.  It does not finally depend on you.  Rather, the forgiveness that Christ commands you to give your neighbor depends on Christ Himself.  For as often as you hear His Gospel, He is not withholding His forgiveness but freely extending it to you, even as He calls you to repentance.

His forgiveness of your sins does not even depend on your repentance, but your repentance relies on His forgiveness, on the Word and promise of His Gospel.  It is not a contract to negotiate, far less an indulgence for sale, but the free gift of God in Christ, obtained for you by His Cross, and distributed to the ends of the earth in His Resurrection from the dead for your justification.

When you hear and receive His Word of forgiveness, when you cling to that Word by faith, and by that Word you know yourself to be forgiven before God in heaven, then by that same Word of forgiveness the mountains that stand between you and your neighbor are removed into the depths of the sea.  That is the same ocean of Holy Baptism in which all of your sins are drowned and done away with.  Thus, by the Word and work of Christ, all is forgiven.  And by His Word and Spirit a line is drawn through the entire ledger.  There are no longer any debts.  Not before God, and not between you and your neighbor.  For Christ has accomplished the purpose for which God the Father has spoken Him in the Flesh.  Your sins are forgiven.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  Live with Him, therefore, in that Peace which surpasses all human understanding.

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

19 March 2018

A House and Home for the Son of David

The once great house of David has been reduced to a stump, if even that.  It’s nothing.  It’s nowhere.  No one is looking for a new king from the house of David anymore at this point.  The “City of David” is no longer the great capital of Jerusalem, but the little burg of Bethlehem, where Joseph must travel with his fiancé, who is expecting a Child, but not his own.

Even so, it is from the stump of David that God the Lord now raises up this faithful servant, this quiet, humble, righteous man of faith, St. Joseph.  He is a carpenter, and he will make a house and a home, a shelter and protection for the Lord.  Not in the way that Solomon once did, with his magnificent temple, but a home on the run, in foreign countries and strange places, under constant threat to the life of his little family — that is where St. Joseph will make a home for the Lord Jesus.

With all of that, it is the Lord who is at work in this way to establish a House for His servant David, and a House for His servant, St. Joseph.  And such a House it is, which this man is given.

Do not romanticize the tales at hand.  These stories are full of grandeur, peace, and joy, to be sure.  But consider that Joseph was a man of flesh and blood like your own, a person much like yourself, living in the world with hopes and dreams, expectations, and plans for his future and his family.  Being a carpenter, I fully expect that he was already working on a little place for his new bride and their family, working to lay foundations and to build not only a house but a life together.

But whatever Joseph’s hopes and dreams might have been, they are interrupted and rewritten by the Word of God in extraordinary ways.  He is called to circumstances that are by no means easy.  And look at what he is given to do.  To take this Woman, who is already pregnant; they have not even come together, but here she is, bigger with child every day.  He believes the Word that God has spoken to him, but what about everyone else?  His family already has a reputation, after all.  Tamar.  Rahab.  Ruth, the Moabite.  Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  It would seem that Joseph is now following in the footsteps of his fathers, but not quite in the way that anyone would hope.

And yet, in faith, he takes this Woman to be his own wife.  He covers her would-be shame with his honor.  And according to the Word of the Lord, he protects her, he guides her and leads her — and the little One within her womb, then in her arms and at her breast, but always with her.  Over and over, Joseph is directed to care for “the Child with His Mother,” which is to speak of Christ and His Church.  They travel to Bethlehem, and then they must flee to Egypt, and then to Nazareth.

In all of this, Joseph says not a word, none that are recorded in the Scriptures.  He is spoken to, he listens, and he obeys.  He gets up in the middle of the night, as needs be, and he goes wherever the Word of the Lord directs him.  He is the epitome of the strong silent type.

Perhaps you have known men like this.  Perhaps your grandfather was a man like this.  Maybe you are a man like this.  You don’t speak much, but you quietly go about doing whatever the Lord has given you to do.  Such a man was Joseph.  His solid, steady strength was by faith in the Lord.  And his faith was expressed in a ready obedience to the Word of the Lord, whatever it might be, whatever it might require of him and cost him.  Thus were St. Joseph’s entire life, his name and reputation, all bound up with St. Mary and her Child.

In this a way, under such trying and humble circumstances, even humiliating circumstances, he gathers up into himself the history and the story of his far more famous namesake and forebears.

He is another Joseph like the Son of Jacob.  He is Judah and Israel, fleeing into Egypt in order to save their lives.  He is Moses and Joshua, leading the children of Israel back out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  He is David and Solomon, a descendant of that family to whom the Lord had promised the Messiah, though it is not from him but from St. Mary that the Son of David is given.

Here with St. Joseph, himself a son of David, the story of the Exodus unfolds again, in such a way that it is now imprinted upon the life of the little Lord Jesus.  The Child goes into Egypt, that God might call Him out of Egypt.  He is brought into the Land of Promise, that He might fulfill that promise in His own Body and Life, and bring His people into that Land in and with Himself.

Consider the responsibility that is thus placed into the hands of this quiet and faithful St. Joseph.  He is given charge of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  He is entrusted with the duty to protect and provide for the Christ Child, the very Son of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ.

To do all of that is nothing anyone could do or accomplish by any human strength or reason.  Joseph does it, in frailty and weakness, by faith in the Word and promises of God.  And the Lord is faithful in providing for him.  The Lord protect him, and through him protects the Holy Family.

Joseph is a good and faithful husband and father.  And he is a good example to those of you who are husbands and fathers, to those who will be husbands and fathers, and really to each of you.  He does what God has given him to do within his vocation as a child of God, within his stations in life.  And so are you given your own tasks and responsibilities within your own particular stations.

You have no way of knowing the significance and magnitude of the mundane tasks that you are given to carry out in your own place and time.  It does not matter.  St. Joseph knew the promises of God and the hope of the Resurrection in the Christ, the Seed of the Woman, but he certainly had no way of knowing ahead of time how his own part in the story would play itself out.  He acted in faith in doing the work that was set before him by the Word of the Lord, in the confidence that the Lord would accomplish His purposes for him and others.  It is much the same for you, as well.

It is the Lord who has called you to care for the people He has placed alongside you and entrusted to your responsibility and oversight.  He guides and directs you by His Word and Holy Spirit, and by the messengers of His Word who are sent to you in His Name.

The Lord will accomplish His purposes for you and your family, and for your neighbors, as surely as He did in the case of St. Joseph.  Not because of your wisdom and efforts — though He will surely make use of the strengths and abilities He has given you — but all by His grace, by the wisdom of His good and gracious will.

So you live by faith in the promises of God, and you live according to the Word He has spoken.  And He remains the Creator and Preserver of your life, the Author and Perfecter of your faith.

Now, in the case of St. Joseph again, in his particular office and station, he is also a kind of pastor.  For he is entrusted with this Mother, who is an icon of the Church.  He is entrusted with the Christ Child, who is the Savior of the world, that all might become the children of God in Him.

As with any husband and father, Joseph is given to pray with and for his family, to teach them the Word of God, to take them to the Lord’s House, and to exemplify the piety and practice of faith in his words and actions.  Think of that.  St. Joseph taught the Word and faith of God to the little Lord Jesus.  And if you are a husband and father, you are likewise called to care for your wife and children in those same pastoral ways, that they might fear the Lord and walk in His ways by faith.

For all that, in all his faithful service, St. Joseph bore the Cross that was laid upon him, as you also live under the Cross from your Baptism into Christ, even to the end of your life in this world.  He was faced with difficulties and hardships, which he bore by faith in the Word and promises of God, under the same Cross to which you are called and pointed.  That is the Cross of Christ which was already writ large on the horizon at His birth.  The Cross that marks the entire life of our Lord in this fallen world of sin and death.  The Cross that is given to you and all of His disciples.

Of course, it is not your Cross, nor the Cross of St. Joseph, but the Cross of Christ that saves you and redeems you and accomplishes a great salvation for the world, a divine rescue from sin, death, the devil, and hell — and from all the Pharaohs and Herods that tyrannize this poor life of labor.

St. Joseph lived by faith in the Word and promise of God in the Cross of Christ, as you are called to live by faith in the Word and promises of God in Holy Baptism.  God’s Word will not disappoint you.  Your faith and hope in Christ will not be put to shame, no matter how much you are given to suffer on earth.  He will do as He has said and promised, for you as He has done for St. Joseph.

Live, then, as St. Joseph did.  His sights were set on the Seed of the Woman; the Seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Seed of David, not by Joseph, but by St. Mary.  It is this Seed, the promised One, the long awaited Savior, who saves you and all people by His innocent suffering and death.

It is in God’s time, not man’s.  It is neither Herod nor Pharaoh who ends this story.  It is God who hangs His Son on the Cross.  It is God who raises Him again.  It is in His Resurrection that you also have life everlasting.  It is the Christ Child, conceived and born of Mary, who reigns forever in the House of David, from the throne of His Cross, with love and mercy and forgiveness for you.

Consider that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ also entrusts you with His Son.  He places Him into your hands, into your mouth, and into your body, within His Holy Christian Church.  And He sets His Son before you in the person of your neighbor, whether that be your wife or husband, your son or daughter, your brother or sister, your coworker, colleague, peer, or student.

In some cases, your neighbor’s life may seem scandalous.  And yet, there is Christ, an opportunity for you to love and serve Him, and thereby to give thanks to your God and Father in heaven.

Yet, again, it is not the crosses that you are given to bear, but the Cross of Christ Himself, the Son of Mary, that saves you.  It is by His forgiveness of your sins that He strengthens and sustains your faith, so that you are able to live within your vocation and stations in life in love for God and your neighbor.  Indeed, it is by His forgiveness of sins that He gives you that life, in and with Himself, and that He now lives in you, even in the face of death.  So is the Word of God fulfilled in you.

And so it is that God also now calls you and brings you out of Egypt into Paradise, in and with His Son, as a beloved child by His grace, bearing His Name forever and ever.

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

18 March 2018

Sharing with Christ in the Glory of His Cross

“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes.  They will condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles.  They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”

It is on the heels of this, His third and most explicit prediction of the Passion, with Palm Sunday and Holy Week on the immediate horizon, that James and John make their bold request of Jesus:
“Grant that we may sit, one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

This request to “sit” with Jesus in His glory might have the Messianic Banquet of heaven in mind — which Jesus described for His disciples on several occasions.  And that would certainly coincide with His primary reference to the “Cup.”  But the disciples do not yet realize that the Banquet will begin with the Last Supper, when Jesus Himself will become the Passover Lamb, handed over to the Cross for sacrificial death, and His Blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins.

It may well be that James and John did sit to the right and left of Jesus at the Last Supper.  We know that John reclined beside Him.  But as for being with Jesus in His Glory, that was appointed for the two thieves who were crucified with Him, “one on His right hand, and one on His left.”  Then the Scriptures were fulfilled, that He would be numbered with transgressors.  And it remains the case, for James and John, and for you, as well, that being with Jesus in His glory is first of all to share His Cross and die with Him, as you have in fact been granted to do in your Holy Baptism.

What James and John wanted, however — and what all of the disciples desired — was honor, prestige, and a favored position, no less so than you also desire such things.  They wanted to be great.  They wanted to be close to the top.  They wanted to be popular and powerful.

In one respect, James and John and the other disciples have chosen well in hitching their wagon to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in seeking a place at His side.  Although it seems incredibly bold and equally tacky to ask for personal privileges on the heels of His Passion prediction, at least they are assuming that Jesus will triumph over all the obstacles before Him and in spite of all opposition.

Yet, none of the disciples really knew what they were asking.  The one who wants to be great must be the servant and minister of the others; and the one who wishes to be first must become a slave to all the rest.  Those are the standards and criteria of the Lord, who operates with a very different measure of greatness and glory than the world.  He sets the standard by His own voluntary death.

What James and John and all the disciples of Jesus, yourself included, must learn to understand, is that the divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ will not be “in spite of” His Cross and Passion, but it will be accomplished and manifested precisely by the way and the means of His Cross.

To share in His greatness and His glory, therefore, necessarily means sharing in His Passion.  To sit on His right or His left means that you hang side-by-side with Him on the Cross, that you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  And then, having suffered and died with Him, you also live with Him, as well, in loving service to others.  It means that you liquidate and relinquish everything you are and have for the sake of your neighbors, including those who make you mad.  You take up the Cross and follow after Christ, through death and the grave, into life everlasting.

It is not that you must be crucified on a cross of your own, as if to make payment for your sins and to satisfy the justice of God.  That would never work, but neither is it necessary.  Rather, it was necessary that Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, be crucified for you, His Life alone the all-sufficient Ransom for the many.  And now you must be crucified with Him, in order to rise with Him and live with Him in the Kingdom of God; for it is in and with Christ Jesus, and only through Him, that you have access to the Father and bold confidence to come before the throne of grace.

It is in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead, that you find grace to help in time of need, His forgiveness and life and salvation.  Apart from Christ, the Cross would just be the beginning of your eternal judgment, which is all that you deserve by your sins.  But that is what the Cross became for Him — the entire judgment of God compressed into those long dark hours — in order to become the Tree of Life for you and for all the sons and daughters of man, and the Fountain of His divine mercy, grace, and Peace, given and poured out for you.

It is especially significant that Jesus describes His fast-approaching Cross and Passion as a Cup that He is drinking and a Baptism with which He is being baptized.  Here, at the heart and center of the Gospel, the Lord describes His entire Life and Ministry with reference to His Sacraments, which are the way and the means by which He saves you, and by which you follow Him in faith.

As for the Cup, that was first of all an image of God’s righteous wrath and judgment against sin.  That is the sense in which Christ prays, in the Garden of Gethsemane, as He bears the terrible burden of your sin and death in His truly human flesh: “Father, if possible, take this Cup from Me.”

The physical pain of crucifixion is already enough to cause the bravest and strongest of people to tremble and faint.  But this Cup that your Lord drinks for you is far worse than even that.  It is the everlasting wrath and judgment of hell and damnation, leveled against the sins of the whole world, of all times and places, including all of your own most heinous and hideous sins of thought, word, and deed — all of them carried in the body of the Son of God and judged forever in His flesh upon the Cross.  That is the Cup of wrath which He drains down to the dregs for you and for the many.

How is it, then, that James and John will drink this Cup that Christ is drinking?  And how shall you be able to drink that Cup?  You surely cannot bear the wrath and judgment of God against even your own sins, far less those of others.  But you are given to drink the Cup of Christ, and you are able to receive it and drink it in peace, because the Lord has first of all drained that Cup for you.

The Lord Jesus Christ has borne the wrath and judgment of God in His own Body on the Cross; He has shed His Blood of the New Testament for the forgiveness of all your many sins.  So it is that, what was wrath and judgment for Him, is mercy and grace for you.  In the Cup of Christ, which He pours out for you here at His Altar, you receive the fullness of His Life and Salvation.

The same thing is true for His Baptism, with which you also are baptized.  From the moment that He stepped into the waters of the Jordan River and submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the Lord Jesus took the sins and iniquities and frailties and burdens of the entire world upon Himself and bore them in His Body on His Way to the Cross.  He entered the water sinless, holy, and perfect, but He emerged thoroughly soaked with your sins.  His entire Life, therefore, is one long continuous Baptism into His death — a Baptism by which He undergoes the destructive and death-dealing Flood of God’s wrath and judgment against sin.

So, then, as with His Cup, so also with His Baptism: It is one thing for Him, quite another for you.  In each case, it is a Baptism into His Cross; for you know that you were buried with Him through your Baptism into His death.  But, whereas it was for Christ a drowning of judgment and wrath, it is for you a rich and full washing away of sins and a gracious water of Salvation.  For though you enter those waters sinful and unclean, you arise and emerge from those waters decked out in the beautiful white robes of Christ’s perfect righteousness, united with Him as a beloved child of His God and Father in heaven, anointed by His Holy Spirit, and born again as a brand-new creature.

It is by these gracious means of Holy Baptism and the Cup of Christ that James and John, and you also, receive precisely what they asked for, though not in the way they were hoping or expecting.

In the waters of your Baptism, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood, you are indeed seated with Christ in the glory of His Kingdom, because you are thereby united with Christ in His Cross and Passion, which is the Hour of His Glory.  To drink the Cup of Christ, and to be baptized with His Baptism, is to share His Cross, His Passion, and the promise of His Resurrection.

This Sacramental union with Christ in the accomplished fact of His Gospel means that, even now, two thousand years after the events of Good Friday and Easter, you participate fully and most intimately in His great Salvation.  His Baptism and His Cup define His entire Life and Ministry from the Jordan to Calvary, and from the tomb back to the right hand of His Father.  But so also do His Baptism and His Supper define your life in and with Him, in His Cross and Resurrection.  Not so much as a confluence of separate and independent things, but as one reality in the Body of Christ Jesus: His Baptism and yours, His Cup and yours, His Cross and yours, His Life and yours.

That is all very good news, for which you rightly thank, praise, serve, and obey your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  So it is that we prize and treasure so highly the Holy Sacraments, which are the heart and center of the Christian faith and life and of your salvation in Christ.  By the same token, bear in mind the character and content of this divine Life that is yours in Christ Jesus by the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism and by the Cup that He pours out for you at His Altar.

The fact that Christ has shed His blood for you, that He has suffered and died for you, in your place, does not mean that your Christian life is going to be painless, smooth, and easy-peasy.  To be sure, on account of Christ and His Cross, you have a sure and certain hope in the Resurrection of the Body and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the Father in Paradise.  But in the meantime, here and now, living with Christ means that you bear the Cross and follow after Him.

That, too, was part and parcel of the glory that James and John and the other disciples shared with Christ Jesus, their Lord.  So, for example, St. James was martyred rather early by King Herod in Jerusalem; his brother St. John was persecuted for his faithful witness and exiled to the Island of Patmos; St. Peter was crucified in Rome, and St. Paul was beheaded, also in Rome.

These Christian disciples and holy Apostles of our Lord learned to understand the real greatness and glory of Christ Jesus in the bearing of His Cross.  Both St. Peter and St. Paul thus describe their sufferings for the sake of Christ as a blessed privilege, giving thanks that they were counted worthy to share His Cross and Passion for the Gospel.  Along the same lines, St. Paul describes his life and ministry, and that of the other Apostles, as a drink offering that is poured out for the sake of others to the glory of Christ.  The Gospel itself was embodied in their Ministry, even unto death.

What, then, does it mean for you to be a disciple of Christ?  And how shall you live as a Christian?

First and foremost, you live as a Christian disciple and share in the glory of Christ by participating in His Life, Death, and Resurrection, most especially through your Holy Baptism and in the Holy Communion.  As Christ here indicates, these Sacraments are definitive of His Gospel and of your life in Him, which is by faith in His Gospel.  And as disciples are made from all the nations by way of Baptism and catechesis in the Name of Christ, so do you continue to live as a disciple by living in the significance of your Baptism and by drinking the Cup of Christ, according to His Word.

And sharing in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ by way of His Baptism and His Supper, you live now for others as He has lived and died and lives again for you, because He now and ever lives in you and through you, and by His Word and Spirit He conforms you to His divine Image and Likeness as the incarnate Son of God.  In Christ Jesus, therefore, you do love your neighbors, including your enemies, as Christ Jesus loves you.  You do unto others as Christ does for you.  You forgive, as you are daily and richly forgiven by Christ.  And you sacrifice your time, treasures, and talents to the glory of His Name and the benefit of your neighbors, as He was sacrificed for you.

This life of grace, mercy, and peace is yours, and it continues to be yours, because everything that Jesus says in this Holy Gospel is repeatedly spoken to you here at His Altar, in a most direct and personal way, every time the same Lord presents you with His Cup and speaks these gracious Words: “Take, drink; this Cup is the New Testament in My Blood, which is poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins,” for the strengthening of your faith, and for the life everlasting.

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

14 March 2018

The River of Life from the Body of Christ

What you confess in the Creeds and pray in the Our Father, the Holy Triune God does for you and gives to you in Holy Baptism.  For you could not find Him, nor could you make your way to Him, but He has come to you in this way, by this way and means of grace, by the water and the Word.

What He has spoken and promised by the Prophets and Apostles, and what He has accomplished for you and for all people in Christ Jesus, He gives to you and accomplishes in you through the waters of Holy Baptism; so that you may live in Him and with Him, both now and forevermore.

Now, water by itself, apart from the Word of God, is just plain water.  But water, in and of itself in this fallen world, is ambiguous.  It is certainly necessary, to be sure.  It is fundamental to life on earth, but either too much or too little of it can be deadly.  Not enough water, and there is the danger of deyhdration.  Too much water, and it puts pressure on your heart; it can cause a heart attack.  Water quenches your thirst, but water can also drown you.  Water washes you clean, but it can also wash your home away.  It is refreshing when it falls in a gentle rain, but it is downright dangerous and deadly in the torrential downpour of a raging thunderstorm or a hurricane.

But these waters of Holy Baptism — water included in God’s command and combined with His Word — these waters flow from His Sanctuary to give life to His New Creation in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

These waters flow from the side of Christ, from His innermost Being, from His Body crucified and risen — from His Body lifted up on the living and life-giving Tree of His Cross — from the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise, which is the Throne of God and of the Lamb.

And these waters of your Holy Baptism — which are poured out for you from the riven side of Christ the Crucified — they are Spiritual waters that flow in and with and of the Holy Spirit.  For the same Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is sent from the Father in heaven to give life to the world, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  The flowing of these waters thus begins with the Father, who in love pours out the Spirit upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Indeed, the Holy Triune God pours Himself out for you in the waters of your Baptism.

And those same waters of Life continue to flow with the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, as He is spoken and the Spirit is breathed by God the Father in the Ministry and preaching of the Gospel.

Now, this River of the Spirit and of Life in Christ — though it begins in humility with His death upon the Cross, where it appears that everything is coming to an end, as though Christ were defeated — this River does not diminish as it flows into the world, but it actually grows and increases, even to the ends of the earth.

You’ve heard that from the Prophet Ezekiel.  That flow of water which begins as a little trickle, a little stream from the Temple, just south of the Altar, the further out it flows, the deeper it gets: Up to the ankles, up to the knees, up to the loins, and then finally so deep that you can’t ford it but have to swim in it.  That is what this River of Life is like.  It flows from the Throne of God and of the Lamb, from the Altar of the Cross, from the Temple of the Body of Christ, to give life in the desert, streams in the Arabah, to freshen the waters of oceans and of great seas.

This Spiritual River from the Cross of Christ gives life to the world and makes disciples of all nations, of both Jews and Gentiles alike.  Right?  That’s what Jesus says: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them — not apart from His Word, but by the washing of water with His Word, and by the ongoing catechesis of all that He has taught and commanded, unto the ongoing significance of Holy Baptism.  So do those fishers of men whom Jesus sends in His Name and stead catch a great multitude of fish of every kind in those waters with the nets of His Gospel.

It is true, the same waters of Holy Baptism drown and destroy the unbelieving world, as surely as the world was drowned in the days of Noah in the waters of the flood, and as surely as Pharaoh and his army, his chariots and horsemen, were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.  So are you also drowned and put to death in the waters of your Baptism, along with all your sins and unbelief.

Even so, these waters of Holy Baptism are not ambiguous.  They are not fickle and arbitrary.  But with these waters God drowns and destroys sin, death, and all the enemies of man, all the ways and works of the devil, in order to bring about the New Creation in the Body of Christ Jesus, and to give real life to His disciples, to His Christians.  In order to give real life to you in Christ Jesus.

So it is that the waters of Holy Baptism wash you and cleanse you of all your sins.  They cleanse your conscience before God.  They wash you inside and out.  And they quench your deepest thirst with the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  They bring true and lasting refreshment to your body and your soul.

These Spiritual waters of Holy Baptism give you divine, eternal life with God.  Yet, they are free.  They flow to you freely from Christ the Crucified, who has paid the price that you might live with Him by grace.  Not for any amount of money, neither gold nor silver, but by faith in His Gospel.

Though His Baptism has put you to death, and it continues to do so by contrition and repentance throughout your life on earth, it gives you life and health and peace and every blessing of God.

So also, by these waters the living and life-giving Spirit of Christ Jesus — that is to say, the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified as the one true God — He flows in you and through you and from you as a River of Life to others.

That’s what Jesus says.  His words point, certainly, to His own Cross, to His pierced side, and to the blood and water that flow from His innermost being in the completion of His Sacrifice.  For everything that becomes true for you is first of all accomplished in Him, in His Body, for you.  But He speaks these words about the Holy Spirit flowing as a River of Life from the innermost being of those who believe in Him, those who receive the Spirit from Him.  And that includes you.

You have received the Spirit in your Holy Baptism.  You have received the Holy Spirit through the forgiveness of the Gospel.  So now that Spirit of God wells up in you, as a Fountain of Life, and as a River of Life that flows from your innermost being out into the world around you.

As you are born again in the washing of the water with the Word — and as you are washed and sanctified by those waters, so that you are without spot or blemish or any such thing; you are holy and righteous before God — and as you have also entered the Holy City of God, that is, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, the Body of Christ, by the way and means of those waters — and as you eat from the Tree of Life, because you are baptized in those waters, which flow freely from the Tree of the Cross; you have washed your robe and made it white in the blood and water of the Lamb who was so slain — so have you been planted as a tree alongside those living waters.

In the words of the Psalmist, you are a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; so that whatever you do prospers in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  For you have received and learned to love the Word of Christ, and you have received His Spirit in your Baptism, in His forgiveness of your sins, and in His Body and Blood at His Altar.  So are you a tree after the same kind as the Cross of Christ, suffering whatever you must bear for the sake of love, while exercising faith and trust in your dear God and Father.  You thus bear leaves for the healing of your neighbor, and good fruits to nourish those around you.

You do so according to your own vocation and stations in life, that is to say, first of all, as a Christian, baptized into the Cross of Christ, living within your own particular place in the world.  That is where your leaves give healing.  That is where your good fruits feed your neighbors.  In the particular ways that God has called you and given you to serve, that is where and how the fruits of your Baptism and the Spiritual waters of Life are multiplied and increased in your body and life.

You are so fruitful and productive, like the Tree of the Cross, because you are constantly being watered and fed from the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ, in the Ministry of the Gospel.

You are healed and nurtured and sustained by the waters of your Baptism: not repeated, but always effective, because those waters flow from the Cross and are always sufficient, always increasing, even to the close of the age, constantly cleansing you with the free and full forgiveness of sins.

And you are fed by the Fruits of the Tree of Life, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus, which you are given to eat and drink as one who has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.

There is no ambiguity in that!  There is no iffyness, and there are no contingencies upon the Word and promises of God in Baptism.  Those sacred waters bring to you and give to you the very Life and Love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit is one God, now and forever.

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

11 March 2018

That You Should Not Perish But Live

Here for now you’re on a journey.  You’re traveling.  Maybe not through the best of circumstances, but you’re moving along from one point to another.  You’re on a journey from the crossing of the Red Sea to the crossing of the Jordan River.  You are with Israel in the wilderness.

This wilderness through which you travel, as a stranger in a strange land, is a place of repentance.  It is a place of training and discipline.  It is where the Lord your God catechizes you, the way a father catechizes his children, unto repentance, faith, and life in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.

Your time here in the wilderness is preparation for eternity in the Land that God has promised.  He would have you learn to live by faith, that is, to rely on Him and receive all things from His hand, as a child relies upon his or her father.  But, as that is not the inclination of your sinful heart, you must be disciplined and trained, and taught repentance and faith.  Thus do you learn to enter into Paradise by faith, and to rejoice in the Lord your God as your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.

Such is the point and purpose to your life in this world, namely, that God would bring you through this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.  It may well seem a long, slow death along the way, with trials and troubles aplenty.  But the Lord provides you with all that you need for the journey.  He has not left you helpless or hopeless, though you sometimes feel that He has wronged you.

Here stands the Font before your eyes, recalling how the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has adopted you and named you as His child.  And this very place is a Tabernacle in the desert, a Temple of God in the midst of this fallen and perishing world.  Here He instructs you with His Word of life in the preaching of His Law and His Gospel.  He declares that He is your God, that you are His own, and that He is here with you, not for nothing, but for grace, mercy, and peace.  And that Word of God is not empty or lifeless.  He does what He says and gives what He promises.

Here also is the Altar of the Lord, which recalls the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross, and from which He feeds you with Meat and Drink indeed, which are your Spiritual Food in the wilderness.

It is for you much as it was for Israel in the wilderness, as they traveled by the way of the Red Sea.  For you also live and move by the waters of your Holy Baptism, through which the Lord brought you out of Egypt into the freedom of His Easter (which is yours in Christ, even now during Lent).

You also are fed with miraculous Bread from heaven, to say nothing of the daily bread with which the Lord feeds and sustains your body and life on earth.  You also are given to drink from the riven Rock, which is Christ Jesus.  But will you join with Israel, then, in complaining that you have no food to eat?  Although what you really mean is that you do not want the Food that you are given; just as you do not want the parents, the spouse, or the children that God has given you to care for.

How is it with your heart and soul in the presence of the Lord your God?  Are you impatient on the journey?  Does forty years in the wilderness, or eighty years, or even one-hundred, seem too long to bear?  Are you tired of the Manna with which your Father feeds you?  Would you return to Pharaoh and the fleshpots of Egypt, rather than persevering through this desert wasteland?

Child of God, do not doubt His gracious providence, and do not despise His good gifts, for He will sustain you.  Do not grumble and complain against the Lord who loves you, who has named you with His Name.  Do not complain against His Divine Service, His Ministry of the Gospel, with which He daily and richly forgives all of your sins and calls you, body and soul, to everlasting Life.

Do not allow your stubborn, sinful heart to prefer the slavery of sin and death to life under the Cross, by which the Lord is bringing you through the desert into the Paradise of His Resurrection.

Again, it is unto repentance, faith, and life that you are being disciplined on your journey through the wilderness.  Not by your own resolve and efforts.  And not by your own works, of which you may not boast.  It is by the work of God that you are trained.  It is in love that He disciplines you.

Of course, you know how it is with Moms and Dads, and how it has been for you as a parent or child.  Patience wears thin, tempers are lost, angry words are spoken in the heat of arguments, and “discipline” is sometimes intemperate, harsh, and unfair.  That is how it is with us poor sinners, who are fallen and mortal.  But not so with your Father in heaven.  He does not lose His temper.  He is patient and long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  He is full of mercy and compassion, and when He disciplines His children it is always in His love for them.

So, too, when He sends His fiery serpents to bite you, it’s not because He’s done with you, ready to lower the boom and let you have it.  His goal is not to destroy you.  His goal is not to kill you, not forever.  He rather uses sin to punish sin and bring it into the light.  And He allows the sin that is actively at work in your heart and mind to be outwardly manifested in your body and life, in order that you may recognize that your sin is killing you.  Not that He would leave you to die and be damned in your sins, but that you should turn back to Him in repentance and so live by faith.

The Israelites were in no more jeopardy with the fiery serpents than they already were in grumbling and complaining against God.  For safety and salvation are not found in escaping the adversities of this perishing world, but solely in repentance and by faith in the Lord’s forgiveness of sins.

When the Lord God disciplines your flesh, therefore, it is for your eternal well being.  He exercises fatherly care in seeing to it that you learn from your mistakes.  Not that you get better at getting away with your sins, but that you repent of your sins and turn away from them to God in faith.

So it is that, along with His discipline of your flesh, and even with His punishment of your sins, in love for you He also provides the way of escape, the rescue, the means of life and salvation.  Even in the midst of death, He is at hand to save you.  But He does so in truly remarkable ways.

In the case of Israel, He had Moses make an image of the very thing that was killing them, and had him hang it on a pole for all to see.  If you were bitten by one of those fiery serpents, you had only to look at the fiery image of a serpent on that pole, and then you would not die.  Now that is crazy.  But it worked, because God the Lord had spoken His Word, and His Word determines all things.

Not only that, but that serpent on a pole was more than just a remedy and rescue for ancient Israel.  By it the Lord your God was already proclaiming the Cross of Christ, His beloved Son, whom He would hang as a serpent on a pole, that you might look to Him and live.  The Son of God Himself assumes the very image of your sin and death, and He is lifted up on the Cross for your salvation.

This, too, is the crazy foolishness of God.  But you are guided by His Word to know the Truth and believe it.  Otherwise, without His Word, if you look at the naked Man on the Cross, condemned as a criminal outside of Jerusalem, you see not life but death, and your sinful heart recoils from it.  You don’t like to look at suffering and death, because it reminds you and accuses you of your own.

Nevertheless, this is the way and the means by which God loves you, and the extent to which He loves you.  He sends His only-begotten Son and hangs Him on the Cross for you.  So does He become your sin.  And He becomes your death.  And He becomes the curse that hangs over you.  He bears all of that in His own flesh, and He dies.  It is all put to death and buried with His Body.

When you look to Him, therefore, as God has spoken, you shall not die but live, because your sins are all forgiven.  Your death has been put to death in Christ, once and for all.  And the curse has been turned into a blessing.  God loves to do that, to bring forth life from out of death, to call forth light from out of the darkness, to create all things out of nothing by His Word (who is made flesh).

You have the Word that God spoke to Israel made more sure in Christ.  You recognize Him on the Cross for who and what He is, because God has spoken by His Son.  The Lord Jesus has catechized you and opened your eyes by His Word and promise: Whoever looks to Him in faith, crucified and risen from the dead — whoever believes in Him — shall not perish but have everlasting Life.

Look, then, to Christ on the Cross, and live.  Why should you die?  Fix your eyes on Jesus by faith in His Word.  For you “see” Him, not so much with the eyes in your head, but by the sound of His Gospel in your ears.  It is by the hearing of His Word that your eyes are opened in faith to behold Christ, the Crucified One, and to recognize Him as your Savior.  Apart from His Word, all that you are able to see is sin, death, and hell — upon the Cross, in yourself, and in the world around you.  But what you are given to see by faith in His Word is true divine Life.  Hear, then, what the Lord your God has done for you, and thereby know and trust the love of God for you in Christ Jesus.

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans, “He who did not spare His only Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also, with Him, freely give us all good things?”  Yes, it is most certainly true!  What more could He give than He has given?  What more could He do than He has done?  Look to Jesus by fixing your faith in His Gospel, and you will know exactly where you stand with God.

Return to the waters of the Red Sea.  Not that you should go back to Egypt, which is where your sinful heart too much resides, but return to the Passover of the Lord and to your Exodus from Egypt by your crossing of the Red Sea with Jesus.  Return to the waters of your Baptism, and die, in order to rise with Christ Jesus and live with Him in the Kingdom of His God and Father.

Examine your life, your heart and mind, your words and actions.  Look at yourself in the Light of God’s Word.  Go through the Ten Commandments, as the Catechism has taught you, and then compare what God has said to the way that you have lived in the world where He has put you.  And when you thus discover that you have fallen so far short, repent.  Do not despair, but confess your sins, and hear the Gospel.  Receive His Word of Absolution, by which He delights to forgive you.

Let the Word of Christ constantly be ringing in your ears.  Don’t worry, you won’t overdo it.  It is not possible to hear His Word too much.  Let it ring in your ears at all times.  Pray the Catechism when you’re driving in your car, or when you find it hard to sleep at night.  Sing the hymns of the Church which confess the faith.  Teach these things to your children, if you have children, but do not neglect them for yourself.  Be in the Lord’s House to hear the preaching of His Word.  Treasure it in your heart and mind, and rehearse it with your lips by praying and confessing what He says.

And set the Cross of Christ before your eyes.  It is true that fixing your eyes on Jesus and focusing on the Cross is more than simply jewelry and artwork.  But by the blessed Incarnation of Christ God has redeemed His creation, so that it is now able to proclaim the Gospel also in these ways.  So that pictures and statues, a cross around your neck, and the sign of the Cross that you make upon your forehead and your heart, all of these are able to confess the Cross of your salvation, that you might be drawn to Him who is your Savior, and that by His Gospel you might live and not die.

Above all, fix your eyes on Jesus here at His Altar.  Hear the Word of His New Testament, and by that Word know that He gives you His Body to eat, that He pours out His Blood for you to drink.

The Lord your God has not left you without provision.  He has not set you loose in the wilderness to fend for yourself and make your own way from the Red Sea to the verge of Jordan.  He travels with you in His Tabernacle, which is the very Flesh of Christ, and He daily and richly provides you with all that you need, both for your body and your soul.  He preserves your body and life in this world, for this present time, that you might hear and receive the gifts Christ freely gives by the Gospel, and that you might confess and share His Word of the Gospel with your neighbors, also.

The Son of Man, Christ Jesus, is lifted up most surely in this Holy Communion, that His death might be proclaimed as your Life and your Salvation, until He shall come to call you from out of this desert wilderness, across the waters of the Jordan into Canaan, into Paradise the blest, where you shall live and abide with Him in divine Peace and Sabbath Rest forevermore.  The One who promises is faithful, and He will surely do it.

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

07 March 2018

Pray at All Times, and Do Not Lose Heart

The Lord has made clear what He would have you learn from His Parable of the persistent widow, and what He would have you do.  He is teaching you to pray at all times, and not to lose heart.  For God the Father would have you pray to Him, not as a slave, but as a son, a beloved child in Christ; that you would come to Him and ask Him for what you need, like a little child with his or her Dad.

The Lord would have you pray, not in fear or in desperation, but rather in eager confidence and joyful faith, and in a hope that refuses to be disappointed, even as you wait upon your God and Father for Him to fulfill His Word and promises.  As indeed He has and does in Christ Jesus.

But you do not know how to pray as you should.  You do not know how to pray as you should, because your heart and your mind are clouded by your sins.  And you do not know how to pray as you should, because, in your sin, either you do not recognize your need for God, and so you do not pray to Him, or you are painfully aware of your unworthiness, and so you are afraid to pray to Him.

That which you need the most is the forgiveness of your sins.  And yet, how should you dare to ask even for that?  And if not that, then how shall you ask for anything else?  For you are worthy of none of those things for which you ought to pray, nor have you deserved any of them.

It all depends upon the grace of God.  But precisely in your sin, you do not know how to grasp His grace, you do not know how to trust His mercy.  So you do not know how to pray as you should.

But the grace of God is found already in this, that the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness.  He prays for you, first of all.  He intercedes on your behalf with groanings deeper than your words could ever express.  And this He does faithfully and constantly.  But the Spirit also teaches you how to pray.  He teaches you the Words of Christ.  He places them into your ears, and thereby upon your lips.  He opens your mouth to show forth God’s praise, to hallow His Name and use it rightly.  And that means, especially, that you call upon the Lord in prayer and give thanks to Him in Christ.

The Holy Spirit prays for you, and He teaches you to pray.  And then He joins your prayer to His prayer in Christ Jesus.  For it is by the Cross of Christ that the Holy Spirit teaches you to pray.

What is more, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Prayer.  Christ is the Prayer which the Holy Spirit offers to God the Father on your behalf.  And Christ is the Prayer that you are likewise taught to pray.  Christ is the Word that is placed upon your lips as you call upon your Father in heaven.

When you pray in the Name of Jesus, your prayer rises like incense before the Father in heaven, and it smells good to Him, because it comes to Him in the flesh and blood of His beloved Son.  Your prayer is lifted up to God in and with the sacrifice of Christ Himself upon the Cross and in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension.  So it is that your prayer is heard, and it is answered in the mercies of God, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus.

Christ the Lord, the Son of God, has come and taken His stand here with you in the flesh.  He has pitched His tent in the midst of the battle, where you contend with the devil, the world, and your own sinful heart.  He is with you and for you.  He is yours, and you are His.  And He sustains you.

The Spirit lays Christ upon your heart through the Gospel, that you may pray with confidence.  And the Spirit joins you to Christ Jesus, so that you are lifted up to the Father in and with Him.

So, then, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?  The answer is, Yes, because He has established Himself as your Advocate, your Redeemer, and your Savior, here on this earth.

In your own flesh and blood, Christ has become a merciful and great High Priest.  He shares your flesh.  He shares your blood.  He has taken your sin.  He has died your death.  All of this, that you may share His life and live within His Body by faith in His Word, in the Ministry of His Gospel.

See here, in Him you have the true and better Jacob, the promised Son of Abraham and of Isaac, who sees to it that His women and children, His dear Body and Bride, the Church, and all His members, are kept safe and secure within His Kingdom.  He sends them with all that He has across the River, so that He may contend, that He may stand fast, that He may be faithful on your behalf.

He has become Jacob, that you may become Israel.  He has striven with God, that God may strive with you in peace, and with every blessing, and with every good gift, more than you can imagine.

The Lord Jesus Christ has also become the persistent Widow, so to speak, that you might be the beloved and fruitful Bride of God.  He has persisted in prayer long after you would have lost heart, and given up hope, and stopped praying altogether.  Even then, He has not ceased to pray for you.

He has prayed for the justice of God.  But not according to your sins, nor for the punishment that you deserve according to the letter of the Law.  Rather, He has prayed for and established justice and righteousness for you by fulfilling the Law in His own Body of flesh and blood, in faith and love, and by suffering the righteous wrath of God and the judgment of the Law against your sins.

The very justice for which He has prayed, He has accomplished and provides for you and for all.  Righteousness for the guilty.  Innocence for you who deserve nothing but eternal condemnation.

So it is that God the Father delights to act quickly, to help you.  And it is most certainly true that He provides all that you need for this body and life, and for the life everlasting.  He forgives you all your sins, and He protects you from your enemies on all sides, even as He spares you from the punishment that His own Law would level against you.  Because His desire, from the beginning, unto all eternity, is that you would be His child, and that you would live under His protection.

You do not have to twist God’s arm to get what you need.  Nor should you be afraid to ask Him for justice, because the justice with which He serves you is the righteousness of Christ, which is yours by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, apart from any works of the Law on your part.

Indeed, because the Son of Man has come in the flesh, and by His Cross and in His Resurrection He has obtained for you the gracious adoption of sons, you are invited and taught to pray to God as your dear Father.  For you truly are His own dearly beloved child in Christ Jesus.  The Lord your God has bound Himself to you in the fellowship of His Baptism, His Body, and His Blood.

It is also by His Cross and in His Resurrection that He has brought you to repentance and to faith.  No longer are you the liar and deceiver that Jacob was, but now by the Spirit you confess the truth.

You remember how it was before, when the story first unfolded.  When Isaac asked him, “What is your name?” he lied and said, “I am Esau.”  But now, with the Angel of the Lord, there is no longer that charade and pretense of his youth.  Instead, there is the confession of truth: “What is your name?”  “I am Jacob,” that is, the supplanter or deceiver.  And yet, for all of that, he is also the one who has received the promise and blessing of God, both from his father and from the Lord.

It is much the same for you, also.  Who are you?  You are a sinner, that is true.  But that is not all.  You are also God’s own child.  So has the Lord Himself sworn to you, as He once swore to Jacob.

The Word and promises of God, that is all that Jacob had to hold on to.  And similar promises, even better promises, have been given to you in Christ Jesus, in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments.

How is it that Jacob prevails over the Lord?  It is not because he is mightier.  It is not because he, of himself, is more righteous.  He clings to the Lord and refuses to let go, because he clings to the promises of God.  The Lord has promised to Jacob that he will be blessed, and his Seed after him.  The Lord has promised that He will bring Jacob home in safety and give him this good land.  So Jacob hangs on to that, and he refuses to let go.  He will be blessed, though it comes by the Cross.

How is it that Jacob wrestles with the Angel, and the Angel is overcome?  It is because the Lord has given Jacob the very means by which to overcome Him, that is, by His own Word of promise.

And again, the Lord your God has given you better promises, or rather, the fulfillment of those promises He once gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He has accomplished your Salvation by the Cross and in the Resurrection of the promised Seed, Christ Jesus.  And He has named you with His own divine and holy Name through your Holy Baptism into that crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Now, to be sure, the Cross by which He works in you, and from which He blesses you, often looks and feels more like the devil himself.  So you may be tempted to ask Him, “What is your name?  Are you actually my Lord or my enemy?”  But do not doubt His faithfulness and love for you, nor the victory that He has won over sin, death, the devil, and hell, on your behalf.

Though the Cross is a means of discipline and repentance, it is not a sign of the Lord’s anger against you, but of His great and steadfast love for you and for all the sons and daughters of man.  By the Cross He teaches you to live no longer by deception or in terrible fear, but to come home to your God and Father in repentance and faith, in humility, yes, but also with confidence in Him.

Bear in mind that Christ the Lord has borne the Cross first of all, in order to redeem you and save you for life with Himself.  Though He was and is the Son of God from all eternity, the Lord Jesus Christ learned the faith and obedience of Sonship in His own human body and life, as true Man, by way of His Cross and Passion on your behalf.  So, too, when your Father in heaven disciplines you by and with the Cross of His Son, it is an act of His mercy and love, that you might be rescued from your sinful unbelief and brought to repentance.  Not only that, but in laying the Cross upon you — as He has signed you with the Cross in your Holy Baptism — He is counting you worthy, by His grace, to share in the divine Glory of Christ Jesus, the beloved and well-pleasing Son.  But whereas Christ has borne the punishment of your sins by His Cross, it is for you His great blessing.

It is for you that Christ Jesus strives and wrestles through the heat of the day and the depths of the night, whose body and limbs have been put out of joint in that fight, that He might obtain for you the blessing of His God and Father, the gift of His Name and the outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

And as the Lord has given you His Name, you may call upon that Name in prayer, with confidence in His mercy.  He would have you persevere in that sure and certain hope, by faith in His Word.  Therefore, do not take “No” for an answer, even when that is all you seem to be hearing.  Do not lose heart, not in the face of the Law and its accusation of your many and great sins, nor when you are under attack by all who set themselves to sin against you in this fallen and perishing world.  For here is the truth of the Gospel, that your prayer is always before your Father in Christ Jesus.  And in Him it is already answered.  For His bodily Resurrection from the dead is the guarantee that your prayer is answered with this resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is Christ Himself for you.

Your Father in heaven loves you.  He welcomes you, not as a slave, but as a son.  He rejoices to hear your prayer, and He rejoices to answer it.  As He has answered Christ, as He has answered Jacob, so does He say “Yes” to you, and so does He bless you at all times with His Holy Name.

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

04 March 2018

At Home with God in Christ Jesus

Christ Jesus is consumed with zeal for His Father’s House.  He is eaten up by that zeal.  It’s not a matter of pride or ego.  He’s not defensive of His Father’s House, as though His Father might be injured by the abuses of man.  He is zealous for His Father’s House, that it should be a place of peace and rest for you and for all of the children of God.

Jesus will not stand for His Father’s House to become a marketplace.  And that’s not about the buying and selling of goods and services, although that is admittedly a bit tacky.  His concern is rather with efforts to buy and sell the grace of God, as though His mercy, forgiveness, and blessing were commodities to be traded; as though His children had to purchase their seats at His Table.

But God is not for sale.  And your place with God is not for sale at any price.  You can’t buy it or earn it.  He would give it to you freely by His grace, for His own sake, with love for you in Christ.

It is zeal for that grace of God that consumes the Lord Jesus, even to the point of His death upon the Cross.  That is where He is eaten up, in order to obtain and secure your place with God.

So has He taken the scourge to His own back.  He has suffered in His body and soul the destruction of God’s righteous wrath and judgment.  He has satisfied the entire justice of God’s Law.  There is nothing left undone.  There is no more punishment due.  He has paid the penalty that you owed,  and in faith and love, on your behalf, He has accomplished everything that was required.

And so His Father’s House is a place for you.  Not just a place where you can hang your hat and throw your stuff and lay down your body at the end of the day, but a place where you are at peace.  Where you can truly rest, not only your body but your busy mind and your weary, restless heart.  A place where you are safe.  Where you are well fed, and clothed, and sheltered, and taught, and cared for.  In short, He has made His Father your Father, so that you have a home with Him.

All of this He has done for you in love. For He is the Lord your God.  He is your Savior and Redeemer.  Thus has He taken you by the hand and taken you out of Egypt.  He has released you from the house of bondage and brought you into the Father’s House as a beloved child of God.

He has redeemed you from slavery to sin and death, from which you could never by any means set yourself free.  He has set you free.  The chains that bound you, He has broken.  He has ransomed and redeemed you for Himself.  He has purchased you with His own Blood.  He has paid the price.

Thus, you are the Lord’s.  And the Son has reconciled you to His Father.  He has established peace.  For God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  He has snatched you away from Pharaoh, and He has delivered you into the household and family of God in peace and love.

Given all of that, why is it still so hard and so uncomfortable and scary for you to stand in the presence of God at the foot of His Mountain, to hear His Word and receive His gifts?

Why is it that you still tremble in fear at the voice of God, who is your Father in Christ Jesus?  When He commands you in the way that you should go, when He catechizes you in the way of life, why does this make you so afraid?  Why do you run away and hide, or else drive yourself into the ground with all your efforts to appease His wrath and earn His good will?

He is your Father, and yet, how often are you afraid of Him?  How often are your mind and your heart not at peace, unable to rest in the confidence that your Father cares for you?

Although Jesus has brought you out of Egypt, there is still too much of Egypt that clings to you.  The dust of Egypt is still trapped between your toes and wedged under your fingernails.  The sweat of that hard labor still coats you.  There’s too much of the world’s wisdom competing for a place in your heart and mind with the foolish wisdom of God, which makes no sense to your sinful flesh.

Even the many good things that God gives to you so freely by His grace, and lavishes upon you, and pours into your arms, you horde to yourself as though you must guard them, and you withhold from your neighbor in his need.  Or you offer them to God as some kind of protection money, though that never was even remotely the point or purpose of the sacrifices that He commanded.

The Lord your God does not need anything from you.  He does not need anything from anyone.  All that you are and have is His, along with the whole world and all the fulness thereof.   All that He has given to you, He gives because He is your Father in Christ Jesus, and He delights to give good gifts to His children; and that you might use His gifts to love and serve your neighbors.

God commands sacrifice, not to deprive you of the good things He has given you, but so that you would learn to live by faith in Him; that you would learn to entrust yourself and all things to Him.

Nevertheless, sacrifice in a fallen world, for fallen man, does mean death.  It means that you must die to yourself.  That you must die to all of your efforts to build your own house and make your own way in the world.  That you should live by faith in your Father, which can feel quite scary.

Whereas God’s heart is reconciled to you in Christ Jesus, where is your heart?  And where are you?

It’s not that God would have you flee from the world.  It’s not even a problem if you reside in the country of Egypt, or anywhere else, for that matter.  You don’t have to escape God’s good creation.  This is His world, and He is the One who has put you here.  So it’s not a matter of trying to escape the world or flee from it.  It’s rather a matter of living in the world as a child of God, your Father in Christ, and being at peace with Him through faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  It’s a matter of letting your heart be at peace with Him, as He has set His heart at peace with you.

So, too, it’s not a matter of building a house for yourself, nor that you should try to build a house for God or attempt to buy Him off with bits and pieces of His own stuff.  But, again, that you live and move in this world as one who is at home with the Lord, and therefore as one who is able to use well the things that God has given, while not becoming restless over that which you have not.

God has provided that sort of place for you here.  Not a particular place here, there, or anywhere, but a place for you in His heart, and a place for Him in your heart.  It’s not location, location, location in this case, but a matter of the heart, of faith and trust in Him and His Word.

The place where your heart rests, the place with God that Christ the Lord has established for you, is in His flesh and blood, crucified and risen.  For by His death and in His Resurrection He has made His own Body the Temple of God, wherein you live at peace and rest with your Father.  Not a house for God, as though He were otherwise homeless, but a house and home where the Lord God dwells with you, and where you live with Him in Christ Jesus.

It is for this purpose that Christ is consumed with zeal for His Father’s House, that His own Body should become the House of God and a home with God for you.  Even in death, even swallowed up by death and the grave, He is not overcome, but He has overcome.  He has laid the foundation, He has erected the walls, and He has covered the House with His protection and His righteousness, so that you have a place inside with Him, as a son or daughter of the Father by His divine grace.

But what is it, really, that makes a house or home?  Is it property?  Or possessions?  Is it being able to show a document that says this place is yours?  Is it a piece of land?  Or a particular building?  Is that what makes a home?  Or is it not, rather, to be at peace with your Papa, wherever you are?

You know what I mean.  If you are at peace with your Dad, then even from the other side of the world you’re still at home with him in your heart.  But if things are not right between you and your father, then even at the same table with him you’re not at home, because you’re not at peace.

If you’re afraid of what your father is going to say or do, if you fear some punishment is in store, or if you suppose that he is unhappy with you, then no place anywhere is home.  But when you know that his heart is open to you, that he loves you, that he will protect you, and feed you, and clothe you — then, whether you are close or far away, whether on vacation with or without your family, whether away at school, or wherever in the world you happen to be, you know where your home is, and in your heart you are always there.  You’re at home and at peace with your father.

That is also how it is that you’re able to live “at home” here on earth, regardless of the floor under your feet, or the walls around you, or the roof over your head.  Because your Father loves you from the heart, and His heart is at peace with you in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Home is where the heart is, right?  Therefore, let your heart rest in your Father’s care.  Live by faith in His mercy.  Know that He is at peace with you in Christ, and be at peace with Him.

He’s not unhappy with you.  He’s not angry.  He’s not preparing some punishment for you.  He has flung wide the doors.  He has made the bed.  He has set the Table.  He welcomes you to Himself.

Your Father in heaven, who loves you dearly, He takes care of you.  And He has made a place for you with Himself.  That place is in the Body of Christ Jesus, His beloved and well-pleasing Son.  All the Love that God the Father has for His Son, He also has for you.  He loves you with the same Love!  And all of His good pleasure in Christ Jesus is likewise His good pleasure with you.

You see, then, not only is He not angry at you, He’s actually pleased with you.  He delights in you.  He’s proud of you.  Not because of your works or your income, or the buildings you have built, or anything else you have done, but for Jesus’ sake.  For by His Cross, whereby He was consumed with zeal for His Father’s House — so that you might live with Him — by His Cross Jesus has remedied everything that was amiss.  He has fixed everything that was broken.  All of the anxiety, stress, and tension, He has resolved in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen.

By His death upon the Cross He has atoned for all your sins, and in His rising from the dead after three days He has indeed established His own Body as the Household, Home, and Family of His Church.  In His Body, all of His brothers and sisters, all of His Father’s children, are at home.

In Him, therefore, baptized into Christ, you also are at home with God, wherever in the world you may roam.  Because the Father’s Son has come to dwell with you here, and to care for you here with His Word of the Cross, by which He forgives all of your sins.  Daily and richly and gladly He does it.  So does He serve you with the Fruits of His Cross, His own Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you.  See how tenderly He places them into your hand and upon your lips, and pours Himself out for you, that you may live and abide in Him, and He in you, both body and soul.

Look here, this is your Father’s House, and this is your Father’s Table, where He has made a place for you.  This is your place, too, this is your house and home, because you are the Father’s own dear child in Christ Jesus.  And this is where your God and Father has prepared the true Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for you.  His Blood of the New Testament now marks your door and protects you from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And that holy, precious Blood of Christ supercedes and renders obsolete the blood of bulls and goats and sheep and oxen.

There’s nothing here for you to buy or sell, to barter or trade, but Peace with God that surpasses human understanding and Sabbath Rest with God in Christ Jesus.  For His Body is your home, and His Blood is your Life and your Salvation, now and forevermore.

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