10 June 2018

The Household and Family of God in Christ

The Builder of all things is God.  He is the Maker of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is in them.  He also created the Man in His own Image, and the Woman for the Man, and He gave them to each other as husband and wife.  And He planted a garden in the East, the Paradise of Eden, which He gave to the Man and the Woman as their home.  All of this He did, in love, by His almighty and eternal Word.  And it was very good.

Within this God-built house of creation there is security and strength.  It is beautiful by His gracious design, well-structured by His Wisdom, and upheld in love by the power of His Word.  Within His good creation, in the good order that He has established, there is safety and security for those who live according to His will, that is, by faith and in love, according to His Word.

Living in the place the Lord has provided, the Man is able to serve and care for the Woman, and the Woman is able to support and serve the Man.  Together they are fruitful and multiply, they fill the earth and subdue it.  They exercise dominion in the Name of the Lord, under His blessing.

So, what happened?  The house is falling apart.  The whole world is dirty, messed up, and dying.  Heaven and earth are passing away.  Creation groans under the curse of sin and death.  The grass withers, the flower fades.  There is a deep rupture that you cannot hope to patch, clean up, or fix.

Not only in the world outside, but even within the home, there is disarray and trouble instead of the security and peace that God intends and everybody longs for.  Marriage and family are under attack and constant stress.  Where the Lord has commanded the honor of father and mother and the fidelity of husband and wife, there is disrespect and disobedience on the part of children, neglect and abuse on the part of parents, unfaithfulness and hostility on the part of spouses.

Even in those places where you ought be most at ease and comfortable, the devil runs amok and causes all manner of unrest.  Instead of contentment and cooperation, there is dissatisfaction and dissension.  Instead of peace and health, there is hatred and hurt.  Not only in others, but in you.  Satan entices you with lies and false promises, and then accuses you of your sin with a vengeance.  He attacks you in body and soul, as he tyrannizes all of the children of men with the fear of death.

The devil has such power and strength to constrain and threaten, because Man has presumed and attempted to build his own house.  The Woman takes what the Lord has not given.  And the Man declines to guard and protect his wife.  He does not speak the Word that God has spoken, nor does he step into the breach to subdue the crafty serpent.  Instead of receiving what the Lord provides in faith and giving to his wife in love, the Man ignores the Lord and follows the Woman into sin.

This sinful rejection of God’s Word puts everything in jeopardy, into a tailspin.  It puts you at odds with both God and the devil, and that’s a double enmity that you will not survive on either side.

In attempting to build your own house, instead of living by faith and in love within the House that God has built and provided for you, you’ve taken on a futile task that cannot and will not succeed.  So you struggle and toil away to stake your claim, to protect your space, to guard your castle and maintain it, to shut out the noise and keep death at bay.  Your house requires constant work, whether you do it yourself or pay someone else to do it for you.  And yet, it still won’t last.

Your mortal body and life are subject to the same futility.  The task of growing and gathering food is backbreaking labor, which drives you back into the dirt from which you are taken.  Childbirth, too, is under the curse of sin and the constant threat of death.  It is dangerous and precarious, and it takes a toll on your body.  From its beginning to your life’s end, death has marked its prey.

The daily fight to survive in this fallen world, in the face of death, in the midst of guilt and shame, also pits the Man against the Woman, the parents and the children against each other, and brother against brother.  When you are endeavoring to build and keep and live in your own house against all odds, then everything is a potential threat, and everyone is your opponent.

You do make alliances, to be sure, for the sake of survival.  But even your allies are a threat once all your common enemies are gone.  No one gets out alive.  Sooner or later, it’s just you in your crumbling castle, stacking all your furniture against the front door in the hopes of reinforcing it, firing your canons out the windows, and pouring hot oil on the heads of all your foes.

Men use their strength to protect and pamper themselves, to make demands on others, to intimidate or undermine their neighbors, and to take for themselves whatever they can.  Women are often left to fend for themselves, and so they do.  If the men will not care for them in love, the women will conspire and manipulate to secure what they need and take care of themselves.  Children observe their parents and so learn to emulate their strategies and sins, in order to get what they want.

Each of you has your own sins, according to your own personality, your own abilities and traits.  Your house is not the same as your neighbor’s, and you’re proud of that fact, even as you fight to conceal your envy and jealousy.  But the underlying problem and the larger context are the same.  Sin and death hold sway, and so the devil has you and everyone else imprisoned and enslaved in your own houses!  You’re not safe inside.  You’re shackled and chained, and bound to lose it all.

But now the Stronger Man has come to the rescue, just as Jesus says.  The Lord Himself has come to plunder the devil’s house; which is really not the devil’s own domain, but the one that he has usurped and taken over, in which he holds you captive.  The Lord enters in to bring you out, and He establishes a new house and home, one not made with mortal hands but eternal in the heavens.

First things first, He comes to bind the strong man, Satan, and He does so.  But the Lord Jesus is stronger than the devil, and He defeats the devil, with a different kind of strength altogether.  Not with the power and might of this world, but with divine patience, tender kindness, and gentle compassion.  He does not impose His will upon His neighbors, nor does He establish a house for Himself.  He rather lives as a Son in His Father’s House.  He does the will of His God and Father.

In that strength and authority of faithful obedience, Jesus submits Himself to death, in order to forgive the sins of all the children of men.  Far from making a life for Himself, He lays down His life in love for others, in the faith and confidence that His Father will raise Him up again.  He does not take for Himself what has not been given, but He receives all things from His Father, in order to give all things to His neighbor.  In order to be a strong Husband for His Bride, to give her life and care for her in love, and to provide a home for her in the House of His dear Father in heaven.

From the outside, looking in, He appears to be downright crazy, and in patience and love He bears that blasphemy against Him.  He does not get angry or defensive.  He simply refuses to count or consider such insults.  The fact is that faith and love and the Cross of Christ look foolish and weak, ludicrous, and even insane.  But Jesus does not take offense at what others think of Him, because He is content with the Word and Wisdom of His Father.  He knows the pledge and promise of His Baptism.  He knows His office and vocation.  He knows that His house and home are with God.

Therefore, Jesus does not go out to His mother and His brothers, and He will not be taken custody by them.  He does not disrespect His family; He does not disown them or distance Himself from them.  But He calls and gathers a whole new family to Himself, into the House where He is found, by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  He establishes and populates a new household and family of God, which includes St. Mary, St. James and St. Jude, and disciples from all the nations.

By His own perfect faithfulness, and by His voluntary sacrifice for the sins of the world, He has robbed Satan of his weapons and his ammunition.  Sin is forgiven, and death is defeated; which leaves the devil with nothing to attack you with or hold against you.  Rather, creation is restored and made brand new, and reordered according to the will of God — already in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, and so too for all who live and abide in Him.  For His crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God, which is an eternal House for all who are His family by faith.

He brings you into that House and makes you a member of His own dear family by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He brings you into His own household and family, even as He plunders the devil’s house.  For He frees the children of men from captivity to sin and death.  He brings them to life and sanctifies them by the gift of His Holy Spirit through the Gospel.

Those who refuse and reject the Holy Spirit — those who refuse and reject the Gospel — remain in the bondage of the devil and outside of the Lord’s House.  Apart from repentance, that’s forever.

But you who are gathered by and around Christ Jesus — by and around His strong Word of faith and forgiveness of sins — you are His Mother, His brothers and His sisters.  That is to say, you are collectively His Church, the Bride of Christ and the children of God.  You live now in His House, as surely as you are here to be catechized by the preaching of His Word, to abide in His Baptism, and to partake of His Body and Blood.  You live and abide in the household and family of God.

So, then, as the Lord your God forgives all of your sins — He holds none of them against you — Satan cannot legitimately accuse you of anything.  Nor can the devil threaten you or scare you with death anymore, since your God and Father has raised Christ Jesus, your Brother, from the dead.

Consider how this strength of Christ Jesus sustains you.  For you are safe and sound within His House, which shall not fall.  Its sure foundation is the sacrifice of His Cross, once and for all.  And just as He is risen from the dead, never to die again, so shall His House stand fast forevermore.

Here at His Table you are fed with food and drink that you don’t have to work for.  You are a child of God, and your Father feeds you with the flesh and blood of Christ.  It is by the sweat of His brow, by the labor of His Cross and Passion, that you eat and drink and shall not die but live.

Here in the Lord’s House, you and your family are given life in place of death.  This promise is for you and for your children, for your parents and your spouse.  The birth pangs of repentance are not the mark of mortality, but are the glory of the Cross, unto immortal and imperishable life with God.

You don’t have to build a house for yourself.  That whole futile rat race is ended.  You no longer have to fight that no-win battle against death, which wearies you and wears you out but gets you nowhere.  You rather live in the place where God has put you, a beloved child in His family, and a permanent resident of His house and home, by faith in Christ Jesus.  And, as such, He strengthens you to make a safe house and a loving home for your neighbors here on earth, whether in South Bend, Mishawaka, southern Michigan, or Gary, Indiana, or wherever you may roam.

You husbands have the strength, in Christ, to care for your wives.  You mothers have the strength to care for your children.  You children have the strength to care for your parents, and you brothers and sisters have the strength to care for each other.  Not with any flawless perfection of your own, but with the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, which is yours by His grace through faith in His Gospel of forgiveness.  Not out of guilt or shame or fear, but in His peace and hope and charity.

You have this strength to love and serve each other, because you have your home and family in the strong House of the Stronger Man, Christ Jesus.  By His Cross and Resurrection from the dead, He has defeated your enemy, the devil, and He has reconciled you to His Father in perfect peace.  He has made a place for you forever, and in Him is your Sabbath Rest that shall not end.  In His crucified and risen Body — which you have entered by your Baptism, and which you eat and drink in the Sacrament of the Altar — you have genuine security.  You really are safe with God.

So, too, you have the strength to forgive the sins of those who sin against you, because the strength of your Savior, Christ Jesus, is the strength of His Gospel.  He does not accuse, threaten, or punish, but He daily and richly forgives you all of your sins.  He forgives your weaknesses and your fears.  He forgives your laziness and your neglect of responsibility.  He forgives your short temper and your abuse of power.  He does not hold any of your sins against you.  Instead, He calls you daily to repentance, and He gently raises you up to live by faith in Him, to live in love for your neighbor.

If the whole world thinks you’re crazy, well, never mind that; you’re in good company.  So shall you be glorified with Him who loves you.  Whatever affliction you may suffer is momentary, and it’s not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory for which the Lord Jesus is preparing you, even now.

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

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