24 November 2019

Today You Are with Christ Jesus in Paradise

Jesus remembers you today, and you are with Him in Paradise, because He is here with you in the midst of the great tribulation.  His Tree of the Cross is not only green, even as winter approaches, but it is fruitful and life-giving; not “in spite” of His suffering, but precisely by and from His innocent suffering and death.  His Body and His Blood are the First Fruits of the New Creation.  And as the Church Year begins with the coming of Jesus into His Holy City on Palm Sunday, so does it conclude with His Holy Cross and Passion, which are the heart and center of all things.

Therefore, daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Him; sons of Israel, do not mourn His death.  Rather, weep and mourn for your sins, for which the Lord Jesus willingly suffers, sheds His blood, and dies.  And sorrow for your children, who have inherited your sins and your mortality.

Sons and daughters of Adam & Eve, weep and mourn over your fall into sin, over your disbelief and disobedience, and over your departure from the Lord your God and from His Garden.  Weep and mourn over the death and decay of God’s good creation, which bears the burden of your fault and suffers the sorrow of your trespasses and sins, the stain of your iniquity and disobedience.

And yet, do not succumb to despair and hopelessness, despite the attitude and actions of this fallen and perishing world.  The days have long since come when they say that the barren are blessed to have no children, and many now choose to make themselves barren on purpose.  The wombs that do not bear and the breasts that do not nurse are considered fortunate and free.  What a sad and striking contrast to the joys that we cherish and celebrate here at Emmaus, as we pray and give thanks for the children who are born among us, baptized, and brought up in the faith of Christ.

But it’s not as though we are naive to the challenges and difficulties that face mothers and fathers, marriages and families, in the bearing and rearing of children in this body and life.  Indeed, there are sacrifices at every stage, and we are bombarded with the contrary rhetoric of the world with its criticisms and complaints.  Surely it is tempting to wonder whether it is all worthwhile.

You bear your burdens and struggle to do your part, but in the meantime you cannot see whether it matters one way or another.  Whether you pray or not seems to make no difference.  Whether you are righteous or wicked is of no obvious or immediate consequence, unless it be that the righteous suffer want while the wicked appear to flourish and prosper at the expense of the righteous.

Satan taunts you, and he tempts you, as he dared to tempt Christ Jesus: If you are a dear child of God, then why this, and why that?  Why do you go hungry?  Why are you so poor and so alone?  Why must you suffer?  Why must your job be such a pain?  Why is your marriage so stressful, and why are your children ill-mannered and disobedient?  Or, why do you have no spouse or child?

The devil hurls these assaults and accusations against you, against the Words and promises of your Holy Baptism, and against the forgiveness of the Gospel.  After everything that God has said, the devil puts a big question mark: “Really?”  “Did God really say that?”  And with that he drives you to doubt and despair concerning both the Lord your God and yourself.  Perhaps God is deceiving you, or else unable to help you; or you’ve not done enough or done it right, so why should God even bother with you, unless it be to punish you severely for your depravity and failure?

Thus are you caught in this great tribulation, which rages all around you, and roars in your ears, and batters your heart, and confuses your head, and wearies your soul.  The choices set before you seem utterly bleak and futile.  Either God is not good enough, or you are not good enough.

If God is not good enough, or if He isn’t even real, then why bother with anything in particular?  You might as well do whatever you want, and it won’t matter, anyway.

But you know that’s not true.  God forbid that you should fall into such perdition.  God forbid it, and God forgive you for all such doubts and fears wherever you have entertained them.

But what about yourself?  Are you good enough?  Have you done enough?  Have you done it all just right?  Have you kept your nose clean?  Have you given enough?  Have you prayed enough?  Have you loved enough?  Have you believed enough?  And do you believe all the right things?

These are impossible questions, but the answer to each and all of them is, “No, you have not.”

You are a sinner, first of all, from the inside-out, before you have done anything.  And as a sinner, all your thoughts, words, and deeds are sinful.  Even the best of what you manage to do is filthy with your sin.  And the harder you try to make yourself righteous, the more sinful you become.

The root of the problem is not your bad behavior but your faithless heart.  You do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  You do not rely on Him and look to Him in faith for all that you need, expecting only good things from Him.  Instead, you bargain and maneuver and negotiate, you plot and you strive to make some kind of compromise or cut some kind of deal with Him.

And there is always this hesitancy and reservation in the way you approach and relate to God.  You do not entrust yourself to Him, but you offer what you think you can afford, what you figure you can live without, as much as you think it will take, but as little as you think you can get away with.

Why do you not tithe?  Is it because there is no Law that says you must?  Because you don’t think you can afford it?  Because you are not thankful for what you have?  Because you do not trust the Lord to provide all that you need for both body and soul, for this life and the Life everlasting?

Why do you not bring the whole tithe into the stores of the Lord’s House, in order to support His Church and Ministry?  Why do you not give the first fruits of your labor and your income to the Lord your God, in order that His House should be well-supplied with food and drink?

Instead of trusting and relying on the Lord to forgive your sins and save your life, you imagine that you must save yourself — as if you ever could!  That is the devil’s satanic seduction, which he throws into your face and whispers into your ear, as he did with Christ Jesus in the wilderness, at Caesarea Philippi, on the Cross, and at all the opportune times and places in between.

Unlike the Lord Jesus, you listen to the devil’s lies and temptations instead of to the Words and promises of God.  You rehearse the devil’s thoughts, instead of God’s.  You confess his lies to yourself and to others.  And you act as Satan urges, instead of living as the Lord has commanded.

Is it not robbery and theft to live your life as though it were your own possession, when it is the Lord who made you, and not you yourself?  Is it not criminal to horde those things which God has entrusted to your stewardship, and to use them as though they were your own by right, instead of using those treasures and talents to serve your neighbor and to support the Lord’s Church?

Daughter of Jerusalem, son of Israel, child of Adam & Eve, repent of this robbery and theft.  Own that you are a criminal, deserving of nothing but punishment, and be crucified with Christ, who numbers Himself with such transgressors.  For so has He numbered Himself also with you.

Fear the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer.  Fear the Lord, who willingly suffers the punishment that you justly deserve.  See in His Body crucified the wages of your sin and the price of your Redemption.  And hear His Word to you, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins.  Despair of yourself, to be sure, but do not despair of Him.  Rather, hope in Him, in His Cross, in His Body and His Blood, in His Church and Ministry, His Gospel and His Spirit.

Do not suppose that the wicked will always prevail, nor that the righteous are forgotten.  For the Lord Jesus remembers you, even in death.  And this same Jesus is risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father in His eternal Kingdom.  He lives and reigns forevermore.  And all this He accomplishes for you and your salvation, in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours.

He is the true and perfect Man, in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, in order that you should live and abide with God the Father in Christ, the incarnate Son, as He abides with you.

He surely does save others.  He is the Savior of the world, and He is your Savior.  But He does not save Himself.  Instead, He lives by perfect faith in His God and Father.  He loves Him and trusts in Him, and He prays to Him in confidence, even in the face of death and the grave.

He brings the whole Tithe into the Lord’s House, and far more than 10%.  He offers up Himself, His whole life, His Body and soul, His flesh and blood.  He is the spotless Lamb who suffers and dies in the place of His people, and who by His sacrificial death atones for all their sins, including all of yours.  He is the sweet-smelling Incense that fills the Temple with the very Peace of God.

And He is the Food, the Meat and Drink indeed, which fills the Lord’s storehouse and feeds His entire Church in every time and place, from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

His faith was not misplaced, His faithfulness was not in vain.  Though He was numbered with transgressors and crucified as a criminal, cursed upon the Tree between two guilty robbers, His righteousness is vindicated and openly declared when God the Father raises Him from the dead.

And because He is your King, your Savior, and your Head, His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, your vindication, and your righteousness.

That is your sure and certain hope as you bear the Cross and suffer and die.  That is your sure and certain hope, your righteousness and peace, although you are a sinner, a robber, and a thief.

But do not for that reason continue in your sins.  Rather, in the hope of the Resurrection, repent, trust Christ, and live.  Be crucified, dead, and buried with Him, in order to live with Him in His Kingdom, here and now by faith within His Church, and hereafter in His Paradise forever.

Trust Him by hearing His Word and calling upon His Name in prayer.  Trust Him by doing the work that He has given you to do, bearing your burdens in love, patiently and without grumbling.

Trust Him by forgiving those who sin against you, by loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, by turning the other cheek and gladly doing good to those who hurt you.

Trust the Lord to vindicate you, to defend you and speak well of you, just as He has declared you to be righteous by His Gospel.  Trust Him to uphold the good Name with which He has named you.

Whatever your circumstances here and now may be, trust that He will surely save your life from death, and feed and clothe your body, and shelter and protect you.  For He has given Himself for you, and in His Church He freely provides you with all of the best and most permanent things.

Here He clothes you with His righteousness and covers you with Himself.  For He was stripped naked, and His garments were divided, that you might be dressed with that which is His.  Here He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of the same Blood with which He has redeemed you and reconciled you to His God and Father forever.  So has He made His House your home.

Here, indeed, you are with Him in Paradise, because the Fruits of the Tree of Life are freely given without cost, and the Waters of Life are generously poured out for your cleansing and refreshment.

Here the Lord Jesus remembers you by coming to you in and with His Kingdom.  He remembers you with His Word of Peace, His Gospel of forgiveness.  He remembers you with His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you to eat and to drink, unto eternal Life and Salvation.

By these Fruits of His green Tree, you are with Him in Paradise.  And as surely as you are crucified and die with Him by your Baptism in His Name, so surely do you rise and live with Him forever.

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

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