11 April 2021

Real Life with God in the Body of Christ Jesus

There is an unfortunate tendency to view Salvation as basically a commodity to be obtained, as a carrot on a stick to motivate good works, and as a purely future hope.  Along with those ideas is the notion of the Gospel as facts and information about Jesus, His Cross and Resurrection — as truth to be learned and accepted and filed away in your brain like a warranty on some purchase.

But Salvation is not a commodity.  It is rather your participation, by grace alone, in the divine Life of the Holy Trinity — which is yours already here and now, in spite of sin, death, and the devil, by faith in the Gospel.  It is an all-encompassing reality, determined by the Lord your God from before the foundation of the world, but accomplished, established, and embodied for you and for all in the Body of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead — and given to you by the Word and Spirit of God in the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus, in the waters of Holy Baptism in His Name, and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood.

The Gospel, therefore, although it certainly does include historical facts and true information about Jesus, is much more a matter of Christ Jesus coming to you and sharing Himself with you, body and soul, by the speaking of His Word, by the breathing of His Holy Spirit, and by the giving of His good Gifts from the Tree of His Cross in the Liturgy of His Gospel.

Accordingly, your Christian faith and life are not to be found in academic abstractions, far less in your personal feelings and emotions, but in the flesh-and-blood Person of Jesus Christ, in His living and active Word, which actually does what it says and gives what it promises, and in His Body, crucified and risen from the dead, given and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.  To live by faith in Him, therefore, is not so much a matter of what you know and understand as it is a matter of what you hear and receive; for faith comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ, that you might have life in His Name even without seeing Him with your eyes.

That gets right to the heart and purpose of this familiar Holy Gospel, although it is regrettably too often focused on the man who is commonly known as “Doubting Thomas.”  That is not the title of St. Thomas in the Holy Scriptures, but rather a description that many have since associated with that holy Apostle of our Lord (perhaps because it makes us all feel better about our own doubts).

In point of fact, Thomas was hardly alone among the Apostles in his doubts.  All of them doubted at first, according to the record of the Holy Gospels; and all of them required visible evidence and proof of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus before they would believe.  What is more, precisely as Apostles of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, it was actually fundamental and even necessary — as St. John has noted in his First Epistle — that these men be eyewitnesses of Christ and His Cross and Resurrection, and thus able to testify and proclaim, not only what they have heard and seen, but what they have touched with their hands (in very much the way St. Thomas requested!).

But even so, and even as important and essential as the Apostolic Office truly is, this Holy Gospel is not really about St. Thomas (neither his doubts nor his confession), but about the Lord Jesus.  It is to Him that the Holy Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel points, that you may have Life in Him.  And as such, His Words and actions, and His response to St. Thomas, are the key to this Gospel.

Remarkably, the risen Lord Jesus invites Thomas to do exactly what that man boldly demanded: “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side.”

More to the point, Christ Jesus does much the same for you, as well.  He responds to your doubts and fears with that same patience and compassion that He exercised with St. Thomas and the other disciples, with the same love that took Him to His Cross and Passion in the first place, and with the same forgiveness of sins that He obtained for you and for all people by His atoning Sacrifice.

He comes to you right where you are, locked up inside your little room of anxiety, confusion, and cynical uncertainty.  And just when it all seems lost and hopeless, there He is, right there in the thick of it, in the middle of all your chaos and difficulties, bestowing His Peace and hope and joy.

Your dear Lord Jesus does not come to scold you for your doubts.  He comes to ease your doubts by strengthening your faith — by responding to your doubts with the forgiveness of His Cross.

With that in mind, just think about the fact that poor “Doubting Thomas” is not remembered in the Bible for the sake of his doubts, but as one of the sainted Apostles of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

The Flesh and Blood of Jesus were more than adequate to heal the doubts of St. Thomas and the others, and to replace those doubts with the faith and Spirit of God.  So those men did not die in false belief, despair, or other shame and vice, but in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

And the very same Jesus who came to them in mercy and granted them His Peace now also comes to you and heals you, because St. Thomas and the other holy Apostles were sent into all the world to preach and teach His Word, to distribute His good Gifts, and to forgive sins in His Name.

That’s really the whole point to the word, “Apostle,” taken into English directly from the Greek word for someone who is sent with legal authority to speak and act on behalf of the sender.  Think of an ambassador from one country to another, or the “power of attorney” that some of you may have been given for the benefit of an aging parent, an ailing spouse, or another loved one in need.

To receive an Apostle of Christ Jesus, therefore, is equal to receiving the Lord Jesus Himself, as He says to His sent ones: “He who hears you, hears Me; and he who receives you, receives Me.”

It is not by accident or coincidence that Christ Jesus comes to you with His Gospel in this way — that is, by the Apostolic Ministry of His Word and Sacraments.  It is by His own divine Wisdom, according to His good and gracious Will, out of His great love for you and all other sinners, that your Lord has chosen to deal with you and give Himself to you in this way and by these means.

To consider the Office of the Keys, established and given by Christ Himself in this Holy Gospel, it’s not for any of us to speculate as to “how” or “why” the practice of Confession and Absolution should be beneficial and salutary for Christians.  It is simply received as a gracious Gift of God in Christ Jesus, in the humble honesty of repentant faith, and with thanksgiving for such mercy.

As the Catechism has taught you to confess, when the Called Ministers of Christ deal with you in this way — by His divine command — it is valid and certain before God in heaven, because it is the way and the means by which Christ Jesus Himself cares for you within His Church on earth.

Through this Apostolic Ministry — of sinful, doubting men like Thomas, sinners like yourself — Christ comes to you with the mercy and forgiveness of His nail-scarred hands and spear-pierced side, in order to preserve you in His Word and faith, and to give you Life with God in Himself.

And along with that, Christ Jesus speaks and bestows His “Peace” upon your heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.  The Words with which He greets His disciples on each appearance in this Holy Gospel were a common liturgical greeting of the Jewish synagogue, now filled with new meaning and content by His Resurrection.  And those same Words are likewise spoken to you, time and again, in His Liturgy of the Gospel, actually bestowing the very Peace which they declare.

It is for all of these Words and works of Christ Jesus that He calls and gathers you together in this “Upper Room” of His Church.  For He desires to forgive your sins, to strengthen your faith, to give you His Life, and to grant you His Peace in both body and soul, by the Ministry of His Word.  And it is here within His Church — where His disciples are gathered in His Name — that He does so.

He calls you to come, to hear and receive this Ministry, and to participate in the divine, eternal Life of the Holy Trinity in this Liturgy of His Gospel, because this hearing, receiving, and participating are your Christian faith and life and salvation in Christ Jesus in this body and life on earth, while you await the Resurrection of your body to the Life everlasting of your body and soul in Paradise.  Hearing the Gospel and receiving the Lord’s Supper are as fundamental, vital, and essential to the spiritual life of your body and soul as breathing, eating, and drinking are to your temporal life.

That comparison is implicit in the way that Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon His Disciples in this case, in much the same way that God breathed His living and Life-giving Spirit into Adam.  Indeed, as God’s Breath or Spirit gave life to Adam and his family, so does the Breath or Spirit of God bestow new life in body and soul upon all who receive the Ministry of the Apostles, which is the Ministry of Christ Himself.  For Christ Jesus is actively present and at work in that Ministry, in His Church here and now, breathing His Spirit into you by His Gospel, His forgiveness of sins.

Though you have not seen the risen Lord Jesus with your eyes, you are blessed to believe in Him; not because you’ve been convinced by the facts and chosen to believe, but because the Spirit of Christ Jesus has worked repentance and faith in your heart, mind, body, and life by the preaching of His Word, by the washing of the water with His Word, and by His forgiveness of your sins.

Apart from these Gifts Christ freely gives — which are not simply from Christ Jesus, but they are the Gift and Presence of Christ Jesus Himself, His Word and Spirit, Body and Blood — apart from these Gifts you have no faith or life with God.  That is the grave danger that you put yourself in when you absent yourself from the Liturgy of His Gospel, when you decline to be gathered with His disciples for the preaching of His Word, and when you are not present for His Holy Supper.

Then you are like Thomas when he missed out on that first appearance of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles.  We’re not told where he was, or why, but the significant and consequential point is that Thomas was not where the disciples were gathered on the Lord’s Day.  And in much the same way, when you go your own way, when you rely on your own resources, and when you trust your own misguided sense of what is true and real, then you are left with your own doubts and skepticism, stuck in your own misery and fear, and burdened by your own sin and mortality.

Christ be praised that, even at those times of greatest doubt and deepest depression, at those times when you feel utterly trapped by your circumstances, and when it seems that absolutely nothing will go right — even then, your dear Lord Jesus has not forgotten you.  He rather remains right here for you with the promise of His Gospel.  By His Word of Absolution, He grants to you the blessing of His Peace.  And He would give into your mouth His own Body and Blood, by which He forgives all your doubts, worries, and fears, and so also restores your faith, hope, and love.

St. John beautifully points to that ongoing Ministry of the Gospel when he makes mention of the “many other Signs” that Jesus performs in the presence of His disciples, which really continue to the ends of the earth and even to the close of the age.  For those “Signs” of Christ Jesus include His Word and works within His Church on earth, and so also here for you — His Means of Grace and Life and every Blessing — the cleansing and new birth of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness of His Holy Gospel, and His Body given, His Blood poured out for you in the Holy Communion.

In these “Signs” of Christ Jesus, you are given nothing less than Christ Jesus Himself.  And in Him, you also have that perfect Peace with God which surpasses all your human understanding.

In the Apostolic Ministry of the Gospel you have fellowship with St. John and St. Thomas and all of the Holy Apostles; and that fellowship is with the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit — and so also with all of the children of God in Christ Jesus, who are members of His Body and Bride, the one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church of all times and places, on earth as it is in heaven.  That is what is here for you, given and poured out for you from the wounds of Jesus at His Altar, that you should not die in your doubts and fears, but live forever with the Lord who loves you.

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

07 April 2021

Forgiveness and New Life for Those Who Have Fallen and Failed

The risen Lord Jesus has already appeared and shown Himself to the disciples twice before this.  He has breathed His Holy Spirit upon them with His Word, given them His Office of the Keys, and sent them in His Name as holy Apostles, even as God the Father has sent Him into the world.

And yet, it seems that Simon Peter remains at a loss as to what he should be doing with himself — which is already part of the problem, since it is the Lord who must “do something” with him!

For the time being, St. Peter decides to go fishing.  He thus goes back to the life he knew before the Lord called him to discipleship — back to his own works and efforts, to his own occupations and self-chosen activities.  And you have heard how he takes others with him into those pursuits, in much the way that parents and peers lead their children and their neighbors by way of example.

But, as always when you rely upon yourself, chasing your own priorities, goals, and ambitions, those restless disciples labor all night in vain.  They catch nothing.  They wind up empty-handed.  They are not able to do any good or to accomplish anything positive without Jesus.  Nor can you.

Indeed, under such circumstances, even when Jesus is right there on the shore in front of them, the disciples are not able to recognize Him.  They do not know Him anymore, not even this third time.  Just as you also fail to know or recognize Jesus when you strive to make it on your own, and as often as you become so focused on yourself and on what you’re doing.  It is a hopeless endeavor.

But how on earth have Simon Peter and his fellow disciples drifted so far away from Jesus?

It’s actually not so hard to figure out, if you think back to Good Friday, and if you put yourself in Peter’s sandals for awhile.  Do not suppose that he could so quickly or easily forget his denials of the Lord Jesus.  In fact, given that all four of the Holy Gospels include the record of those events, it seems clear that he would never completely forget that dark night within his life on this earth.

As it is, in much the same way that Judas Iscariot is remembered for his betrayals, and St. Thomas is known for his initial doubts, so is St. Peter remembered for his three-fold denial of the Lord.

Consider those times in your own life when you have really blown it.  When you have let someone down, or failed them so miserably, or hurt them in a fit of anger.  When you have committed some sin or another which you can’t possibly take back, undo, or ever hope to live down.  What do you do with that?  How do you handle that baggage?  How do you go about trying to cope with it?

In your fallen flesh, there are basically two different ways that you attempt to deal with your sins and failings — assuming that you’ve moved beyond the stage of excuses and rationalizations.

On the one hand, you may despair of any and all hope, give up completely, and resign yourself to grief and shame.  Or, on the other hand, you may redouble all your efforts and work twice as hard, vainly trying with all your own might to atone for your sins and redeem yourself.

In the Gospel at hand, it seems to me that Simon Peter is doing a little of both.  To begin with, he returns to fishing, perhaps because he has despaired of his worthiness to be a disciple and Apostle of Jesus.  And to be sure, it is true that, of himself, he is not worthy to be either of those things.

But then, when Jesus appears on the scene, you’ve heard how strenuously Simon Peter works to prove himself worthy.  He first of all throws himself into the sea in order to swim ahead to Jesus on the shore, not content to come in the boat with the others.  And when the boat is close enough, he then manhandles that big net full of fish all by himself and drags it onto the shore.

Peter’s thinking is all wrong at that point.  He keeps starting with himself, with his own guilt and shame on the one hand, with his own strength and hard work on the other hand.  He doesn’t know how to live with his failures, so he offers his accomplishments to make up for them.  And maybe you have also attempted that bargain at times.  But it doesn’t work, neither for Peter nor for you.

So, Jesus addresses and corrects the way that Simon Peter thinks and acts.  That is to say, the Lord in His mercy calls that poor fallen man to repentance and to faith in the forgiveness of his sins.

To that end, there is a replay of sorts, recalling that earlier scene when Simon Peter thrice denied the Lord Jesus in the midst of His Passion.  There is first of all a small “charcoal fire,” just like the one at which he warmed himself on that night when he was so intimidated and frightened by the questions of a servant girl that he denied even knowing the Man from Nazareth.

Here is such a fire once again, the only other time it appears in the Gospels.  But this time it is the Lord Jesus Himself who is asking the questions of Peter: Three new questions, one for each denial.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

Oh, yes!  Simon Peter is quick to affirm his love each time.  He loves Jesus more than anyone!  He would do anything for Jesus.  And even if everyone else fell away, he never would.  Or, so he had promised — before his denials!  Now, more than ever, he is eager to affirm his love and prove it.

His thinking is still backwards.  He is still beginning with himself and with his love for Jesus.  But if he desires to express and demonstrate that love, then his response will be directed toward the lambs and sheep of Christ Jesus; for Simon Peter is to be a shepherd, a pastor, of those sheep.

To begin with, though, he needs a Shepherd of his own, and he must allow himself to be tended as a sheep with the forgiveness of that great Good Shepherd of us all.  Just as, once before, he had to let his Master wash his feet and love him, in order to live and learn to love his neighbor.

Therefore, in his answer to the Lord’s third time asking, “Simon, do you love Me,” Peter undoes himself when he affirms, “O Lord, You know all things.”

Ah, yes.  His point is that Jesus already knows that poor Simon Peter loves Him.  But at the same time, the Lord Jesus knows all that other stuff, too:  That Peter has denied Him.  That he is a poor, miserable sinner who deserves only punishment.  That he is pitiful, weak, pathetic, and unworthy.

But here’s the deal: None of that stuff is the real issue!

Simon Peter is indeed unworthy, as are you and all of us poor sinners.  But Jesus, the Lamb who was slain — He is worthy!  It is the Lord Jesus, therefore, and not Peter, who does all the doing.

To extrapolate upon His Words: “When you were younger — before you became My disciple — you prepared yourself to go and do and be whatever you wanted.  And it was precisely that sinful old Adam, that same prideful spirit of self-preservation, which turned you away from Me, away from My Cross and Passion, and caused you to deny Me with your words and by your actions.

“But I have called you to follow Me as My disciple — to share My Cross, and to glorify God by your life and by your death in the fellowship of My Body.  So it is that, as you grow and mature in your faith, My Word and Spirit are preparing you to go where I have chosen, to do what I have given you to do, to be the new man I have recreated you to be, and to suffer for My Name’s sake.”

Do you hear in all of this how Jesus is the One who cares for you?  Who forgives you?  Who does all things for you?  Not because you love Him, but for the sake of His own divine Love for you.

Where all of your efforts to provide for yourself have failed, His Word provides you with all that you need and abundantly more.  Just as He is the One who is here on the shore again this evening, having prepared a Meal for you.  He takes the bread and gives it to you: His Body, sacrificed upon the Cross for the forgiveness of your sins, given to you here and now for life and salvation in Him.  And He pours out His Cup, the New Testament in His Blood, for you and for the many to drink.

It truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should love Him; that you should fear, love, and trust in Him above all things — with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And in your love for Him, you ought to love and serve your neighbors within your God-given callings and stations in life.

But it is far more important and significant, to begin with and forever, that this Jesus loves you.  And whereas your love for Him often fails and falls short, His love for you is steadfast, certain, and secure.  He will never let you down, nor will He let you go; He will never leave you or forsake you.  For He has given Himself for you, to atone for all your sins, and in His Resurrection from the dead you are raised up in His righteousness, reconciled with Him and God the Father in the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of His Body and Bride, the Holy Church, here in time and hereafter for eternity.

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

05 April 2021

On the Way of the Cross to and from Emmaus with Christ Jesus

Every one of you knows what it’s like to get your hopes up, to anticipate good things, only to have your hopes and expectations dashed.  Whether it be at work, at home, or at school, with family and friends, in sports or politics, or in your plans for the future, you have known disappointments.

In any and all of those circumstances, at ground level your hopes are either in the Lord Jesus Christ or the idols of this world.  That is to say, whatever you rely upon, whatever you are counting on, and whatever you are living for, that is your god — and it will either be the one true God, Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, or one of any number of alternative false gods.

The tragic irony is that, whereas your idols may actually seem to be working just fine — up until the point when they can’t and won’t, when they are exposed for the empty and perishing posers they are — the Lord Jesus, hidden under the Cross in this fallen world, appears to be so helpless and hopeless and utterly useless, a huge disappointment, despite the potential He once showed.

So, then, what do you have to go on?  How shall you keep your bearings and chart your course?  You’ve heard the Word and promises of God, and you know the Story of Jesus.  So, now what?

Knowing what you know, and having heard what you have heard, you should understand and believe that the Glory of the Christ comes by the way of His Cross and suffering.  And that’s not just ancient history.  It is also your story as a disciple of Christ Jesus.  You also enter into the Glory of God in Christ — you share His Resurrection and His Life — by the way of His Cross and suffering.  Has He not told you ahead of time that it must be so, and what the outcome will be?

That’s not just wishful thinking or hoping for the best.  It is the faithfulness of the Lord your God, who loves you, and it is His redemption of your life and the whole world from sin, death, and hell.

It is the story of the Gospel, which you hear and receive in a variety of ways because the Lord is exceedingly rich in His grace toward you.  And it is the story that you have been taught to confess with the whole Church in the Creed — the story of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, which is also the story of your Baptism in His Name and your daily dying and rising with Him.

Why, then, are you surprised by the Cross and suffering, and why do you act as though something strange were happening to you, and as though the story has come to a very sad and tragic ending?

How is it, after the events of the past few days, that you would now return to your home and family and resume your job and normal routines, living and acting as though the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified for nothing, and as though He were not risen from the dead?  Everything has happened just as He said, in fulfillment of the Holy Scriptures, which always have been all about Him.

In truth, your disappointment and discouragement also belong to the Cross that is laid upon you for the sake of putting the old Adam in you to death.  Not that you should despair, but that the Lord might raise you up from your sin and death to forgiveness, faith, and life in Him by His Word of the Gospel.   He thereby calls you to repentance and teaches you to fix your hopes on Him, to find Him and rely on Him in the fruits of His Sacrifice.  And so it is that, by the ways and means of His Cross, He raises you up from the dust of the earth to share in the Glory of His Resurrection.

The Cross is not a last-minute gamble or a last-ditch effort; it’s not even a change in the game plan.  It is the very thing that God the Lord determined from the beginning, and even from before the foundation of the world.  He created all things in love, and He created Man in His Image and Likeness, fully aware that He would accomplish His purposes by the Cross and Passion of Christ.

It is not for you to ferret out the unrevealed mysteries of God, nor to comprehend the mysteries of time and eternity in the mind of God.  You are given simply to hear and believe, to comprehend and confess the revealed Mysteries of God in Christ Jesus, in the Holy Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles.  For all things are fulfilled in Him for the forgiveness of your sins, for the comforting of your conscience, for the strengthening of your faith, and for the raising of your body at the last unto the Life everlasting of your body and soul in fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, consider for now the story of Moses, whom the Lord called, ordained, and sent to redeem His people Israel from Egypt.  He also suffered with and for the people, not coincidentally, but as a participation in the sufferings of the Christ who was to come, the promised Seed of Abraham.

With Moses, too, there was so much promise, so much hope at first, only to be met with a series of disappointments and setbacks.  The oppression of Pharaoh and the sufferings of the people actually increased and got worse instead of better.  There were ups and downs, and back and forth, first a “yes,” then yet another “no.”  Until the final Plague seemed so decisive.  But even then, what did that require?  The death of the firstborn son, or the sacrifice of the Lamb in place of the son!  Always the Lord is preaching that the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, would be the sacrificial Lamb.

As the people do come out of Egypt, so excited to be on their way to freedom, there is yet again another setback, as Pharaoh and his army, his chariots and horsemen begin to chase them down.

Then Israel is caught between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, with seemingly no way out — that they might learn to fear, love, and trust in God, to call upon His Name, and thus to find true Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him alone.  So, too, when you are caught between a rock and a hard place in your Exodus from death into life, the Lord calls you to live and rest in the Liturgy of Christ Jesus.

As you have heard over these past few days, the Lord God brought His Israel safely through the waters of the Red Sea, and He utterly drowned and defeated the entire Egyptian army in the same waters.  And as surely as He rescued His people then and brought them out of slavery into freedom, so has He brought you through the waters of your Holy Baptism into His Holy Christian Church.

But of course, Israel winds up in a desert wilderness, with no water to drink and no food to eat, and they would sooner go back to slavery in Egypt than to waste away and die out there in the wild.  Back and forth the pendulum swings, getting their hopes up, then dashing them into the ground.

But it never is out of the Lord’s hands.  He is always calling them to repentance and faith, always pointing them to Christ.  Despite their grumbling complaints, He sustains them with miraculous water from the Rock and with miraculous Bread from heaven, anticipating the One who was to come, who would give Himself over to death and give His Body to eat and His Blood to drink.

And so it goes.  Mt. Sinai is threatening, even deadly, and frightening.  And after God seals His Covenant with Israel through Moses — by way of more sacrifice and more blood — the Prophet disappears into the thunder and lightning, fire and smoke at the top of the Mountain for forty days and forty nights.  So the people once more give up hope, and make a golden idol for themselves, and party themselves into utter debauchery.  Over and over again, they are tested and tried; they fall short and fail; they are disciplined unto repentance; they call upon the Lord and are saved; and before long they rebel against the Lord and against His servant Moses.  On and on and on it goes.

Was it not necessary, then, for the Christ to suffer all these things, and thus to enter into His Glory through suffering?  Indeed, He suffers with and for His people, bearing their burdens and the assaults and accusations of their enemies.  And so does He also suffer their contempt and idolatry and their sins against Him.  He takes it all upon Himself and willingly suffers for their redemption.

He is both the Firstborn Son and the Passover Lamb who is given and sacrificed in place of all the other firstborn sons.  He is the Servant of the Lord who opens the way through the deadly waters by the wood of His Cross.  He is the Rock who is pierced to pour out living water and cleansing blood from His side for the cleansing and refreshment of His people.  He is the true Manna from heaven, the Bread of immortality, who feeds His people with Himself from the Tree of the Cross.  He is the holy Sacrifice whose Blood is the New Covenant of God with His people.  And He is the One who ascends the Mountain of God by way of His Cross and Passion, suffering the judgment of the Law against your sins, but also keeping and fulfilling the entire Law for your salvation.

All of this — and the entire Old Testament — the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in the very events that His Church has remembered with thanksgiving and celebrated in solemn faith over these past eight days — by the atoning Sacrifice of His Cross and in His mighty Resurrection from the dead.

And it might seem easy enough, in retrospect, to affirm, to believe, and to confess all of that now, so far as He is concerned.  He has risen, just as He said.  He is not dead but alive forevermore.

Which is fine and good for Him.  But it is still so hard, if not impossible, for you to see and believe the promise of His Resurrection in yourself, in your own family, and in the desert wilderness of your life on earth.  Here it seems that all your hopes are routinely being dashed on a daily basis.  And even though you do “know better,” your foolish and sinful heart still doubts and is so sad.

That is how it is with you.  And yet, your dear Lord Jesus is so patient and so kind, and even as He gently chides you — as He calls you to repentance and faith — He is already acting to help you.

It is important to note that your conversation and discussion of the Holy Gospel is not pointless or empty, even when you’re still at such a loss and don’t really know or understand what you’re talking about.  For in that speaking of His Story, Christ Jesus Himself draws near and goes with you; and then He also takes that Story into His own hands, and He leads you home by His Word.

He opens the Scriptures to you.  And He opens, not only your ears to hear, but also your mind and your heart to comprehend and to believe the Scriptures and all that His Prophets and Apostles have written.  He does so by the forgiveness of all your sins and by all that goes with His forgiveness.

He does use the Cross, for that is the very heart of His Story.  So it is that your eyes are prevented from seeing Him, and He even acts as though He were going to continue on His way without you.

But remember that the Cross is a means of repentance, which not only crucifies the old Adam in you, but also raises you up as a New Creation in Christ Jesus — alive by faith and living in love.

The Cross of Christ that is laid upon you teaches you to acknowledge and confess your sins, but it also teaches you to hope in His mercy and to pray.  It teaches you to ask the Lord Jesus to come and stay with you, which is of course the very thing that He has come to do for you in love.

You bring Him home with you, and you bring Him into your home and family, by the ongoing catechesis and confession of His Word.  And that journey of catechesis not only takes Jesus home with you, but it also brings you back “home” with Him.

It is by His Word, therefore, that you live to and from Emmaus with Jesus.  And not only that, but you live to and from Jerusalem, as did those first disciples of Emmaus who returned that very night to the city they had left behind.  All of which is to say that you live as a disciple of Christ Jesus from His Church and always back to His Church, to the gathering of disciples around the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship.  Not unlike St. Mary and St. Joseph, who returned to Jerusalem to find the Boy Jesus when they had left Him behind, as St. Luke records at the beginning of the Story.

Where, then, shall you find Him?  Have you not heard?  The One who is the true Passover, the true Manna, and the New Covenant, gives Himself to you, to eat and to drink, in the “Breaking of the Bread,” that is to say, in the Holy Communion.  You still can’t see Him with your eyes, but He reveals Himself and you recognize Him here in this Holy Supper at His Altar in His Church.

It is here that you find and receive His Body.  Not in the tomb, which is empty, but here at His Table in His House, where He is not your Guest, but you are His, and He is your gracious Host.  More than that, He is your Meat and Drink indeed, by whom you live both now and forever.

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

04 April 2021

Hear the Voice of Christ Jesus, Calling You by Name

Christ has died, and Christ is risen; He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Of course you know and believe this, you boldly and gladly confess it.  That is why you are here.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, has made your death and grave His own, so that His Resurrection and His Life may be yours also.  So it is, and so shall it ever be, by virtue of your Holy Baptism in His Name.  For His bodily Resurrection from the dead is God’s resounding “Yes, and Amen!” to your every prayer, the surety of your Life and your Salvation.

So it is that this holy and blessed morning and this glorious Easter Day are full of joy and gladness.  Indeed, the entire Christian faith and life are buoyed up by this very Easter joy.  Even your fasting is not without a joyful hope in Christ; and your feasting is ever and always exuberant. Alleluia!

Yet, even on this happy morning, your joy may yet be tinged with sadness — some sorrow in your heart or in the back of your mind — some bittersweet memory or aching regret, or the encroaching threats of life in this world, which do not seem to be at all resolved by such things as the Gospel, not even on Easter Sunday.  And perhaps there are other days and nights when joy is an elusive stranger and sadness reigns over you like a dark cloud ready to burst and drown you in its torrents.

How easily, it seems, your Jesus and your joy in Him appear to be taken away and hidden from you — and you do not know where or how to find Him.

You may be fully convinced of His death, His holy Cross and Passion, but you cannot understand what it really means — far less are you able to comprehend His Resurrection from the dead — not by way of your fallen human reason or the senses of your flesh.  Not when you insist on looking for Him in your empty tomb, and not when you fail to hear and heed His voice.  Then you perceive only suffering and death — not only His, but your own — and you cannot see the Resurrection.

Then you are like Israel, backed up against the Red Sea, hounded by Pharaoh, and scared to death, even though your Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and the angel of death has passed over you.

But now give attention to the Holy Gospel you have heard again this morning.  It is not in the tomb that you will find Jesus, nor in the garden, but in His voice, calling you by name, calling you from death to life in Him.  Where Christ is now laid is upon your heart by the Holy Spirit with the Word of the Gospel, that you may believe in Him, and that, believing, you may have life in His name.

But why, then, are you weeping?  Whether within your heart and mind or outwardly for all to see, why do you sorrow and cry?  What is the matter?  Why are you so troubled and so sad?

When you look at your life, what do you see and perceive?  If it is not Christ Jesus and His joy, where and how are you looking?  What do you seek, if not Him, who is both crucified and risen?

Do you not know, and have you not heard?  Have you not yet understood the Holy Scriptures, that the Christ must rise from the dead?  Not only in Himself, but for you, and in you by His grace.

Let Him be your Teacher and Rabboni.  Listen to Him, and learn from Him.  Hear and heed His voice, as He is calling you by name; for you are His own sheep, and He is your Good Shepherd.

Do not attempt to grasp or cling to the Lord Jesus Christ in this world as you have come to know it in your comfort zone.  Your worldly wisdom, knowledge, and experience never will be able to find or comprehend Him.  But, no, be rid of the yeast and leaven of this body and life on earth — not by hiding yourself away or taking your own life, but by the cleansing Word of Christ Jesus.

Repent of your sorrow and despair, that you may feast upon the same Lord Jesus Christ, your true Passover Lamb, who has been sacrificed for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.

But, again, how shall you find Him, that you may feast upon Him in faith and with thanksgiving?

Hear His Word to you, and so receive what His voice gives to you, which is nothing less than Himself, His Father and His Spirit, His Life and health and every good, His Body and His Blood.  For with His Word He reveals Himself to you, gives Himself to you, and brings you through the Red Sea (and the Jordan) to His Father in heaven — who is now also your God and your Father.

Cling to your Savior and Good Shepherd, then, by hearing His Word and treasuring it in your heart and life.  For with His Word, indeed, He places Himself into your hand, into your mouth and body.  So does He pour out His holy and precious Blood for you, which covers you and shields you from death and the devil.  And He feeds you with His crucified and risen Body.

Consider that!  Have you not heard?  His Body has not been lost or taken away, but it is given to you here and now within His Church on earth; so that your body, also, shall likewise be raised up from death to life and glorified in Him; and that your heart may find true peace and joy in Him.

Today and every day, He is your Strength and your Song; for He has become your Salvation!  He was put to death for your sins, but He is risen for your justification.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

02 April 2021

Behold the One True Man of God

Dear Christians, one and all, your God and Father loves you.  He is not mad at you; He is at peace with you in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son.  And He is not mean.  You have known meanness, and you have been mean yourself, but your God and Father is not mean.  He is not cruel, as the devil would have you believe, but gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in Love.

Everything He does proceeds in Love.  And in His great Love for you, He desires to give you only good things — because He desires that you should live with Him forever in faith and love.

So does your Father give you good gifts.  And not only that, but He also gives you the freedom to receive them and to enjoy them.  Indeed, He gives you the freedom to love Him, or to leave Him.  He takes that risk, because He desires to have a real relationship with you.  He would have you be His dear child, His friend, a member of His Bride, and not His slave.  So He gives you freedom.

But His earnest desire is that you would love Him — that you would love and trust in Him above all others and all other things — not because He is insecure, prideful, or selfish, but that you should have true and lasting Life in Him who is your greatest good.  It is true that He is jealous, as the Scriptures testify.  He is a jealous God.  But understand that He is jealous for you — not as though He were petty, the way that you are sometimes petty — but He is jealous for you because He loves you, the way a husband is jealous for his wife and a mother for her child.  He will not permit any other gods to take you from Him, nor to rob you of His Life and Light and Love.

In much the same way, and for the very same reason, He is angry with your sin, and He punishes your sin, because your sin cuts you off from Him; your sin causes you harm and is killing you.

Therefore, your God and Father in heaven disciplines you in His great love for you, as any loving father must disciplines his sons and daughters.  He thereby calls you to repentance and to faith.

You parents, if your child were running out into the road, into the path of a car, you would holler at him or her, you would reach out to stop him or her, and you would be angry — not because you desire your child’s hurt, but precisely because you desire that your child not be hurt.  And when your Father disciplines you, that is likewise what He is about.  But His Love is more pure and more perfect than that of any father or mother here on earth.  His desire is always that you would live.

It is by repentance and faith that you live in and with Him, and that is a high and holy calling.  And it is for such Life that He has created you in love.  To live in that way, by faith in God, is to live as true Man in the Image of God.  To live by such faith is to be truly human, to be a man or a woman as the Lord your God intends.  And to live by such faith is to trust and rely upon the Word of your God and Father in all circumstances, even if everything else is screaming contradiction.

To live by faith in God is to wait on Him in steady hope and quiet confidence.  It is to give thanks in both prosperity and poverty.  It is to be patient in affliction.  It is to be patient with your family, as your God and Father in heaven is patient and long-suffering with you.  It is to be patient with your neighbor, gladly forgiving and continuing to do good to those who trespass against you.  It is to suffer all manner of wrongs and hurts and sorrows in the certain promise of the Resurrection, not striking back or seeking revenge, but calling on the Lord to vindicate and save you in love.  To live by faith in God is to have your heart so fixed on Him that even in death you fear no evil.

It is for such life that you have been created in the Image of God, and to such a life you are called.  What is more, the One who calls you is faithful and true.  He’s not playing games with you.  He’s not teasing you or tricking you.  The Life to which He calls you is a blessed and beautiful Life, notwithstanding the fact that it is obtained for you and given to you by the way of the Cross.

The One who calls you is faithful and true — not only because He is God, and so of course He keeps His Word and promises — but because He truly loves you from His great heart of Love.  With the very depths of His Being He loves you; and everything He does proceeds in that Love.

His Love for you is unmatched and unsurpassed.  But it is not uncontested.  Indeed, the Love of God is resisted and rejected on all sides, within and without.  Your own sinful heart is covetous; you desire what God has not given you, and you desire what is not God.  The whole world, too, is idolatrous.  It worships things.  It loves the creature while hating the Creator.  It is not content with what God has given, but strives to get for itself.  Meanwhile, the devil is furious and rages against you; he is hateful and murderous, and he does whatever it takes to deceive you, mislead you, and destroy you.  Thus do the devil, the world, and your own fallen flesh conspire against you — and against the Life and Love of God, which He desires to give you freely in Christ Jesus.

“Skin for skin,” the devil says, as he did when he went after righteous Job.  “Skin for skin.”  And all too easily, all too often, you fall into that trap.  When God commands you to love Him, you regard that as too burdensome.  And when He commands you to love your neighbor, you regard that as unfair and unrealistic.  When God punishes your sin, you do not perceive His love for you, but only wrath and anger, as though He were out to get you and destroy you.  So, too, when He disciplines you in love and calls you to repentance and faith, you run away from Him and flee to the false “freedom” of idolatry.  You make a god of yourself and try to make a life for yourself.

Although the Lord your God is so desirous to give you real Life with Himself, you prefer to go your own way, futilely supposing that you’ll do better on your own.  The fact is that, while your sinful heart is dreadfully afraid of death, it actually knows nothing other than the pursuit of death.  You don’t fear God as you should, and yet you are afraid of Him.  You worry that He’s out to get you, and so you run away and try to hide — running yourself headlong into death and destruction.

Do fear the Lord your God — not in the terror of death, but in faith and love — because there is forgiveness, salvation, and Life with Him in the Flesh and Blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.

It is your sin that brings you to sorrow, grief, and death.  But in His Love for you, in order to save you, the Son of God has taken all of that upon Himself, all your sin, your sorrow, grief, and death.

Behold the Lamb of God, the one true Man of God, who takes away your sins and the sins of the whole world.  In Him, in His Body on the Cross, you behold the Lord your God as He is, perfect in Love.  And in Him you also behold true Man, as Man was meant to be, perfect in faith and love.

In this Man, all that has been broken, including your relationship with God, is repaired and healed and made new.  In His Body of Flesh and Blood, God completes and fulfills His good Creation.

It is in Christ Jesus that Man lives with God by faith and lives in love for God and man.  It is in Him that Man is rescued from sin and death, vindicated in righteousness, and prevails in peace.  For He trusted in His God and Father, He humbled Himself and became obedient, even unto death upon the Cross; and His God and Father saved Him from out of death and the grave, and granted Him the Victory of Life in His bodily Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension into heaven.  That Victory is not yet seen, except by the eyes of faith in His Word, but it is already true in Him.

In His Passion and on the Cross, Christ Jesus has nothing but His God and Father.  And when even His God and Father turns away from Him in righteous judgment against the sins of the world that He bears vicariously in His Body, the Lord Jesus still calls upon God as His God and His Father.  He does not curse, but He believes.  He perseveres in faith.  And He is heard because of His piety.

So it is that sin and death and all that separate you from God is undone.  The brokenness is broken, and death is put to death, because this one true Man, Christ Jesus, remains faithful even unto death.  He lives and dies in perfect faith and holy love.  And all of this He does for you, in your skin, in your own flesh, so that sin and the curse of death and all their hold on Man are utterly defeated.

Everything is achieved and accomplished in Christ Jesus, and established for you in Christ Jesus, in His Body of Flesh and Blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, so your relationship with God is safe and sound in Him.

God and Man, faith and love, righteousness and peace, all are in perfect harmony in Christ Jesus.  And all His faithfulness, His Faith and Love, His Cross and Resurrection, and His Life with God, all of these are yours by the grace of His Gospel.  That is what He gives to you, into your body, from His Cross and from His Altar in His Church, that you should live with Him in body and soul.

Here is not only God’s pledge and promise to you, but the one true God and Man given to you.  And in the Body and Blood of God the Son, God the Father’s heart is fully open to you in Love, for He thus delights to give you every good and perfect gift in Christ Jesus.  Whatever else may happen to you in this poor life of labor, the Life and Love of God are yours in Him forevermore.

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

01 April 2021

Given and Poured Out for You and for the Many

It is a common but misleading error to think of the Lord’s Supper as simply a “means to an end,” as one of many other means of forgiveness.  To be sure, it is a gracious means of forgiveness, and so also of Life and Salvation with God in Christ Jesus.  But this Chief Part of the Christian faith and life — the Sacrament of the Altar — is really the crescendo and fulfillment of everything else.

In the First Chief Part, the Ten Commandments reveal your sin and demonstrate your desperate need for a Savior from sin, death, and hell; and they provide you with the Word of God that you need to examine yourself honestly and rightly, so that you are able to confess your sins and receive the Lord’s Holy Absolution by way of the Fifth Chief Part, the Office of the Keys & Confession.

In the Second Chief Part, the Apostles’ Creed confesses and declares the Church’s holy faith in the Word and promises of the Holy Triune God, who grants Life, Life, and more Life to His people in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.  And all this Life that you receive from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is given to you, personally, in the Fourth Chief Part, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, whereby you are God’s own child, united with the Lord Jesus Christ in His Cross & Resurrection.

In the Third Chief Part, the Our Father teaches and gives to you the very Words with which to pray as a baptized child of God in Christ Jesus, calling on His Name with bold confidence for all that you need in both body and soul.  And all of these things that you believe, teach, confess, and pray for, the Lord graciously places into your hands, upon your lips, and into your mouth and body in the Sacrament of the true Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, given and poured out for you.

Far from being a means to some other end, the Lord’s Supper is the very Foretaste of the End — a very present and real participation in the divine, eternal Life and Salvation of the Holy Triune God.  It is, indeed, Paradise itself here on earth, in the face of Satan, sin, and death, and in the midst of this fallen and perishing world with all its sickness and sorrow.  What more could you ask or hope for than the Body and Blood of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus, your Savior and God?  In truth, nowhere are you closer or more intimately united to Him in this body and life on earth.

Of course, much time has been spent in the course of Christian history arguing over the presence of Christ Jesus in His Holy Supper.  Such arguments are a shame, but the Body and Blood of Christ in His Sacrament are not incidental, inconsequential, or irrelevant, but central and fundamental.  To put it bluntly, it is worth fighting about; the Truth is that important.

You cannot know or embrace the true significance of the Holy Communion without knowing what the Sacrament of the Altar is: “The true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”  Anything else or less than the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, which He gives to you here, would leave you without the forgiveness and grace, life and salvation with which He feeds your body and soul in His Supper.

Along with this confession, that the Sacrament of the Altar is the true Body and Blood of Jesus, given and poured out for you and for the many, there is also the larger significance of this Blessed Sacrament for your faith and life in Christ.  We could hardly begin to exhaust that significance, even if we spoke of nothing else from now until eternity.  But I have often found that three Old Testament precursors are especially helpful in grasping the meaning and purpose of this Supper.

Probably the most obvious Old Testament precursor to the Lord’s Supper — indeed, the context in which it was first given and poured out for you and for the many — is the Passover, which was so central and instrumental to the Lord’s deliverance of His Israel from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke.

You’ve heard the beginning of that story again this evening.  When the Lord was about to bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt by His mighty arm and outstretched hand — when He would send His Angel of Death throughout the land to slay the firstborn son in each and every household — He prescribed the Passover as a means of grace to be eaten by those who trusted in Him.

Instead of the firstborn sons of Israel, each household would sacrifice a male lamb without spot or blemish.  On the night of the Exodus from Egypt, the blood of that lamb would be applied to the doorposts and lintel of each home — in the shape of a cross! — to protect the family from the Angel of Death; and within that house the flesh of the lamb would be eaten as a meal of salvation.

All of this was a marvelous exercise of the Lord’s mercy upon Israel.  But as with everything in the Old Testament, the Passover also pointed forward to the coming of the Christ and His Cross.

Indeed, the true Passover Lamb is our dear Lord Jesus, the Christ.  He is the firstborn Son of God, who willingly offered His Life as a sacrificial Lamb in the stead of the entire world.  And now, in His Holy Supper, His Blood covers you from death, His Flesh is given as your Meal of Salvation.

Following the Exodus from Egypt — after all the people had been “baptized into Moses in the Cloud and in the Sea,” as St. Paul writes  — the Lord established His Covenant with the sons of Israel at Mt. Sinai.  He declared Himself to be their God, and He blessed them to be His people.

At the foot of that sacred Mountain of God, sacrifices of oxen were made on behalf of the people.  Then Moses took half of the blood from those sacrifices and sprinkled it on the Altar as an offering to the Lord.  And the other half of the same blood he sprinkled on the people to seal the Covenant between them and the Lord their God.  “This is the blood of the Covenant,” he said as he did so.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death upon the Cross, took up those same Words of Moses and made them uniquely His own in the pouring out of His Blood of the New Covenant for His disciples to drink in the Sacrament.  So does He now give you to drink from His Cup, the New Covenant or Testament in His Blood, here at His Altar.  The same Blood that He offered to the Father on the Cross, He now pours out for His people to drink as the Seal, Pledge, and Guarantee of His free forgiveness, eternal Life, and Salvation.

We typically think and speak of the “Old” and “New Testaments” as collections of Books in the Bible.  But in actual fact, the Old Testament was really that Blood of the Covenant at Mt. Sinai; and the New Testament, likewise, according to the Words of our Lord Jesus Himself, is the Cup of His own Blood which He pours out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of sins.

That is the “New Covenant” that God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah, in which He gives Himself to each and all of His dear children.  For He comes to you and feeds you with His own Body and Blood, intimately uniting Himself to you, and giving you His Life in body and soul.

If you pray that He would be your God, if you would be and live as His child, then learn from Him to seek and to find the answer to that prayer in His Sacrament of the Altar, His New Testament.

As the sons of Israel then wandered in the wilderness on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan, you know how the Lord provided them with Manna from Heaven.  In fact, we  recently heard reference to that daily bread with which He fed them so faithfully all those years.

Well, the Lord Jesus reveals in one of His sermons, recorded by St. John, that the Manna was really pointing forward to the true and living Bread from Heaven — that is, to Christ Jesus Himself, the  Word of God who became Flesh and tabernacles with us; who has come down from the bosom of the Father in heaven, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order to save us all from sin and death.

The Bread that He gives for the life of the world is His own Flesh.  He says so, Himself.  So does He also promise that whoever eats His Flesh and drinks His Blood will never die — as those who ate the Manna did — but they will live forever in and with Him, sharing His divine eternal Life.

It is, of course, this true Bread from Heaven, this Flesh and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that He spreads before you in this Feast of His Holy Supper, here at His Table in His House.  And it is of the greatest significance and benefit — for you — because of the Words with which He gives to you His Body to eat and pours out His Blood for you to drink, for the forgiveness of your sins.

His Words of Institution — the Verba Testamenti with which He gives this Holy Supper — and His Body and Blood thus given — indicate, first of all, the meaning and purpose of His Sacrifice; that no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly in faith and love, handed over by His God and Father to His Cross and Passion for the reconciliation of the world.  Thus did He sacrifice Himself in obedience to His Father and with divine compassion for you and all people.

And just as He offered up His Body and His Blood in sacrificial death for you and all upon the Cross, so does He now hand over His Body and Blood to you and to the many, to eat and to drink, in order to give to His disciples all the fruits and benefits of His Sacrifice.  Apart from His Words — that these most Holy Things are here given for you — you would hardly dare to take the Body and Blood of the almighty and eternal Son of God upon your lips; nor could you ever do so.  But the fact is that He has spoken — and His words, for you, invite you to believe and trust in Him.

Take these precious and priceless Words to heart, and so also take the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus into your mouth with peace and joy and hope and confidence in Him.  There is no greater treasure in heaven or on earth than these sacred Gifts.  And your own dear Savior desires nothing more than this, that you should receive them as your very own, as your participation in His Life.

When you are tempted by the devil, by the world, and by your own flesh to avoid the Sacrament — whether it be out of a misguided sense of humility or a false sense of unworthiness, as though you could ever be worthy of yourself to eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ — or whether it be out of laziness or pride — consider the good advice that Dr. Luther gives in the Catechism:

“What should encourage a Christian to receive the Sacrament frequently?”

In respect to God, both the command and the promise of Christ the Lord should move him, and in respect to himself, the trouble that lies heavy on him, on account of which such command, encouragement, and promise are given.

“But what shall a person do if he be not sensible of such trouble and feel no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?”

To such a person no better advice can be given than this:

First, that he put his hand into his bosom, and feel whether he still have flesh and blood, and that he by all means believe what the Scriptures say of it (in Galatians and Romans).

Second, that he look around to see whether he is still in the world, and keep in mind that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say (in John’s Gospel and 1st Epistle).

Third, he will certainly have the devil also about him, who with his lying and murdering, day and night, will let him have no peace within or without, as the Scriptures picture him (in John’s Gospel, as well as First Peter, Ephesians, and Second Timothy).

In all things, at all times and in all places, it is the Word of the Lord that catechizes you in the true Christian faith and life.  And Christ be praised that, by His Word and promise, you have such a sure and certain refuge in His Body and His Blood — given into death upon the Cross for your Atonement and Redemption — and now given and poured out for you here in His Supper for the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and for Life and Salvation with Him in body and soul.

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

28 March 2021

The Sanity of the “New Normal” in the Self-Sacrifice of Christ Jesus

The fallen world is dumbfounded by the Self-Sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the Cross.  The world recognizes and admires the self-sacrifice of duty on the part of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save others; and by the same token, the world is critical of those who shirk their duties and run away from danger when it comes, including those who end their own lives to avoid difficulties.  But the fallen world is not able to comprehend the true glory of the Cross.

The world does not perceive the bullet that Christ Jesus takes on our behalf, the deadly bomb that He smothers and absorbs with His own Body to save us.  Nor does the world realize the ransom that Christ Jesus pays to redeem us all from the destruction we deserve.  The Cross appears to be, not the faithfulness of duty, but simply foolishness; not the glory of heroic rescue from danger, but a futile waste, a misguided effort, a failed mission, and a dismal loss.  Or, at best, the world might think of our crucified Lord Jesus as a martyr for some tragic ideological cause. 

Confronted with the Cross of Christ, the world slips easily into cynical unbelief and proud idolatry.  If that’s what God is like, well then, no thanks!  Cold reason kicks into gear and begins to calculate survival.  Hardness of heart sets in, not only against God, but also against the neighbor.  Sacrifice may be fine, to a certain extent, if there’s some return on the investment, some marketable glory to be gained.  Every move is governed by the twin goals of self-preservation and self-promotion.

Your own fallen flesh is no different.  But, ironically, by that way of thinking — by resisting and fleeing from the Cross — you run headlong into the spiritual self-destruction of apostasy.  In trying to protect yourself and preserve your life by rejecting the Cross and the Crucified One, you make a show of strength and competence, but you cut yourself off from the only true and lasting Life.

Alternatively, the fallen world and your fallen flesh sometimes simply fall apart when confronted by the Cross; that is to say, instead of cold logic and calculated strategy, there is a kind of craziness or madness that emerges and erupts in your thinking, speaking, and acting.  Not hardness of heart, but insanity, lawlessness, and perversity of every kind.  The nervous system comes unglued, the mind becomes unhinged, and open foolishness begins to reign.  Faced with the consequences of sin, the certainty of death, and the condemnation of the Law — which is precisely what you see in Christ Jesus on the Cross — there is the panic, the chaos and confusion of a waking nightmare.

So, what are you to make of all this, when the so-called “real world” seems so solid, so objective, and so certain, and yet so often explodes in ways that expose just how unstable and unreliable it really is.  If the whole past year has not made it obvious that this old world and your own flesh are perishing and passing away, you don’t have to wait long or go looking for many more examples to prove the point.  Just consider the ten people gunned down at the grocery store this past week.

At the same time, the true reality — that of the Holy Triune God and His Word, His Kingdom and His Righteousness — and His dwelling Place, the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens — that all sounds so imaginary and fantastic, so make-believe and fairy-tale foolish.

It all sound too good to be true, to begin with.  But then it turns out to be manifested and bestowed by way of the Cross and suffering — which seems and feels like exactly the opposite of good.

Your instinct says that sanity ought to be rather savvy, reasonable, and strong, the way the world likes it and wants it to be.  But here the “sanity” of God enters in with this strange foolishness, in humility and weakness, seated on a donkey’s back.  The Lord God empties Himself and makes Himself nothing.  He submits Himself, in utter poverty and human shame, to death upon the Cross.

This divine wisdom appears to be absolutely crazy, as though God were actually out of His mind.  And yet, you also are called to have this mind of God in yourself, to share this bizarre “sanity” of Christ Jesus, which is the mysterious divine wisdom of His Cross and Passion.  And that is yours only by faith in the Word of God.  It is not by sight or sense, nor by emotion and experience.

The fact is that outward appearances are utterly deceiving.  So, what is really going on here?

The “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem is the Lord’s selection and identification of the true Passover Lamb.  That’s what’s going on in the Holy City on this day: God the Father chooses His own beloved Son, without spot or blemish, and hands Him over to be sacrificed for the Feast.

Hence, Christ Jesus comes and enters in; and then He becomes the King of the Jews — He saves His people now — by entering upon His Holy Passion and ascending the throne of His Cross.

He goes up to Jerusalem in order to enter the Most Holy Place once for all by His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross, by the voluntary shedding of His own Blood.  He thereby atones for the sins of the world and redeems mankind at the cost of His own Life, freely given in faith and love.

It is in this way that Christ Jesus establishes the New Covenant in Himself — in His own Body, with His own Blood.  That is to say, He reconciles the world to God in Himself.  Consequently, heaven and earth, God and Man are perfectly and permanently united and at Peace in Him.

The evidence and testimony of that reconciliation are given by God the Father in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ Jesus.  For the very One who died for you, bearing your sins, has been raised up and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  What is more, His reconciliation is also given here and now — to you — in the New Covenant of His Body and His Blood.

The Lord’s Supper is the Meat and Drink of that Passover Meal — of that Lamb who was chosen by God and sacrificed for the salvation of the world.  His Flesh feeds you.  His Blood cleanses you from sin and covers you from death.  And this is the Redemption that Christ has obtained for you.

This is the true wisdom of His Cross, the true sanity and stability of His salvation, the true victory of Christ which prevails for you against all of your enemies, against sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Therefore, wherever you have given up or despaired of any hope, return to this Stronghold, to this New Covenant of Christ the Crucified.  For this very day, He declares, He restores double to you.

The Lord is faithful, who calls you to Himself and promises to save you, and He will surely do it.

The world does have its own victories of self-sacrificing love, its own heroes, its own martyrs for good causes: Soldiers who put their lives on the line in defense of others.  Firefighters and police officers who brave real dangers every day for the safety of their neighbors.  Regular citizens who step into the breach.  Mothers and fathers who sacrifice in countless ways to care for their children.

For a good cause, for a good person, for a good friend, for their families, there are indeed many people willing to risk their lives, and even to die.  And man has no greater love to give than that.

The world, in its own way, honors those sacrifices, though it does so with sadness, with memories of the past and monuments to that which has been lost and won’t ever be gotten back again.

For all that, the Love of God in Christ Jesus and His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross are far greater.  For while we were yet sinners — not good people, but bad — not friends of God, but enemies at odds with Him — even then, the Father gave His Son, and the Son laid down His Life for us all.

And consider what His love has done: He has reconciled you and all the world to Himself.  He has befriended His enemies.  He has brought an end to the war that would not end, and now He speaks peace to all the nations.  In place of chaos, He bestows calm.  Instead of insanity and instability, He has become your solid Foundation, the wise Master Builder of a House that shall not fall.

In the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, He has given you a future and a hope.  Indeed, He is your Future and your Hope, your Life and your Salvation, your Strength and your Song, because He is not dead and gone but victorious and alive forevermore.  His dominion is from sea to shining sea; from the Tigris and Euphrates, and from the Jordan River, to the ends of the earth.

And here is the real irony of the Cross: The world is a better place because of His death; because, by His atoning Self-sacrifice, He has established a peaceful connection and profound communion between God and Man.  He has removed the great divide, brought down the wall of hostility, and replaced the stone cold loneliness of sin and death with His divine friendship and camaraderie.

That is the “new normal,” which is eternal and permanent in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus; and which is also true and real, sure and certain for you, as well.  The world is now a better place for you and for your neighbor, because of who you are in Christ Jesus — God’s own dear child, buried with Christ by your Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.

So it is that your life in the flesh — even now in the midst of this fallen and perishing world — even now under the Cross — your life in the flesh and all your labors of love on behalf of all your neighbors, be they friends or foes — none of this is pointless but meaningful and significant.  Your faith in Christ and His Cross is not foolish but true divine wisdom, which is forever and ever.

For God has highly exalted the Crucified One, and has given Him the Name which is above every name.  Therefore, at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow — in heaven and on earth, and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What, then, shall we offer to the Lord for all His benefits to us?

Let us offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.  Indeed, let us take up the Cup of Salvation, which He pours out for you and for the many, and let us call on the Name of the Lord in peace.  For everyone who calls on His Name shall be saved.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

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