04 September 2022

The Things That Make for Peace

People certainly do start projects they can’t finish.  They do it all the time — maybe due to pride, or maybe out of desperation — without a lot of forethought or planning, perhaps, or with a naive optimism.  And not just other people, you do it, too.  You take on more than you can manage.  You make promises that you won’t be able to keep — maybe with the best of intentions, or maybe just to keep the wolves at bay for a little while longer.  You write checks that your body can’t cash.  And you go into debt buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have.

The same spirit of competition and self-advancement that drives you to do such things, beyond your actual capacities and limitations, also puts you into conflict with everyone around you.  So, along with all the rest of it, you take on opponents that you can’t hope to defeat or overcome.  “Eye of the tiger” and all that, sure, but this, too, is vanity.  And you’re not alone in your bravado.  From the playground to the White House, the sons and daughters of Adam pick fights they can’t win.

All of this is foolishness, which is always easier to spot in the choices and decisions of the other guy than it is to admit in yourself.  But you know better, or you should.  To tackle more than you can handle is foolish.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and resources, all of which could have been, and should have been, put to some better use.  And as the Lord Jesus points out, you not only suffer the loss of your investment, but embarrassment and shame in the eyes of all who see it.

The stakes are that much higher in the case at hand in this Word of our Lord.  Be wise, therefore, and consider this: If the war you want to win is the judgement of God’s holy and righteous Law, and if the goal you want to reach is that of real Life and genuine prosperity in the heavenly places, there’s only one way to gain that victory and only one way to arrive at that goal.  Only one way, and that not of yourself; it is solely by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by following Him through death and the grave into His Resurrection and Life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

It is by the way of the Cross.  But what does that mean?  To take up the Cross and bear it after Christ is not an exercise program or a disciplined new diet, whereby you strive to build yourself up and improve your overall health and well-being.  There is a place for such discipline in this body and life, and in your spiritual life, as well.  But the Cross does not aim at a better you.  It’s not a matter of self-improvement.  To take up your own cross is to embrace your own execution.

To be a disciple of Christ Jesus, to take up His Cross and follow after Him, is to renounce yourself entirely.  It is to disavow your collections and your trophies, your prizes and scrapbooks.  It is to disregard, not only your possessions, your perishable stuff, but all the best parts of you, that is to say, your wisdom, your reason, your strength, and all of your achievements.  To bear the Cross is to be done with all of your self-righteousness.  And with that, it redefines all of your relationships, as well, with family, friends, and neighbors.  To be crucified is not to get stronger and healthier; it is to die to yourself and your life in this fallen and perishing world.

So, then, give up building your own towers, and stop trying to fight your own battles, because the truth is, you can’t reach the heavens, nor can you win the war, by any ways or means of your own.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can make it or complete it.  You can’t.  Think about it.  When all the world was united following the Flood, the descendants of Noah set out to build a mighty tower, in order to make a name for themselves, to achieve their own fame and glory — in disobedience to the Word of God.  And it sure seemed like there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do.  But the Lord set Himself against them, confused their communications, and terminated their grand building project.  They could do nothing, finally, except what the Lord determined and permitted.

The “rich fool,” likewise, as we heard from Jesus a few weeks ago, considered his crops and his storage barns, carefully counted his costs and his profits, and then made his plans to build more and bigger barns for all his grain, to store up his wealth for many years to come.  But then his life came to an abrupt end, and he wasn’t able to carry out his plans, nor to benefit from all his crops.

When it comes to battles and warfare, consider the history of Moses and the Israelites, of Joshua and the subsequent Judges, especially Gideon, Samson, and Samuel, and the stories of King Saul and King David.  It is the Lord who fights for His people, whether with only a few men or many.  And where He has spoken, it doesn’t matter if the enemy has hundreds or thousands of soldiers, chariots and horsemen, weapons of bronze, or nine-foot giants — the battle belongs to the Lord.

By the same token, whenever Israel proceeds apart from the Word and promise of God, then they are soundly defeated and put to flight, like flea-bitten dogs with their tails between their legs.

When it comes right down to it, it’s not the number of people you have lined up on your side, nor the number of dollars in your portfolio, nor the extent of your military savvy, strength, and skill, but the Word and Spirit of God are alone decisive.  When you proceed according to His Word, even in great weakness you will succeed and prosper; and when you follow your own self-chosen path apart from His Word, you will fail and fall apart.  Not according to the measure of the world, but according to the divine Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Which is to say that it may look as though you’ve got the bases covered, but you don’t; whereas, again, when you are being crucified and put to death, and you suffer all manner of hardships and major setbacks, it may be that the Lord Himself is bringing you through those trials and tribulations into Glory.

The logic of the Cross is not intuitive or rational.  You can’t figure it out by instinct or calculation.  It is something you are taught by the Word-made-Flesh.  You learn from Him as you listen to His preaching, and as you follow after Him and live with Him on the paradoxical Way of His Cross.

Thus do you learn from Christ Jesus that the wealth and ability by which you live and prosper — the ways and means by which you are completed and preserved, rescued and sustained — these are not your own, neither are they in your own power or possession, but they are found in the fear of the Lord, that is, by repentance and faith in His Word, in His commands and promises.

The blessing of the Lord your God, the Holy Trinity — His gift of Life and prosperity — is found in Christ the Crucified, the Incarnate Son.  In this foolishness of God, which is wiser than man.  In this weakness of God, which is stronger than man.  In this death of God for the life of the world.

The Cross and Passion of the Christ is the divine blessing by which you are saved.  By contrast, to rely upon your yourself, upon your family and the whole gamut of your possessions, as though to achieve and keep life for yourself by these means, that is the curse of idolatry, sin, and death.  You cannot overcome it, but, ironically, the harder that you try, the more you will succumb to it.  It is both sinful and self-defeating to rely upon yourself and your own assets; for that puts you at odds with God, and you will not be able to withstand Him or survive when He comes against you.

This does not mean that your body and life, your place in the world, your family and friends, and all the stuff that God has put into your hands is somehow bad or evil.  When the Lord Jesus speaks of “hating” your parents and children, spouse and siblings, for example, He is not describing an emotion or feeling of dislike or disgust, but objective choices and decisions, actions and behaviors, whereby you refuse to worship any other god than the Lord, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The person that you are, the people that God has placed around you in the world, and the portion of His creation that He has entrusted to your stewardship in this life on earth, all of that is good and right in its own proper place.  This is the good salt of which Jesus speaks, with which the Lord has seasoned you along the way; and it is meant to season the sacrifice that you are to offer unto Him by faith.  What I mean by that is this: You receive all that you are and have from God’s gracious hand, and so do you render it all back to Him, to the honor, praise, and glory of His Holy Name.

You should not despise what God has given to you; but neither should you worship and depend upon the creature in the place that belongs to the Creator.  You should neither demonize nor idolize the good gifts of God, but receive them in faith and sanctify their use by His Word and prayer.  Then the good salt is put to its godly purpose, and your sacrifice is seasoned with thanksgiving.

Attempting to use the salt, instead, to buy or build or battle your way into heaven, is worthless.  Not only does it do you no good, but it also robs the salt of its good worth, and of its saltiness, so that it becomes useless and even detrimental — not in itself, that is, but in your use of it, or misuse.

The salt is rightly used, as I have said, when it accompanies the sacrifice of yourself unto God, whereby you renounce all reliance on yourself, and you relinquish yourself and all your stuff to the Lord your God, in the confidence that all good things are from Him, both for now and for ever.

Such is the Sacrifice and Salt of Christ Jesus, who sets an example for you to follow in His steps.  In Him is the Way of discipleship, that is, the Way of the Cross, the Way of repentance, faith, and love, by which He obtains life and prosperity for you and for all of His disciples after Him.

He relies, not on Himself, but on His Father.  He looks to His Father in faith and receives all things from Him; and yet, He does not cling to anything, but He offers it up with Himself as a sacrifice.  Indeed, He renounces Himself entirely, and gives Himself up to the Cross, in order to be honored by His Father.  He stakes everything on the Glory of God, on the promise of the Resurrection; not for His own advantage or benefit, but for the good of His neighbor, for your sake, in holy love.

He is the one Man who is willing and actually able to pay the cost, to finish the work that He has been given to do, to establish, build, and complete the tower that reaches to the Father in heaven.  But notice that He finishes the task and pays the price, not with cash or credit, paper or plastic, but with His own holy and precious Blood.  Rather than avoiding embarrassment and the ridicule of the world, He humbles Himself and bears the shame of sinners, trusting in God’s vindication.

Outwardly speaking, He appears to be undone, outnumbered, and overcome.  He saved others, and yet, or so it seems, He cannot save Himself.  More to the point, He chooses not to save Himself, nor to exalt Himself, but He waits upon the Father to save Him from out of death and to exalt Him in the highest.  He does not build a tower to make a Name for Himself, but He is lifted up on the Cross to the glory of God.  He willingly submits to death, and He suffers Himself to be laughed at, mocked, and made fun of, in order to rely entirely upon the Word and promise of His Father.

Although He has 10,000 angels at His command, any one of which could take out His enemies — and even though He is the “stronger Man,” indeed, the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made — He defeats the ruler of this world, and He reconciles the world to God, by the voluntary sacrifice of Himself, contrary to every wisdom and strategy of this mortal world.

Rather than crushing His enemies and establishing justice by brute force and raw violence against those who oppose Him, He makes for Peace and Righteousness by His Cross and Resurrection.

And this same Peace and Righteousness are what He gives to you by His grace, by the delegation of His Gospel, by the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and forgiveness of sins.

As Philemon owed his very life to the Apostle, St. Paul, on account of the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, so does your whole life derive from and depend upon the Gospel of the same Lord.  As you are crucified with His Cross by the preaching of repentance, so are you raised up with His Resurrection by His free forgiveness of all your sins, unto faith and life and prosperity forever.

By His preaching the dear Lord Jesus seasons you with the salt of His own Sacrifice, so as to preserve you in Himself and bring you to His Father in perfect peace and joy, as He Himself has returned to the right hand of the Father in righteousness and holiness, blessedness and glory.

Here, then, receive these Holy Things which make for Peace with God: The Word of the Gospel, which absolves you of all your sins, and the Body and Blood of your Savior, Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for your Life and Salvation in and with Him.

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

29 August 2022

Put to Death and Raised to Life in and with Christ Jesus

You’re fascinated by St. John the Baptist.  No surprise — he is a fascinating man.  But at the same time, you’re also scared to death of him and of his preaching.  Or, if you’re not, you should be.

Now, it may be that you like to hear his fiery preaching well enough, especially when he’s pointing the finger at somebody else, and especially when you assume that John the Baptist is long since dead and gone.  But you don’t like it at all when you find that he is still preaching repentance from the Holy Scriptures.  You don’t like it when he turns the Law of God on you and your sins, and he calls you to repent in both heart and life, to set aside your vices and actually change your behavior.

If you imagine that you do like to hear St. John call you to repentance, then you don’t understand repentance at all, and you sink that much further into your own self-righteousness, supposing that genuine repentance, faith, and life are something you can do for yourself.  I guarantee that your old Adam, who is no one other than yourself, does not like to hear the true preaching of the Law.

The preaching of St. John the Baptist does still call you to repent, and it’s a deadly serious matter.  Not only that, but your life depends upon it, because it is not lawful for you to think the things that you think; it is not lawful for you to say the things that you say; and it is not lawful for you to keep on doing the things that you are doing.  Your sins and your sinfulness are neither lawful nor safe.

It is not lawful for you to compete and fight with your brothers and sisters, nor to take their stuff away, whether it be Legos and action figures or books and video games, or whatever it might be.

And as you get older, it is equally wrong and sinful to lust after your neighbor’s wife, to crave her for yourself, and to devise ways of enticing her away from your neighbor.  So, too, it is not lawful for you to covet your neighbor’s children, his friends, his workers, or even his pets.

Nor is it lawful for you to covet the bodies and affections of young dancing girls, or any of the other provocative allurements of this world, which reign as idols in your heart and in your life.

All of your selfish, prideful kingdom building is wrong, as you arrogantly presume yourself to be a god and not a mortal man.  And yet, fearing the opinions of man more than you fear the one true God, you commit what amounts to murder in His eyes and in His righteous judgment — by the hatred and enmity in your heart toward those who are beyond your reach, and by the actual hurt and hostility that you inflict upon those who cannot protect or defend themselves from you.

It is not lawful for you to do any of these things, nor a thousand other similar sins that you commit.

But you add sin upon your sin, and you make things far worse for yourself, when you shut up the preaching of the Law, when you stop your ears to it and run away from it — when you presume to keep it on a leash, because you like to hear it “a little bit,” but you want to keep it at arm’s length, or locked up in a cage or a dungeon, and you insist that it may speak to you only when it is spoken to, and only to the extent that you permit.  You thus suppose yourself to be the master of your own domain, the king or queen of your own castle; but that’s a lie which ends in death.

Repent of your arrogance and of your sin, or you will lose more than half of your kingdom, and really far more than your head or your body in the end.

In your confrontation with St. John the Baptist, it’s kill or be killed, at least for the time being.  There’s no two ways around it.  Neither of you can live while the other one survives in this life.

And yet, here is the profound irony and the paradox of the Cross: Those who save their life in this world will lose it forever in the dungeon prepared for the devil and his wicked angels, while those who lose their life for the sake of Christ Jesus and His Gospel will save it for eternity with Him.  That is how things truly are.

To repent, as you are called to do, and to be baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus, is to put your own head on the chopping block, it is to bare your neck to the sword — to the Sword of the Spirit, at least, and, as needs may be, to the temporal sword of the king.

This isn’t fun and games.  It’s not make-believe or “let’s pretend.”  It is a fearful and deadly encounter.  No one gets out alive.  One way or the other, you are called upon to die, whether for the Resurrection and eternal Life in Christ Jesus, or for eternal death and damnation in hell.

But, now then, do not hear and see only St. John’s fearful preaching of the Law — though, by all means, do hear and heed that preaching, and repent.  But in repenting see him point and give way to Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins, who submits Himself to death and the grave on your behalf, and who raises you up with Himself, in body and soul, unto newness of life.

St. John’s entire life and ministry, his preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, his suffering, and finally his death, are all a witness and a proclamation of this one Lord Jesus Christ, of His Cross and Passion, and of His Resurrection from the dead.

Everything about St. John — from his miraculous conception and birth, from the waters of the Jordan River to the depths of Herod’s dungeon and, finally, to the tomb in which he is buried — everything about St. John is wrapped up in Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus.  Every bit of it points to the Lord Jesus Christ.  For St. John is called and sent by God to be the Forerunner of the Christ, to go before the face of the Lord and prepare His Way.  And because the Way of the Lord is the way of the Cross, the way of suffering and death, that is where St. John the Baptist goes.

The same is true for anyone else who preaches and baptizes in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it is no less the case for those who are baptized into Him, who are given His Cross to bear and are called to follow after Him, even to the point of death and the grave.  It is to that Cross of Christ, and to that death with Him, that each and all of you are called by His Word and Holy Spirit.

The Lord’s people, His saints, are so wrapped up in Christ Jesus, so identified with Him, and so also named by Him and for Him as Christians, that the world sees Christ Jesus in them.  And that is true for you, as well; for it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you, and you in Him.

And so it was that Herod could not shake the impression that Jesus the Christ really was St. John the Baptist risen from the dead.  And in a way, Herod was exactly right about that!

In the Word and works of Christ Jesus are the first fruits of His Cross and Resurrection.  For His gracious miracles of healing and new life are a blessed foretaste of the neverending Feast that has come to fruition in His Resurrection and is manifest around the world in the Liturgy of His Gospel.

For those who die with Christ Jesus, like St. John and all the baptized, Jesus’ Resurrection is their Resurrection and their imperishable Life.  His Resurrection is your Resurrection and your Life.

So also, it is in Christ Jesus that St. John and all the baptized are righteous and holy.  It is in Jesus that you are righteous and holy, blameless, innocent, and pure before God the Father in heaven.

It is in that sure and certain hope, in that confidence of Christ and His Gospel, that the disciples of St. John, with tender affection and Christian love, laid his poor mistreated body to rest in the tomb, there to await the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day.

And already, the souls of those, including St. John the Baptist, who have been slain for the sake of the Word of God — as well as those who have departed from this mortal life in the faith of Christ Jesus — find their Peace and Sabbath Rest in Him, under His Altar, in heaven as on earth.

What does this mean?  You have died with Christ in your Baptism, and so your life also is now hidden with Christ in God.

In life and in death, in body and in soul — even as you carry the Cross in your callings and stations on earth, and even when your body shall in due season be laid to rest in the dust of the ground — you are safe and secure in the Body and Blood of your crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

This true and everlasting King, who is both God and Man, prepares a Table before you in the presence of your enemies, each and all of whom He has defeated for you by His own Cross.  It is a Banquet, not for His own benefit — not to be served, but to serve you in love — to forgive you all your sins, to give you His own Life, and to save both your body and your soul forever and ever.

So, then, as your mortal body is here fed with His Life-giving Body and Blood, it is enlivened, honored, and glorified by Jesus, in preparation for and anticipation of the resurrection of your body at the last, when it shall be no longer mortal and perishable, no longer subject to sickness, infirmity, and pain, nor any more susceptible to weakness, tiredness, and fear, but immortal, and imperishable, and glorious, like unto His own glorious Body.

Your soul, as well, both now and forever, has Peace and Sabbath Rest in Christ Jesus, who has given Himself for you, who gives you His Body to eat and pours out His holy and precious Blood for you to drink in this Holy Communion.  Whether for the first time, or for the millionth time, it is for all time; it is forever.  For with this Feast He gives you, not simply half His Kingdom, but Himself with all His gifts and benefits, in whom the Kingdom of God is truly at hand.  Therefore, you are His, and He is yours, forever and ever, world without end.

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

28 August 2022

Humbled and Exalted in Christ Jesus

The Word of the Lord Jesus is plain: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.”

And the truth is that you have exalted yourself.  You have done so in the past, and you still do it.

You exalt yourself over against the Lord by sitting in judgment of Him, no less than the Pharisees and their lawyers did when they invited Him to dinner and sat there watching Him closely, testing Him, looking for a way to trap Him and accuse Him.

You may protest that, No, you don’t do that!  You love Jesus.  And you’re here this morning, after all.  But your critical assessment of His Word is a judgment against Him, an exalting of yourself.  You pick and choose which parts of His Word you will hear and heed, honor and obey.  You may listen to it, but you act as though you were free and clear to take it or leave it at your own whim.

The Law of the Lord and His commands are clear, but you do not obey them.  You do not fear, love, and trust in Him.  You place yourself and other gods above Him, as though you were the higher authority, and as though you had the last word on each and every matter in your life.

When you covet what God has given to your neighbor, for example, you accuse the Lord in your heart of being unfair to you, of holding out on you, of not giving you what you think you deserve.  In this way, too, you exalt yourself in the presence of God.

You likewise sit in judgment of others and exalt yourself over against your neighbors.  You do not deal with them in love and mercy and forgiveness.  You are not charitable toward your neighbors, as the Lord your God is so charitable toward you.  When your neighbors are in need, you may or may not try to help them.  Among your neighbors are those who go hungry, whom you do not feed; those who are sick or in prison, whom you do not visit; those who are naked and ashamed, whom you do not defend or speak well of to cover their shame and uphold them.

There are plenty of neighbors whom you do not help at all.  And many of those you do help, you help and assist because there’s something in it for you, something to improve your reputation and your assets.  There are favors to be exchanged, invitations to be received and given, friendships to be won, and palms to be greased.  After all, it’s who you know that gets you ahead in life.

Or, perhaps the benefit you get from helping some of your neighbors is a sense of self-righteous satisfaction.  It may be that you do help your neighbor in such a case, but only because it makes you feel that much better about yourself.  In that respect, again, you exalt yourself above others.

And yet, despite your unbelief, idolatry, and lack of love, you persist in exalting yourself as you presume to come into the presence of God on the basis of your own righteousness.  As though you had a right to stand before Him.  As though you had a shred of merit or worthiness in yourself.

In all of these ways, with all of your sins, you exalt yourself over and above both God and man.

And even so, the Word of the Lord remains clear: “The one who exalts himself will be humbled.”

He does not say, “may be humbled.”  No, you will be humbled.  You will be humbled by the Lord.

Pray, therefore, that you are humbled here in time, unto repentance, before it is too late; and that you are not permanently humbled in the final judgment of the living and the dead.  For those who resist and reject the Word of the Lord, who do not receive His chastening and His discipline, who refuse to repent of their sins, and who persist in exalting themselves — they will be condemned in their unbelief and sin, consigned to eternal shame and everlasting judgment.

God grant that He would humble you by His Word and Holy Spirit, not unto eternal condemnation, but unto repentance and a reliance on His mercy, unto Life everlasting in His forgiveness of sins.

Thanks be to God that, in His mercy, He does work to humble you in this way — by the preaching of His Law, and by allowing you to suffer some of the curse and consequences of your sin — in order to bring you to repentance.  He thereby turns you away from your death and destruction, away from your sin and self-exalting, that He might bring you back to Himself in faith and love.

That way of life has been opened for you.  It is possible for you to be turned around and turned back.  You can be rescued from the pit of despair into which you have fallen.  And you are able to come into the presence of the Lord your God and stand before Him in peace and confidence.

The way is open to you, because the Lord Jesus Christ has humbled Himself in order to exalt you.  In fact, He alone has truly humbled Himself.  Though He is true God in the flesh, He did not count His equality with God as something to horde for Himself, but He made Himself nothing.  He took on the form of a servant.  He humbled Himself and became obedient, even unto death on the Cross.

He has gone to the Cross bearing all of your sins in His own Body of flesh and blood — all that you have failed to do, and all that you have done which you should not.  He has borne in His Body all your griefs and sorrows, all your guilt and shame, and all of your humiliation and pain.

All that you have failed to do for your neighbors, the Lord has done for you in love.  And all that you have deserved for your sins, the judgment and punishment of the Law, He has borne for you.

He has not done it under any coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily.  He has gone willingly to His suffering and death out of His great love for His Father, and out of His great love for you and all His neighbors.  He has thus gone to His death in true righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

He has done all of this for you and your salvation.  He has taken your place.  It is in your stead that He has humbled Himself and died.  And because He has done all of this for you, on your behalf, so are His vindication, His exaltation, and His ascension all credited to you and given to you.

You are raised with Christ in His Resurrection and seated with Him in the heavenly places, in the presence of God, who welcomes you as a Father His child, with love and mercy and forgiveness.

The Lord Jesus humbled Himself unto death, and God exalted Him by raising Him from the dead, giving to Him the Name that is above every name in heaven and on earth and under the earth.  What is more, the same Lord Jesus Christ has given that Name to you in your Holy Baptism.  Everything that He has accomplished and received in His own flesh and blood, He has also given to you in both body and soul.  As you see Him rise and ascend, therefore, you see Him bring you into the presence of God in His own Body, into the heavenly Banquet of His own Wedding Feast.

You stand before God in Christ Jesus, not to be condemned, but declared righteous and dressed in His beautiful holiness and spotless perfection; not to die, but to live forever with Christ in God.

He has come down from heaven and given Himself for you, in order to make of you a member of His holy Bride, the holy Christian Church, and He your heavenly Bridegroom.

Here, then, already set before you in His Holy Supper, is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, who is your true Husband and your living Head.  You are His honored guest, for you belong to Him, to His Body and His Bride.

He has invited you here, and He has wooed you and wed you to Himself, not because of any righteousness in you, but for the sake of His Love and for the sake of His Righteousness.  He has not invited you here because you were His friend or His relative or His wealthy neighbor.  Indeed, you were none of these.  You had absolutely nothing with which you could ever have repaid Him.

But though He was rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor.  Not to line His pockets, but yours, so to speak; in order that you might inherit the real riches of God in Him.

Though you have been a child of sin and death — a child of the devil and his murderous lies, estranged from God and far removed from Him — the only-begotten Son of God has come to gather you in, to make of you a dear child of God, a beloved daughter or son of His Father in heaven, anointed by His Spirit.  So it is that you belong to His family, and all that He has is yours.

It is in His love for you that He seeks you out and gathers you in to Himself.  And in His mercy all your sins are forgiven.  All of your iniquities are pardoned.  All of your diseases and infirmities are healed.  Your sadness is turned into joy.  Your shame and humiliation are turned into honor.

Though you are a poor, miserable sinner, and you deserve nothing but punishment, and you could never repay the debt that you owe to God, and you have nothing to bring before Him, nothing to offer Him, Christ Jesus has come for you and given Himself for you.  He covers you with Himself.

He prepares a Table before you.  He sets it here in your presence.  He invites you to come and kneel at His Altar to receive these good Gifts which He freely gives.  And here you are, set before Him with your sickness unto death, with all your sins and griefs and sorrows, yet you are not turned away or cast aside.  He reaches out to you with His Word of the Gospel and with His own Life-giving Body and Blood.  He takes hold of you by grace.  He heals you and gives you Life.  He grants to you His Peace and true Sabbath Rest in His Father’s House within His holy Kingdom.

Though He does humble you with His Law, He does not do it to destroy you.  He humbles you, not to drive you away from Himself into despair, but in order to bring you into repentance and back to Himself in faith and love.  So has He done by His grace, and so He continues to do in His mercy.

And with the preaching of His Holy Gospel, His Word to you is this: “Friend, come up higher!”

He calls you His friend!  He invites you to come to His Table, to recline here with Him.  Therefore, come, and take and eat the Body of Christ, which He gives to you in peace.  And drink from this Cup His holy and precious Blood, which He pours out for you in love for the forgiveness of sins.

Here the Lord, the King, the Prince of Peace honors you; He blesses you, and He exalts you in His Righteousness, in His Resurrection from the dead.  He has pulled you out of the pit into which you had fallen.  He has lifted you up and seated you at His own side as a guest of honor at His Table.

Rejoice in the Lord, therefore.  Give thanks to Him and glorify His holy Name, forever and ever.

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

14 August 2022

The Lord Is a Fierce Foe and a Fierce Friend

The Lord is a fierce Friend, and He is a fierce Foe.  He is the sort of Friend who tells you what you need to hear, whether you like it or not.  And He is a fierce Foe of your sin, because it is your enemy, of the devil who misleads you, and of the death that permeates your fallen flesh.

The Lord is a fierce Friend, and He is a fierce Foe, but He is also the Lord your God.  He speaks with the authority that belongs to Him as the Creator of all things.  And His Word to you is fire and water — a fire that threatens to consume you, and deep water that would drown and destroy you.

The thunder of His Word shakes the mountains and causes them to tremble.  It is a fierce Word, a storm that breaks over your head with dark and billowing clouds, thunderbolts and lightning.

God is not some senile old man who simply smiles and nods as you go about your way.  He does not pat you on the back and tell you it’s okay to go on sinning.

Do not confuse His Gospel with permissiveness.  And do not suppose that you can sin all you want, “that grace may abound all the more.”  The Lord your God loves you, He does not coddle you.  He does not speak peace where your heart is set against Him — He calls you to repentance.

Is His Word not a Fire that consumes the straw and stubble and hay within you?  Is His Word not, first of all, a Hammer that crushes you by exposing your sins and condemning them as wrong?

His Word is such a fierce Fire and a strong Hammer that pounds away, not because He delights in hurt, but because the way of sin is deadly and damnable, and because the way of Life with God is altogether different than that.  So, His Law is fierce, and it is relentless; and the One who is your fierce Friend becomes your fiercest Foe in causing His Word to be preached to you without pulling any punches — until the Lord accomplishes the purposes of His heart for you in Christ Jesus.

So, for example, in the midst of Jeremiah’s strong Word of condemnation against the people of Jerusalem who did not listen to the Lord their God, who persisted in their sins, who were prideful and presumptuous and worshiped false gods — in the midst of his strong Word against the “prophets” who ran though God did not send them, who spoke according to their own hearts instead of His — the Prophet Jeremiah also speaks of the Gospel when he says, “The Lord’s wrath and anger will not be set aside until the Lord has accomplished the purposes of His heart.”

The thing is that, even when He is at His fiercest, and even when He is most ferocious with you, as though He were the roaring lion who would consume you — even then, the Lord purposes to save you by His grace in Christ Jesus, to give you Life with Him.  The purposes of His heart are deep divine Love, tender mercy and compassion, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation with Him.

It is true that God is fiercely loyal.  And it is true that, as you live and abide in Christ Jesus, your sins will not be able to separate you from the Love of God, because He has atoned for them and forgives them.  But do not imagine that God ever takes your sin lightly.  And do not suppose that your sin is ever harmless, or that it does not cause great damage to you and to your neighbors.

No, the Lord your God is relentless and ferocious, until He has accomplished His purposes for you in Christ Jesus.  So, what is it, then, that Christ has come to do?

He has not come to bring “peace on earth.”  On the contrary, He comes with a sharp, two-edged Sword, whereby He divides and conquers.  He does come to establish Peace with God.  But Peace with God results in alienation with the sinful world; to be reconciled with God in Christ Jesus is to be turned away from your sin, the enticements of the devil, and the allurements of your flesh.

It is like that Pillar of Cloud by day and Pillar of Fire by night, by which God led the sons of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and across the wilderness, until at last, through the waters of the Jordan, He brought them into Canaan as He had promised.  That Cloud and Fire were the very Glory of God in the midst of His people, which divided and separated Israel from Egypt, and so cut off the Egyptians from pursuing Israel, coming between the people of God and their enemies, Pharaoh with all his horses and chariots.  And that same divine Glory of God in Christ Jesus is set between you and your own self, between even your bones and marrow, dividing between the flesh and the spirit, between your body and soul, and at times between you and your family and friends.

It’s not as though God desires to break apart families.  Indeed, He calls you and commands you to love your spouse, to love your children, to love and honor your parents; to love your neighbor; to love even your enemies, and to pray for those who persecute you.  But He does also call you to separate yourself from unbelievers, to turn both your heart and your body away from false gods and idols, and to turn your heart, mind, eyes, and hands away from that which is your neighbor’s.

Likewise, the same Pillar of Cloud and Fire that leads you out of captivity into freedom, through the desert into the Promised Land, also separates you from Egypt — from all the sinful lusts and desires of your fallen flesh, and from all the sinful pursuits of your heart, mind, body, and soul.

Christ brings that division — for you and in you — by the way of His own Cross, which is both Law and Gospel, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  Indeed, the death of Christ Jesus is your repentance, whereby you die with Him, that you might also rise and live with Him.

The Cross of Christ is both Law and Gospel, because it is in His Body on the Cross that you see the wrath and anger of God poured out against the sins of the world, including all of your sins.

There you see the Law of God fulfilled in the condemnation and punishment of sin, but so also in the faith and love of Christ Jesus, who willingly bears such wrath and anger against Himself in love for you and for all people, in the sure and certain confidence that His Father will raise Him.

That is the Redemption, the Reconciliation, and the Righteousness of God for you in Christ Jesus.  And it is for the sake of that precious Holy Gospel that God’s Law is so fierce, and for the sake of that Gospel that the Lord Jesus comes with such Fire and Brimstone, Thunder and Lightning.

He comes “to cast Fire upon the earth,” but He kindles it, first of all, in His own Body of flesh and blood, by the way of His Cross and Passion.  And it is from that accomplished fact of His atoning Sacrifice that He casts Fire upon the earth by the preaching of repentance, whereby He calls you to contrition, to sorrow over your sins, to regret them as very great indeed, and to flee from them to newness of Life in Him.  And by the fire of repentance, kindled in you by His Word and Holy Spirit, He cleanses you within and without, as gold and silver are cleansed and purified by fire.

He casts the Fire of His Spirit upon the earth, in order to work repentance and faith within you by His grace.  It is to that end that He has first of all kindled that Fire in Himself, beginning with His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan River.  There He submitted Himself to St. John’s preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  He submerged Himself in the water, taking all your sins, your death, and your damnation upon Himself, and then bearing it all in His Body over the next three years, until His Baptism was finally completed in His death upon the Cross.

And then, just as He had emerged and risen from the waters of the Jordan, and the heavens were opened, and the Father spoke, and the Spirit descended in bodily form as a dove, so did Christ Jesus also emerge from the tomb, arise from the dust of the ground, ascend into heaven, to the Right Hand of His Father, and pour out His Holy Spirit generously upon His Church on earth.

So, when you see the Cloud of His Cross rising in the west, in the domain of darkness where the sun has set, and you hear the south wind blowing that hot wind, the preaching of repentance, which shatters rocks and levels mountains, then analyze the present time and consider what this means.

Heed the preaching of repentance, and return to the significance of your Baptism into Christ Jesus.  Die to yourself, to your sins, and to the sinful world around you, and live unto God by faith in Him.

Turn away from your sins, knowing that all sin is contrary to the Will of the Lord.  Turn away from your grudges and your pettiness.  Turn away from all those false gods and idols that consume so much of your attention and affections.  Turn away from your anger.  Turn away from your despair.

But do not turn away from your neighbors.  Rather, where you have neglected them, repent of your sin and return to the Lord your God by loving and serving your neighbors in peace.  If you have withheld your heart from your spouse, then trust Christ and open your heart to your wife or your husband in love.  If your children have been disobedient and disrespectful, teach them obedience by your example, and teach them respect by the humility of your own repentance before God.

If you have not honored your parents, if you have not loved and cherished them and given thanks to God for your father and mother, then turn away from your sin and toward your parents in love.

Where you have lusted, repent and change your ways.  Avert your eyes.  Discipline your heart and your flesh.  Pray, and meditate upon the Word of God.  Where you have spent money recklessly, stop, and give alms to the Church and to your neighbor in his need.  And where you have been gluttonous or a drunkard, fast and pray, and exercise restraint.  Give your mouth to speak the Gospel and your hands to serve your neighbor.  And flee with your feet away from sin to do good.

And as you work to do all of these things, and you come up against the brick wall of your inability to make yourself righteous, realize that, while you can and should discipline your outward actions, you remain sinful from the inside-out.  And then fix your eyes on Jesus, and consider Him who has endured such hostility against Himself, and remember that for the joy set before Him He endured the Cross and did not consider the shame to be any deterrent, but gave Himself for you and for all.

Consider the example He has left for you to follow in His steps.  Consider how He turned the other cheek, how He bared His back to those who struck Him, how He forgave those who sinned against Him, how He did good and not evil.  But more than His example, see in His Cross the Gospel.  See the fulfillment of the Law, the satisfaction of its punishments.  See your reconciliation with God.

And do analyze the time, that it is growing short.  You know how to plan and consider for tomorrow.  You know how to find out what your work or school schedule is going to be.  You can check and see what the weather will be like.  You know how to tell when your car needs gas.  And you can read your neighbor to know when he’s about to blow a gasket, or when he needs a helping hand.

So also, analyze the present time, and consider the signs of Christ.  Look to the Cross, which is set before your eyes, that you might know the seriousness of sin, but also the greatness of God’s Love, His mercy and compassion, His Atonement and forgiveness.  Consider the signs to know that God is with you, the Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night that are set before you in Holy Baptism, and in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the Holy Absolution of all your sins.  And consider the death of Christ until He comes, who actually gives you His Body to eat and His Blood for you to drink.  In these you know the heart of God, your fierce Friend who is the fierce Foe of all your enemies, who deals with you by grace and calls you away from sin and death to Himself.

If the Hammer of God’s Law crushes you, then know that there upon the Cross the Son of God was crushed into the dust on account of your transgressions; so that, in raising the same Christ Jesus from the dead, God might again form Man from the dust of the ground in His Image and Likeness, and breathe into Him the Breath of Life — and so also raise you from death to Life in Him.

When the Law weighs heavy upon you, trust Christ and live.  Listen to His Word, pray according to His Promise, confess your sins and be forgiven, and receive the Gifts He so freely gives to you; for here is the Cloud by day, the Fire by night, and the Life-giving Wind of the Holy Spirit — here in the Cross of Christ Jesus, your Savior — that you should not perish but live forever and ever.

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

07 August 2022

The Lord Jesus Is Faithful in All Things for Your Salvation

Dear little lamb of Jesus, have no fear!  Although you are small and weak, beleaguered, and mortal, you are more valuable to Christ Jesus than birds and flowers, more precious to Him than the ravens and the grass.  Has He not redeemed you for Himself, purchased and won you with His own lifeblood?  And has He not made His God and Father your own dear God and Father?  Yes, indeed, this is most certainly true.  So, then, your Father shall not only feed you and clothe you, as He does for the rest of all His creatures, but He has gladly chosen to give you His Kingdom.

Do the work that He has given you to do, even as the birds live and the flowers grow.  Do your work faithfully, but do it in love for God and your neighbor, and not as though your life depended on it.  And do not work to get treasures for yourself on earth, which will not last but perish.

Whatever God places into your hands, extend to your neighbor in mercy, in the confidence that God will surely continue to feed and clothe you according to His gracious providence.  He knows your needs, and He well provides them.  Be content, therefore, with the food and clothing that He gives to you by His charity — for you are worthy of none of those things, and yet, He gives them to you by His grace alone.  And you, in turn, feed and clothe Christ Jesus in your neighbor’s need.

Do not seek and strive after food and drink and clothing for this body and life.  Do not make that labor your righteousness, and do not make those temporal goods your treasure and your god.

But do seek the Kingdom of the one true God in Christ Jesus.  Not by work and worry, but by faith in the Gospel — in the clothing of Christ, with which He has clothed you in Holy Baptism, and in the Food and Drink of Christ, as you recline and rest here at His Table where He serves you.

Fix your heart and mind, your eyes and ears, your body, soul, and spirit on Him.  For the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is your true and lasting Treasure — an unfailing Treasure in heaven — who has come down to earth for you and freely gives Himself to you here and now.

As He has done so, and as He continues to do so within His Church — and as the Father has not withheld His only-begotten and well-beloved Son from you, but has given Him for you — have no fear, but know that the true and only God gives Himself and all good things to you in Christ.

Though you do not yet see Him with your eyes, behold Him by faith in the Gospel, in His means of grace and forgiveness, and trust His great mercy and salvation.  You will not be disappointed.

Do not worry about what you will wear, but be dressed in readiness for Christ the Lord, clothed in His righteousness by His grace.  And keep your lamps lit, your loins girded, knowing that His Passover is at hand, the Sacrifice of His Body and Life having been offered once-for-all.

Do not worry about what you will eat or drink, but recline here at your Master’s Table, where He comes and girds Himself to serve you.  Here He washes your dirty feet and waits on you in love.  Here He is not only your Host, but your Waiter and your Meal, your Meat and Drink indeed.

Like a Thief in the night He comes, by the way and the means of His Cross, with the Fruits of His Cross, given and poured out for you, the Body and Blood of this true Lamb of God who was slain for your Salvation.  “See, His Blood now marks our door; faith looks to it, death passes o’er.”

Pharaoh is undone.  Egypt is plundered.  Even Satan, strong though he be, is bound and cast out.

For here is the true Solomon, the Son of David, the King of Righteousness, the King of Peace.  And not only that, but He is your great and merciful High Priest forever, who brings in bread and wine, who blesses God and blesses you, and who feeds you such a great Feast that you could never have imagined.  Neither could all your work and worry ever spread such a Table as this one, which Christ has prepared for you by His own Cross and Passion.

Here is the true and promised Seed of Abraham, in whom all the promises of God are fulfilled, by whom all the nations of the world are blessed, by whose righteousness you are made righteous, being justified by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

So, then, do not be afraid.

Though you have been fearful, He has been steadfast.  Though you may yet be terrified, He has already prevailed for you and for all; and for you and for all He remains, forever and forevermore.

Though you have been anxious and worried about many things, He has been faithful in all things — in your stead and on your behalf.  And He is still faithful.  All that He has promised, He does, and He will do — for you and your salvation.

Though you have not been watching, waiting, and alert, He has been ready, willing, and able at all hours of the day and night.  From the rising of the sun even to its going down, and through all the watches of the night, He is and ever has been vigilant in His care for you, just as He has gone to the Cross for you, and risen from the dead for you, and ever lives to make intercession for you, and reigns over you in love for all eternity.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has fasted and gone without food for His Body; for His food is to do the Will of His Father, and He has hungered for His Father’s Kingdom and His Father’s Righteousness, in order that you might be fed in His Peace.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has thirsted, even unto death, that He might pour out the living Water of His Holy Spirit generously upon you, and cleanse you and quench your thirst with the Life-giving River of holy Water and royal Blood from His open heart and wounded side.

And, dearly-beloved child of God, as the Lord Jesus has opened His heart to you, know that you are His treasure, and He is now and ever with you where you are.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has gone naked in open public shame, that He might clothe you with His garments of divine Sonship and eternal Salvation.

Listen to His Word, and take to heart what He says and promises: Christ Jesus has come, and He has opened the door to you.  Here within His Holy House, He has girded Himself to serve you.  So, recline here at His Table, and receive what you did not expect:  Food from His hand.  Drink from His Cup.  Life from His death.  Perfect Peace, instead of endless worries and frustrations.  Safety from all that has frightened you and hounded you.  Sabbath Rest from all your labors.

Here is your true Fatherland, the Country you’ve been waiting for.  Here is the City of the living God, and here is your Father’s House, whose Architect and Builder is Christ Jesus, your Savior, to whom be all the glory, honor, worship, and thanksgiving, now and forever.

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

31 July 2022

Dying to Live with Christ Jesus

The Law of God is not a comfortable or comforting word, though many people try to use the Law to get comfort for themselves.  The Law of God does not really work that way.  It exposes your sin by telling you to stop doing what you’re doing.  And it exposes your weaknesses, your frailties and faults, by commanding you to do things you haven’t been doing and really don’t want to do.

By way of example, St. Paul defines greed as “idolatry.”  He mentions a number of other sins that could lead you to suppose that he’s focused especially on the Sixth Commandment.  He refers to impurity, evil desires, and passion.  And maybe such things strike to the heart of your behavior; or maybe those particular commands make you think of those “other” people who are like that.

But then the Apostle goes on to say that your greed is idolatry, and with that he mows you down.  It’s not just sexual lust, but covetous desire for your neighbor’s property and possessions, position and power and popularity — for all those things that you suppose would make your life happy and easy — all of that coveting in your heart and mind, thoughts and feelings, is damnable idolatry.

The truth is that you do break the Sixth Commandment in your heart and mind, even if not with your body.  But it’s also the case that you break the First Commandment, first of all, and the Ninth and Tenth Commandments on a daily basis, and really all of the Commandments, the entire Law of God.  There is no one who is righteous.  No, not one, and not you  You do not do what God commands, but you continue doing what He forbids.

But your idolatry, your covetous lust and greed are not only sinful; they are foolish and deadly.  When you make a god out of money, out of flesh, out of food and drink, out of sleep, popularity, entertainment, hard work, or even your family, then you have made for yourself a god who cannot save you, a god who cannot give you life, a false god which is itself perishing and passing away.

To put your faith in such false gods — to live by such idolatry — will drive you to despair, and you will find no rest, not even at night.  Your heart and mind will churn, perhaps your stomach, also.  Even when you sleep, whether you dream or not, you will not get the rest that you need and long for; for day and night you are hounded by the Law of God and the devil’s accusations, by the wicked desires of your own old Adam, and by the enticing temptations of the world around you.

When you are driven by such faith in false gods, when you live by such idolatry, then your work is painful and grievous, even when it is good and right in itself.  When you are driven by idolatry, then loving your spouse is painful and grievous, and honoring your parents is painful and grievous, and caring for your children is painful and grievous.  Doing your job, paying your taxes, mowing the lawn, helping your neighbor, even listening to the Word of God — it’s all painful and grievous, and you find no joy or satisfaction in any of it, because your heart languishes without the true God.

It’s all striving after the wind, and see how much good that does you.  You can’t catch it in your hand or put it in a bucket.  Whatever you do gain is vanity — futile, empty, and chaotic at best.

Neither your labors nor the fruits of your labors can save you.  It doesn’t matter how much you make, it doesn’t matter how much you save or spend, it doesn’t matter how big your barns are or how much you put in them.  It’s all going to perish, every bit of it.  None of it will last.

Ironically, though, much of that perishing stuff will outlast you; and when you die, it will go to someone else — maybe a friend, maybe a child, maybe a complete stranger.  It may well be that some of the things you have prized so highly will be discarded as junk.  Things you thought were so important, nobody else will care about.  And things you worked so hard to get, someone else will take for granted, or give away without a second thought, or leave to get dusy in a closet.

Your stuff won’t save you.  You can’t get life for yourself.  It’s foolish and futile to try.

But real Wisdom — which begins and continues in the fear of the Lord — and the knowledge of God, and the joy and peace that surpass all human understanding, and real Life with God, now and forever — all of that Wisdom and knowledge and joy and Life are found in the death of Jesus.

The fallen world will never understand this.  If you get it, thank God the Holy Spirit that you do, because your old Adam would never understand this, either.  If you truly understand and believe that Life is found in the death of Christ, praise God the Holy Spirit, and Christ Himself be praised.

Whether you realize it or not, real Life — divine, eternal Life — is found in the death of Christ Jesus.  It’s not a life for which you have to strive and struggle or work and scheme.  In fact, you cannot get it for yourself.  Yet, it is given to you freely, without measure, poured out generously into your heart and your hands, into your ears and your mouth, into your body and your soul.

Life is found in the death of Christ, and the death of Christ is found in the waters of Holy Baptism — in which you and all the baptized drown and die and rise and live with Christ Jesus, our Lord.

That is where real Life is found: Life for today and tomorrow, for this whole week and month, for this whole coming year, and forever.  It’s found in the waters of your Holy Baptism, where you were crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus — where everything you are and have, all that you know, and whatever you have tried to do and accomplish has all been put to death.

It is by dying with Christ Jesus — by your Baptism in His Name, and by daily repentance in the ongoing significance of your Baptism — that you are raised up to live by faith in His forgiveness, in His Resurrection and His Righteousness, credited to you by grace through faith in Him.  For Life is found in the Fruits of His hard labor, in the sweat of His brow and the produce of His hands, as He has worked the land and cultivated the soil by laying down His Life in death and returning to the dust of the earth, sanctifying your grave with His own Body, and then rising from the dead.

He has ransomed your life with His own.  So, you’re already bought and paid for.  Everything is done.  It’s not on a credit card, it’s not even on layaway.  He’s already bought and paid for your Life with God forever.  He has ransomed and redeemed you from death and the grave with His own Body and Life, with own His holy and precious Blood, and with His innocent suffering and death.

Here is a Rich Man who does not build bigger barns so that He can lounge by the pool and party with margaritas.  Here is a Rich Man who has poured Himself out and given up everything, so that you, a poor, miserable sinner, can live with Him and not die forever.

So, when your idolatry, your greed and lust and selfishness, your covetous desire, your laziness, and your neglect drive you to despair, go ahead and finish the job and put to death the members of your earthly body.  Deprive yourself of what you want, and cling to what Christ Jesus gives.  Let yourself die to yourself, to the world, and to your sin, in order that you may live with God.

Put the members of your earthly body to death, as St. Paul writes, not by suicide, but by the Word and Spirit of God, by contrition and repentance, by examining yourself and confessing your sins.  Let go of your sinful desires, that you might receive and cling to the Gospel of Life in Christ Jesus.

If you would be your own shepherd and foolishly trust in your own words and your own works, in your own thoughts and ideas, in your own efforts and striving — which can only ever lay hold of empty wind — then, says the Psalmist, you are destined to die; your “shepherd” is death.

But here you have a better Shepherd, a Good Shepherd, Christ the Lord, who has laid down His Life for you and for all.  He has given Himself over to death for the sake of His lost and wandering sheep, in order to regather them to Himself in safety, to let them graze on the mountains of Israel, to give them rest near peaceful waters, and to feed them at His Table as dear daughters and sons.

The dear Lord Jesus Christ is your Good Shepherd, and He is rich toward God in His love for you.  In faith and in righteousness, He has given Himself a Ransom for many.  He has laid down His Life, but He has also taken it up again by faith in His Father.  So has He received all authority to forgive your sins, to raise you up from death and the grave, and to bring you into everlasting Life.

As He shall raise you from your tomb on that great and final Day, so does He now take you out of the bed you have made for yourself — the bed in which you cannot sleep but only toss and turn — and He lays you gently on His soft bed, on the perfect pillow of His grace.  He covers you with His Righteousness, and He tucks you in with His forgiveness.  And He sings your cradle song each night, as His holy angels stand round about you on all sides, and you are guarded from every evil.  The wicked foe can have no power over you, because you are Christ’s, and He is yours forever.

It really does not matter how much money you have.  And it really does not matter how great your life on earth might be.  It only matters that you belong to the One who has died and been raised; for in Him you also have died and are raised.

Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  You have already died, and your Life is hidden with Christ in God.  It happened in your Baptism, and it remains the truth, now and forever.  It is clarified and confirmed each time that uncomfortable Word of the Law crushes you and stabs you and puts you to death, and then the sweet Gospel comes in and says, “I forgive you.”

“I forgive you,” says the Lord, your Savior and your God.  “Everything you have done wrong, and all that you have failed to do — whatever you have screwed up royally — I forgive you.  You shall not die.  You’ve already died with Me in the waters of your Baptism, and as I live, so do you live.”

As you go about your days, as you live and love, as you work and play, even right here on earth, your Life is hidden with Christ in God.  You are hidden with Christ in God.  And you are safe.

Consider what an astounding difference that makes, as you go about doing whatever you’re given to do — as you go to work and do your job, as you stay home and take care of your children, as you go next door to help your neighbor, as you mow the lawn or watch a movie, as you go to the store, ride your bike, snuggle your babies, or read a book.  Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, or whatever it is, you do it to the glory of God because you abide with God in Christ Jesus.

You live within your vocations, and they are not painful and grievous; they’re a light and easy burden, even though it is a Cross that you bear, because Christ has borne that Cross on your behalf.  You love your spouse, care for your children, honor your parents, do your job, and live out your days in this fallen and perishing world; and it’s not all “painful and grievous,” because Christ is risen, and He rejoices over you in love, and you are well-pleasing to your Father in heaven.

Christ the Lord rejoices in you, and you are beloved and well-pleasing in God’s sight; for He sees in you what you do not yet see.  God the Father beholds you in love, and He sees in you the Perfect Righteousness, Holiness, Innocence, and Blessedness of His beloved Son, Christ Jesus.

So, you are good in God’s sight.  You do not have to strive or work for righteousness or riches.  You don’t have to, because everything is already yours.  You work for the sake of love.  And as you receive good gifts from the hand of God, as you eat and drink what He provides for body and soul, you enjoy your Life, and you rest in the Peace of Christ, who forgives you all of your sins.

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

25 July 2022

To Live with Him in His Kingdom

What is it that you want the Lord Jesus to do for you?  What greatness and what glory do you hope to receive from Him and share with Him?  And what do you suppose that would be like?

When you pour out the deepest longings of your heart, what is it that you pray for?  What is it that you ask the dear Lord Jesus to do for you or give to you?  Do you want to have more friends?  To be popular and in demand?  To be admired and respected?  Or do you long for comfort and care and relief from whatever it is that has you trapped and afraid?  Or security and stability, so that you don’t have to keep working so hard to hold it all together, just to keep going from one day to the next?  Is it happiness that you’re after?  Some kind of heaven on earth?  A life worth living?

The truth of the matter is that Jesus, the Son of Man, who is the incarnate Son of God, the Lord’s Anointed, the very King of heaven — He has come in love to serve you, to give you nothing less than Himself — to give His Body and Life for you — and with that, to give you all good things.

He does not lord it over you, but He makes Himself your Servant, even a Slave on your behalf.  He exercises His almighty power in His compassion for you, in showing mercy toward you.  He uses His authority in heaven and on earth to forgive you all your sins; and with that forgiveness He gives you everlasting Life and eternal Salvation, divine Sonship, and a place in His Kingdom.

You do not understand.  But He does it for you anyway.

You do not deserve or merit any of this.  But He does it all for you by grace, for His Love’s sake.

This is the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ, which is His Greatness and His Glory.  He voluntarily takes His place and His position on the Cross, centered between two thieves, one on His right, the other on His left.  That is where and how He becomes the first of many brethren, including you.  That is where and how He obtains all good things for you; for He takes your place under the Law, and He fully bears the curse of your sin and death, in order to give you a place with Himself in the Kingdom of His God and Father.  He gives Himself for you, and He withholds nothing from you.

It’s all yours, for free, for the asking, and even before you ask. Take it and live, for Jesus’ sake.

And then what?  Everything is yours: What are you going to do with it?  How shall you live?

Shall you live with Jesus in the Kingdom of His Cross?  Or will you go your own way, in the hope that something better comes along?  Where will you go?  What will you do?  Will you throw your hat in the ring with the gentiles?  Or will you die with Jesus, in order to live with Him by grace?

As you consider the glorious company of the holy Apostles and the sainted Martyrs of this Lord Jesus Christ — St. James the Elder prominent among them, especially on this festival day — learn from them to fix your eyes on Jesus, come hell or high water against you.

Do not look to your left or your right to see how it’s going with your neighbor.  Christ has given Himself for your neighbor, too; and by the Gospel He gives all good things to your neighbor, as well, and a place in His Kingdom, purchased and won at the cost of His own Life.  That it is how it is with your neighbor — and all of it for Jesus’ sake, who is also with you and for you in love.

But the particular place that has been given to your neighbor is different than yours — a different chair at the table, a different cross to bear, a different crown of glory.

Do not be indignant with your neighbor, neither for his sin, nor for his faith and life.  And do not be angry with your Lord, either, for giving your neighbor what He has not given to you.

As you are a citizen of His Kingdom, do not live as a citizen of this sinful world with its petty jealousies.  Do not compete with your neighbor, nor seek to get the better of him.  Rather, for the sake of love, serve your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves and serves both you and your neighbor.

How so?  By patiently suffering hurt, hostility, and insult, without any anger or vengeance, without bitterness or resentment.  By forgiving your neighbor his trespasses against you.  And by helping your neighbor to bear his burdens, without begrudging or coveting your neighbor’s blessings.

Let there be no jealousy among you, but only love.  Let there be no competing or contesting for greatness or glory, but glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and His Cross by outdoing one another in humility, grace, and compassion.

Do you want to be great?  Then serve.  Be great at serving, the very best at doing unto others as you would have done to you.  Do you want to be number one, the gold-medal champion?  Then become the humble and willing slave of all the rest.  Be the number one servant.  Be like your Lord Jesus.  Dedicate your whole life, your every breath, your blood, sweat, and tears, to serving your neighbors.  Hold nothing back, and show no partiality or prejudice.  Love even your enemies, as the Lord has commanded you.  Forgive those who trespass against you, and gladly do good to those who hate you and hurt you.  Bless those who curse you; bless, and do not curse.  Take up the Cross.  Bend your neck to the sword.  Give your body to be beaten, bruised, and buried.

Are you able to do all this?  The answer actually is, Yes.  But not by your own reason or strength.

What do you have that you have not been given?  What good shall you do that is not done for you?  How shall you love and serve for Jesus’ sake, except that He has come in love to serve you and to give His Life for you?  How is it that you share His Baptism and drink His Cup, except that He has been baptized for you, even unto death upon the Cross, and that He has drained the Cup to the very dregs in fulfillment of all righteousness.

It is by your Baptism into Christ Jesus that you do share His Cross and Passion, His innocent suffering, death, and burial, His Resurrection and His Life, His Righteousness, and His Glory.

With His Baptism He has taken your place, so that your Baptism has given you His place.  His faithfulness is credited to you, and it becomes yours through faith in Him.  So, too, His humility and His obedience are yours.  His service and His greatness — it is all made yours by His grace.

So are you likewise given His Cup to drink, not for wrath and woe but unto Salvation.  And more than that, you are given His Body to eat for the forgiveness of your sins.  The very Flesh that bore your sins upon the Cross, the holy and precious Blood that atoned for your unrighteousness — these are given to you at the Lord’s own Table.  He surrounds you on the right hand and on the left, and He gives to you the place of honor, that He may serve you and give Himself to you in love.

The bitter cup of wrath and woe He has made sweet by His bloody Cross and Passion.  The poison in that cup — the righteous wrath and judgment of God against all the sins of the world, including all of your sins, and the punishment of sin with death and damnation — that poison Jesus has swallowed and consumed, every drop of it; so that His Cup has become for you the New Testament in His Blood, which is poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

As He shed His Blood to fill that Chalice from His Cross, and as He poured it out for His disciples, for James and John and the other ten, for each of them to drink from His own hand, so did He send them to give that Cup to His Church — to give that Cup to you — and to give His Body to be eaten — for the granting of eternal Life; that you might be His own, and live with Him in His Kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even forever and ever.

St. James poured out that Cup, not only as an Apostle and a Minister of the Sacrament, but as a Martyr of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a lamb to be slaughtered in a Passover like that of his King.

You are given to drink that same Cup of Blessing and Salvation.  It is filled from the Cross, and those who drink it bear the Cross of Christ, as do each and all of those who share His Baptism.  Whether that will mean for you the sword, or poison, or prison, or fire, or lions, or simply the weight of daily service in your own callings, the Cup of Christ is your Glory and your Life.

Take it, and live.  It’s all yours, for Jesus’ sake.  And nothing in heaven or on earth shall be able to sever you from Him, who loves you without end.

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