21 March 2008

Today You Shall Be with Me in Paradise

Do you not fear God?

You should. For God threatens to punish all those who break His commandments. Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him.

But how is it, actually, with you?

Do you fear the Lord your God above all things? Or do you fear for your mortal body and your temporal life, without regard for your soul and where you stand before God?

Are you more concerned about keeping your stuff, your power and position in this world, your health and home and family, than you are about keeping the Ten Commandments?

Do you not fear God? Do you not suppose that He will hold you accountable for the wrong that you have done, and for all the good that you have neglected to do?

Or maybe you think it doesn’t matter. Or maybe you don’t care.

But if you want to know what God thinks of your sin, and how seriously He takes it, consider the Cross of Christ. For there He has suffered the condemnation and punishment that you rightly deserve for your sins.

Do not presume to say that, since He is the Christ and He has suffered for you, now you can go about doing whatever you like with impunity and without consequence. Do not blaspheme the Lord and His Passion with such wicked notions!

The Lord Jesus Christ has not suffered and died so that you may go on sinning, but that you might be brought to repentance and newness of life in Him.

For that, however, you must be crucified and put to death with Him.

Because the proclivity of your sinful old Adam is to covet and crave what is not yours, to take what has not been given to you, to rob and to steal. You are, by sinful nature, selfish and self-serving. You do not think in terms of right and wrong, but what’s in it for you.

Just as your first parents took and ate the forbidden fruit, and suffered the consequences for it. The Lord removed them from the Garden and barred them from the Tree of Life. Not to be petty and vindictive, but to spare them from the living hell of an eternal death.

For life apart from God is really death and damnation. And to live in sin is to live and die apart from God.

Thus, what you need is not some miracle drug, nor a fountain of youth, nor a handful of magic beans, but what you need is forgiveness of sins, repentance, and reconciliation with God.

It is for this that Christ has come, and in this way that He has saved you: not for a life of sinning, but He has saved you from your sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.

He was numbered with transgressors and hung between two criminals, for the same reason that He submitted Himself to St. John’s Baptism of repentance, and for the same reason that He received publicans, prostitutes and other sinners, and ate with them: not because He condones sin, nor even that He looks the other way with a wink and a nod, but in order to redeem the lost.

To do so, He takes their sin and death upon Himself. Indeed, He takes the sin of the world and all its curse and consequence upon Himself — yes, including all of your sin and its punishment — and He bears it all in His Body on the Cross. There He suffers the sentence of condemnation that was leveled against you (and all the world).

Which is why, for you to go on sinning, is to make a mockery of His Cross and Passion.

But for you, nonetheless, and for all, He did this. And by His death He has redeemed you from the curse of the Law, from the curse of sin and death.

Not only that, but He has opened up the way of righteousness and life, which is by grace through faith in Him.

For not only has He suffered all the punishment of the Law against the sins of the whole world, but He has also fulfilled the entire Law of God in perfect faith and love. All that the Law requires, He has done: on your behalf, and for your benefit.

Which is why He is vindicated in His Resurrection from the dead (and all those who believe and are baptized into Him are vindicated with Him in His Resurrection). But in fact, already in His Cross and Passion, the satisfaction and fulfillment of the Law are accomplished and completed. Here is not only the punishment due, but also the pinnacle of faith and love: steadfast faith in God, and fervent love for all His neighbors (including you).

As such, it is precisely by His Cross that Christ Jesus comes into His Kingdom as the Savior of mankind. And He still reigns in love over His Kingdom from His Cross.

It is by His Cross that you, also, enter with Him into His Kingdom. For His Cross is the shape and power of Holy Baptism, and His Cross is the way of repentance unto life. Thereby the old Adam in you is crucified with all your sinful lusts and desires, but so also are you raised up a new man in Christ through the forgiveness of His Cross.

The Cross does lay bare your sins and nails you for them. But it does so for the sake of calling you to repentance, to confession, to the free and full forgiveness of your sins. For the Cross is also the proclamation of the Gospel unto all who believe, the very power of God unto salvation.

Indeed, the Tree of the Cross is the true Tree of Life, which stands in the midst of the Garden.

And because the Lord Jesus has atoned for all your sins and accomplished your redemption by that Tree, its life-giving fruit is not forbidden, but given and poured out for you to eat and drink.

That is how Jesus remembers you: by acting in love to feed you with Himself, His Body and His Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, for life and salvation.

As often as you eat these fruits of His Cross, you are truly with Him in Paradise; as He is truly with you in His Supper.

No longer are you a robber or a thief, but a beloved child and a welcome guest at your Father’s Table. You need not steal to get what you want, when you are so richly fed and given every good and perfect gift in Christ Jesus.

You should still fear God, because He is God and you are not. But so also, love and trust in Him. He cares for you and well provides for you. Do not go on sinning for your supper, but receive the good things that Christ has obtained for you. For His Cross is the Tree of Life for you, and He has saved you from sin and death forever.

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

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