27 June 2011

The Ears of a Disciple

It is not faith but self-righteousness that would ever say, "I've got things sorted out with God for myself, so I have no need to consider my neighbor or anything I might do for him."

Nor does faith ever ask, "Should I love my neighbor?" or "Do I have to love my neighbor?"

Faith, rather, confident before God and secure in His love, is free and unafraid to love the neighbor, and so gladly listens for that sure and steady Word of God which says, "This is what life and love shall look like for you." Precisely because He is our Savior, and we are His beloved.

In the ears of a disciple, to the heart of faith, the Law of Love looks just like Jesus loving all of us, who listened with the ears of a disciple, Himself, to the good and acceptable will of His Father for our salvation, and so humbled Himself in obedience, even unto death upon the Cross.

Which is why faith and love end up looking the same in Christ Jesus.

Postulating Law and Gospel

The nexus of the Law and the Gospel is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ in the crucible of His Passion, in His perfect faith before God the Father, and in His perfect love for God and man.

To distinguish the Law and the Gospel rightly, without dividing them, is as fundamental to the faith, and as difficult in this life under the Cross, as the distinguishing of the two natures in Christ without dividing His Person, and the distinction of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity without any division of the one true God.

This proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel belongs to the theology of the Cross, to the death of the old Adam and the rising of the New Man in us. This is the divine work of the Holy Spirit by the means of the Word. He who has begun this good work in us, shall also bring it to completion at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the resurrection of our bodies at the last. Yet, it is finished and complete, already for us, in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, in the perfection of His glorified Body.

The Body of our crucified, risen and ascended Lord Jesus is our Anchor behind the Veil, that is, our Anchor within the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens. There He ever lives to make intercession for us before His God and Father, and we are sanctified in Him who is our righteousness and holiness, so that our life is safely hidden with Him in God. Therefore, it is by the way and the means of His Cross that the Holy Spirit also brings us daily in-and-out of death into the indestructible life of our merciful and great High Priest.

What that looks like, as we are confronted and met with the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and as we live by the grace of God through faith in Christ, is the difficult distinction of the Law and the Gospel. In this, the old Adam is painfully divided from the New Man, in us, but we are not divided from the new and greater Adam who remains for us.

Not Peace on Earth, but a Sword that Severs

You heard from the Lord Jesus last week how disciples are made (that is, by Holy Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity, and by ongoing catechesis in the Word of Christ), and how disciples are called to live: by keeping His Word, and observing all that He commands. To be a disciple is to be a follower, and that you continue listening to, learning from, and living with your Rabbi.

Now, as I mentioned last week, Christ Jesus is not unaware of the challenges and difficulties of discipleship; for He Himself has borne them. But the question today is, whether you are aware of those challenges and difficulties, and whether you understand them, and how you are bearing them. In the world you will have tribulation, and you will bear the Cross, if you are a disciple of Jesus: not peace on earth, but a sword that severs and divides.

It is a difficult and challenging Word that Jesus speaks, for example, concerning your household and family: that Christ and His Word must take priority over your nearest and dearest kin. Not that you are called to forsake or neglect your parents or children, but you are to love and serve them (and all of your neighbors) according to the Word of Christ; for your allegiance belongs to Him in all things. Any number of examples could be given, touching on such things as the awkwardness of negotiating feelings, the quandary of how to encourage your adult children to go to church, the anxiety of relatives and friends who hold a differing confession, and the far greater anguish of loved ones who have abandoned the church altogether. Then there are the volatile “hot topics” of living together outside of marriage (fornication), redefinitions of “marriage” altogether, contrary to the Word of God, and political debates over abortion (murder).

There is the constant challenge of speaking up and standing up for what is good and right and true, and of living in faith and love, and of forgiving those who trespass against you, for Jesus’ sake; all of which can be far trickier and more stressful when it comes to your own extended family.

But if the Cross that is laid upon your family and relationships is difficult, there is yet a deeper and even more demanding challenge that confronts you: For the Word of Christ is a sharp two-edged Sword that cuts you yourself to the quick and divides even your bones from your marrow. It separates you from your own sinful flesh, from the lusts of your heart, and from all the false beliefs of your mind, soul and spirit. It is perhaps even more like a surgeon’s scalpel than a barbarians broadsword. Jesus does not hack away at you, but He goes for the jugular, and for the heart of the matter. And His Word is piercing, cutting you to the very core.

Really, what Jesus is doing in this Holy Gospel is preaching the first and foremost commandment, the greatest and number one Law; namely, that you shall have no other gods before Him.

This is a most exalted claim that Christ Jesus makes concerning Himself, indicating His true divinity and His eternal relationship with the Father. And that identification makes the Law all the more pointed and poignant, given the Lord’s Incarnation, His Humiliation, and His own Cross and Passion. For your fear, love and trust, and your allegiance, your faith and worship and obedience, belong to this Crucified God — and you are called to follow Him, to be and to live like Him, and to find your whole life in Him (precisely in His Cross and Resurrection, in His flesh and blood).

That commandment (in which the entire Law comes into focus) exposes your sin, condemns it for the idolatry it is, and actually exacerbates it and makes it worse; it makes your sin utterly sinful. It brings to light, not only your lack of faith in Christ Jesus, but also your covetous lust, greed and selfishness for all manner of other (false) gods, from which you seek to find your life on earth.

The commandment thus puts you to death, and it cannot bring you to life; not because it is bad — far from it! — for the Law of God is good and wise, holy and just — but because it confronts and crucifies your sinful flesh, your sinful heart, your sinful body, soul and spirit. It condemns and puts you to death for your idolatry, which is the worst sort of adultery. For you have joined yourself to other gods, although your true Spouse, your heavenly Bridegroom, the Lord who is a faithful Husband to you, is the ever-living and life-giving God.

You have forsaken your marriage to the Lord your God, and you have married yourself to sin and death, and for this the Law sentences you to die forever.

But here you begin to discover the purpose for the Sword that Jesus brings: In cutting you to the quick and putting you to death, He cuts you off and separates you from your adulterous idols. There is, in this respect, an “intervention” of the highest magnitude, by which you lose your life and everything else in this world.

That is not yet the whole story, however, for your true Bridegroom is not after vengeance, but reconciliation. He is not out to rob you of life, but to grant you the true divine eternal life that none of your other lovers could ever give, because it is found only in Him.

He is zealous for you, because He loves you, and He wants you to have real life in Him. And to that end, He suffers the mighty Sword of the Law to be turned upon Himself, in order to put sin and death to death in Himself, in His own flesh. This itself He suffers in fulfillment of the whole Law; that is, with perfect faith in His God and Father, and in wholehearted love for His Father and for you. For this is not the suicidal despair of a heartbroken Romeo, but the heroic Self-sacrifice of the Lord your God, who bears your sin to atone for it by His blood, and who dies your death in order to free you from it.

Thus, the Law is wholly satisfied and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus. So, too, the faith and love of Christ are not for nothing: His faith is not disappointed, and His love is not wasted. But He, who laid down His life in love for you, receives it back again in His Resurrection from the dead.

And having gone to the uttermost of your sin and death, to set you free from that bondage of your own idolatry, He brings you back, in and with Himself, into newness of life.

The Life in Christ is, now and ever, truly yours. Yes, even now it is yours (in the midst of death).

He does not bring or promise “peace on earth,” but He has reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father; which is to say that God is at peace with you, and you have peace with God in Christ (by His grace, through faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins).

It is that peace with God which enables you to be at peace with all your neighbors, and even with your enemies — not by compromise, but by the courage of Christ (and His forgiveness of sins). Not in fear of man, but in the fear of God (which also loves and trusts in Him, in Christ).

The fact is, there are always going to be those who hate you on this earth; actually, most of the world will hate you for Jesus’ sake, and in countless ways will do its best to hurt you, to kill you.

But the world cannot rob you of your life in Christ; the world cannot destroy your peace with God; nor can the world take away the new household and family to which you now belong as a child of God — for you are His little one, and He shall preserve you steadfast and save you. Has He not given you His own Name in the waters of your Holy Baptism? Yes!

And in His Name, He sends to you His Prophets and Apostles, His pastors and teachers, His preachers of His Word — and if that Word is a Sword that divides you from yourself, from your sin, from your idols, and from the whole world, it also gives you the Spirit and Life of Christ Jesus. For in the hearing of His Word, in the receiving of His sent ones, you hear and receive Christ Jesus Himself — and in Him you hear and receive His God and Father as your own — and in His Name, His Gospel grants you His Righteousness, which means also that His Resurrection (and His Life everlasting in body and soul) is now yours.

Consider what all this means for your relationships with all those many others who bear the same Name as you do, by God’s grace, as Christian disciples of Jesus.

Look around you at the congregation that surrounds you: This is the household and family of your God and Father. This is the house and home of your heavenly Bridegroom. These all around you, who also are baptized (and catechized by the same Word of Christ) are your brothers and sisters; these are your fathers and mothers; these are your sons and daughters; these are your family.

Therefore, beloved of Christ, love one another: care for one another, forgive each other, and serve one another with whatever means the Lord provides. If you have but a cup of cold water, by all means, share it with the one who is thirsty.

Let neither any sin of yours nor any sin against you divide this household and family of Christ Jesus. For His Word does not divide but truly unites His Church in heavenly peace, and that by the forgiveness of His own Cross (whereby He was divided that we might be made whole).

Here, by His grace, whatever has been broken is repaired. Enmity and animosity are healed by His reconciling love. Whatever has been wrong is made right in His Resurrection. He speaks and bestows His peace upon you; not as the world gives (or attempts to give), but perfect peace with God in heaven, true peace with Himself in the newness of the Spirit, and genuine peace with each other through His free and full forgiveness of all your trespasses.

And to you, His beloved disciples, He pours out a cup for you to drink, not of simple water only, but the New Testament in His Blood — for life with God — so that, having been united to Him, you shall not lose His Reward, but by His Cross shall enter into heaven with Him forever.

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

18 June 2011

The Promise of the Father

If Christian discipleship is difficult and challenging, do not suppose that Christ Jesus is unaware of that, nor that He is unfamiliar with the challenges and difficulties that you now face. For the discipleship to which you have been called, and which you have received in Holy Baptism, is the life that Christ has first of all lived for you, which you now live in Him (and He lives in you).

To be a disciple, therefore—to be a Christian—is to follow after Christ Jesus in the way that He has already gone before you: in the way of the Cross, unto the Resurrection and the life everlasting.

As disciples are made by Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of the Word of Christ, so was the Lord Jesus Himself baptized for you and for all people, for the repentance and forgiveness of the world, and for the fulfilling of all righteousness, that you and all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve might be justified and saved from sin and death.

Consider what His Baptism signified and meant for Jesus: In submitting Himself to St. John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, including all of your sins of thought, word and deed, every last one of them. His was a bath that did not make Him clean—for He was already spotless, pure, holy and without blemish—but the waters of the Jordan soaked Him from head to foot with all the dirt of fallen man, all the mud and gunk and filth and stench of sinful unbelief, disobedience, doubt and despair.

He took upon Himself, and He bore in His own body, your lying and cheating, your covetous lust and greed, your cursing and filthy jokes, your laziness and negligence, your adultery and murder, your robbery of things and your gossiping tongue by which you rob your neighbor of his good name and reputation. He took all of this, and every other sin from Adam to the end of the world, and took ownership and responsibility for it, as though He alone were guilty, sinful and unclean.

And His wages for that great act of love, for that sin which He assumed into Himself, was death. Submitting to baptism was committing Himself to be crucified, dead and buried. Stepping into the water was, for this Man, a return to the dust of the earth from which the first man had been taken.

So, for Christ Jesus, as for you, His Baptism indicated that He should be drowned and die with all your sinful lusts and desires, in the place of your old Adam.

But what His Baptism also meant was indicated by the Word of His God and Father, and by the bodily sign of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Though He was so thoroughly soaked and saturated with the sins of the world—so as to be the Sinner above all others, and really to become sin itself and the curse of sin and death—He was also anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit, and He was given the sure and certain Word of God, that He was a beloved and well-pleasing Son.

He received this Word and Spirit of God in faith, as the Son of Man, as your Substitute and Savior. He heard it, and He believed it, and He lived in the confidence and hope of that Word from His dear Father in heaven. He received it as the surety and promise of the Resurrection, that His Father would not abandon Him to the grave nor allow His flesh to suffer decay, but that He would pour out the Spirt upon His crucified body and raise Him again from the dust of the earth.

Of course, the Father and the Holy Spirit and immortal Life belong to the Son of God from all eternity, according to His own divine nature. But in the waters of His Baptism, not only in the flesh but in the likeness of fallen flesh—as the true and perfect Man, but also living under the curse and consequence of sin—He received the promise of the Father and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, as a pledge that, in Him, all men and women and their children would be redeemed and raised up in righteousness; that mortal flesh, after returning to the dirt, would receive the Holy Spirit and rise up again to live forever.

Now, then, understand that your dear Lord Jesus lived—as you are called to live—by faith in that Word and promise of His God and Father. He proceeded from the waters of the Jordan in that holy faith, in love for His Father and in love for all His neighbors, for you and for all those neighbors (everywhere and every when) who would become His many brothers and sisters by divine grace.

He was driven into the wilderness (by the Spirit of God!) to be tempted by the devil in all the ways that you are tempted, and in the midst of that contest to persevere by faith in the Word and promise of His Baptism: “If you are the Son of God,” the devil taunted, but there yet stood fast the Word that Jesus had heard and received from the Father: “You are My beloved Son.” So He believed.

And, believing, He continued in the way that He was called to go. He was faithful in His vocation, and He carried out the works of love that belonged to that particular place and station in life. He honored His father and mother. He loved His family and friends. He ate and drank with sinners. He healed the sick, and cast out demons, and raised the dead. He fed the hungry with good food. He taught the Word of God, preached the Gospel, confessed the faith, and prayed without ceasing.
For such great love, for His faithfulness in all things, for the Name of the Lord that He glorified, He was persecuted, betrayed and arrested, falsely accused and mocked, beaten and blasphemed, unjustly sentenced to death, and crucified in public shame.

All of this He bore patiently, in peace. He continued to trust His Father and the promise of His Baptism. He persevered in love for all people, even those who were hurting and killing Him. He forgave those who trespassed against Him. He turned the other cheek, and suffered His outer and inner garments to be taken from Him. He did not retaliate, nor did He revile in return, but He relied on the hope of the Resurrection.

The way He endured His Passion is simply the culmination of the way He lived His entire Life on the way of the Cross: from the watery grave of the Jordan River, to the garden tomb in which His body would be laid to rest on that sixth day when the Lord’s good work would be finished for us.

So, again, if you find that Christian discipleship is difficult and challenging, do not suppose that Christ Jesus is unaware of that, nor that He is unfamiliar with your challenges and difficulties. For the people misunderstood Him and wanted all the wrong things from Him. The rulers of the people were jealous and hateful of Him, and conspired against Him, and stirred up the crowds to cry out for His death. Meanwhile, His family, or most of them, thought He was out of His mind. His disciples, and even His closest friends among them, were frequently confused and afraid; they bickered and fought and competed with each other, and when He was arrested they all ran away.

Therefore, you do not have a Savior and High Priest who is unable to sympathize with you, but One who has indeed been tempted and tormented in all the ways that you are, and who has borne all your sin as though it were His own (though He Himself had no sin); One who has shared your suffering and sadness, your sickness and shame; who has carried your cross and died your death

Although He is the Son of God from all eternity, by His own nature, and by His own divine right, nevertheless, in human flesh and blood just like yours, He learned the faith and the obedience of sonship through what He bore and suffered on your behalf.

He learned, not as though He were ever ignorant or naive, but by the way of personal experience, by living your human life as you are called to live, first hand, in His own person. He did so, not out of intellectual curiosity, as though for some kind of experiment or science project, but in order to establish divine sonship for you in human flesh and blood. Likewise, so did He receive and bear the Spirit of God in His truly human flesh and blood, for you and your salvation, in order that your fallen flesh might receive and bear the same Holy Spirit and be raised up to eternal life with God.

Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ lived by faith in the Word and promise of His Father. He lived in the hope of His mercy, by the grace and guidance of the Spirit. He did what His Father called Him to do, and He spoke as the Father gave Him to speak. In steadfast faith and flawless love, He was handed over to the Cross (by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God), and He humbly accepted the same, submitting His human will to the divine will, in the hope of the Resurrection.

It is there upon the Cross, in that crucible of anguish—on the one hand enduring the condemnation of the Law that He perfectly fulfilled, and suffering the separation of sin from the Father He loved and trusted, while on the other hand continuing to trust and believe, even in the face of death and divine judgment, the steadfast love and faithful promise of His Father—it is in that crucible that He permanently establishes divine sonship for you. So that, even in the midst of your sin, and in the face of your death, the promise of the Gospel and the Sabbath Rest of Christ remain for you.

He has weathered the perfect storm in order to bring you through it safely in and with Himself. He has endured the inner conflict of the Old Man and the New Man in His own body, even unto the death of His Cross; and though sin and death were crucified and put to death in Him, He has prevailed in faith and love, and He has been raised up by the Spirit of His Father as the new and better Adam, as the First Fruits of the New Creation, as the Head of His Body and Bride, the holy Christian Church, so as to become the Firstborn of a great multitude of divine sons and daughters.

Having thus received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father in His Resurrection from the dead, He has poured out the same Spirit generously upon you in the waters of your Holy Baptism. Not only that, but He continues to pour out the Spirit upon you in the Absolution of the Gospel, in the Word of forgiveness that is preached to you, and in the spiritual Food and Drink of His Altar.

He has likewise given you the sure and certain Word and promise of His God and Father: that you are a dear son of God in Christ Jesus, and you are beloved and well-pleasing to the Father in Him; that all of your sins are freely and fully forgiven, and that God has truly reconciled you to Himself in Christ; and that, even though you die, yet shall you live in body and soul, heart, mind and spirit.

This is the Word and Spirit of God, who is your own dear Father in Christ, which is given to you on the way, and attends you, and upholds you. It stands fast in Christ, even when you falter, so that it remains true—and it remains for you—regardless of what you find or experience in yourself.

In this Gospel of Christ Jesus, the Father moves toward you in love, and He gives Himself to you, and He embraces you to Himself as a beloved child, always raising you up from death to life, from out of darkness into light, and from the dust of the earth to be a living creature in His own Image.

You are raised up, in and with Christ Jesus, to live and move and have your being in Him; to move in love—within Him, and through Him, by the Holy Spirit—unto His God and Father in heaven.

That Life in Christ and in the Holy Spirit—that movement of your body and life toward God your Father in heaven, as a living sacrifice—that true faith and worship of the Holy Trinity (in the Sprit and in Truth), is lived from your Holy Baptism into Christ Jesus, and by the way of the Cross.

It is by the way of the Cross, not for the sake of gratuitous violence or suffering, nor as some kind of divine sado-masochism, but to work in you a genuine sacrifice of repentance, faith and love; so that you, who are a son of God in Christ Jesus, by His grace, may learn the faith and obedience of sonship in Him; and so that sin and unbelief and all their deadly fruits may be put to death and die in you; and so that you, bearing the Cross for your neighbor, may love your neighbor and give him life, in the way that Christ your Savior loves you and gives you life (i.e. by the way of His Cross).

That way of the Cross, which is your Christian discipleship, is difficult and challenging; make no mistake about it. Indeed, it would be utterly impossible for you apart from Christ, if He had not gone before you and established the way in faith and love, in His own flesh and blood.

But now Christ has lived that life for you, and He has gone that way of the Cross for you, and He has died that death for you. He has borne your sins and suffered all their consequences. He has atoned for all your sins and reconciled you to God. This is most certainly true; for God has also raised this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and exalted this beloved Son at His right hand, and placed all your enemies under His feet, crushed and defeated beneath His once-wounded heel.

This is how and why He pours out His living and life-giving Holy Spirit upon you—through the Gospel of His Cross—raising you, daily, from death unto life. For which reason He has called and sent your pastors to you, not only to baptize, but to preach and teach His Word, and to commune you with His Body and His Blood; all of this in His Name and stead, and with His own authority.

These gifts of the Gospel, the means of grace, are the first fruits of His Cross and Passion, and so does the same tree of the Cross bear good fruits in you; even when it is crushing and killing your old Adam, and it seems as though God were not your loving Father at all, but rather an enemy who is out to destroy you altogether. Not so! Remember the Word and promise of your Baptism:

“You are My beloved son! With you I am well-pleased.” I am not angry or upset with you. I am not out to punish you. Your sins are all forgiven. You shall not die forever. “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” “This promise is for you and for your children.”

Bind that Word and promise to yourself, dear child of God, by giving attention to the ongoing catechesis of Christ. Listen to the preaching of His Word, and know that it is preached to you as a sure and certain Word of life.

And take heart that He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him.

He shall never leave you nor forsake you, but rather He is near you, and He is with you always.

Just as Christ is risen from the dead through the glory of the Father, and lives and reigns forever, so does He bear the good fruits of His Cross in you: the forgiveness of sins, received and given; faith and love, and self-sacrifice, but also resurrection and new life—day after day, by His grace, through the forgiveness of all your sins, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

Is this not the life that Christ has lived for you? Yes. And He still lives—and He is still for you, with all the power of His indestructible life—both now and forever. This is the life that He now lives in you and with you, which you also live in Him, by the Holy Spirit whom He has given you.

This is the divine eternal Life of the Holy Triune God, which is now also yours by His grace, as you have received the adoption of sons in Christ Jesus. For as you are baptized in His Name, anointed with the Holy Spirit, and united with the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father in His Cross and Resurrection, so surely is the God and Father of Jesus your God and Father, and you are His own dear child, forever and ever. Amen.