23 July 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is here with you, and for you, in the Person of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in His flesh and blood, in His Word and Spirit. It comes to you and is given to you by the preaching of His Gospel, that you might be rescued from the abyss, from the black hole of your sin and death, from the chaos of your idolatry and unbelief, and from the dust of the earth in which your mortal frame will be buried.

Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel. Cease your striving for a kingdom of your own on earth, and here receive the Kingdom of heaven in the Word of Christ. And don’t suppose that you must find it for yourself, nor that you must (or even could) buy your way into it or earn your place in it. The Kingdom of heaven is not for sale at any price. Nor is it within your grasp — neither of your heart nor head nor hand. You will not storm its gates or take it; not with your feelings, nor with your hard work, nor with your intellect.

It has been hidden from before the foundation of the world in the heart of God. It is given to you from His open hand. And it is received and recognized only by the Mind of Christ, which is to say, by His Word and Spirit. For it is a divine Mystery, and it is yet hidden even in its revelation.

When Christ Jesus opens His mouth to utter the Mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven in parables, He thereby conceals from the crowds what He reveals and gives to His disciples by the catechesis of the Gospel. To this day, it remains the case that you cannot comprehend the Mystery apart from faith in the Gospel, which comes by the hearing of the Word of Christ. And even the ears by which you hear must be given to you and opened for you by the preaching of His Word.

You are His disciple — a Christian — a citizen of His Kingdom (on earth as it is in heaven) — not by your own wisdom, reason or strength, but by His apostolic Ministry of the Gospel, by His Holy Baptism, and by the ongoing catechesis of His Word. For you enter His Kingdom in the same way that it comes to you (within and through His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church), that is, by His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Repent, therefore. Trust Christ, and live.

He is the one true God, the only-begotten Son of the Father from all eternity, who came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man. He is the One who has found you — hidden in the world of sin and death — fallen, frail, weak and mortal; sinful and unclean; angry and afraid; desperate and despairing, yet prideful and arrogant; boasting of your numbers, your impressive stats, yet whining and complaining of your poverty and want. That is how He finds you. That is your condition apart from Him, under the curse of sin, subject to death and the grave. You’re made of dirt, and you’re returning to the dirt, so much so that you’re already up to your neck in it and going under, even as you go about your life in the world.

But for the sake of His divine and holy love, the Man Christ Jesus has redeemed you from your bondage to sin and death, that you might be raised up with Him to the life everlasting. Because that is what the Kingdom of heaven is like, and really what it is: the Love of God in Christ, and the Resurrection and the Life in Him. For He has purchased and won you to be His very own. He has liquidated Himself and His Life, shed His holy and precious Blood, and given His Body into death upon the Cross, in order to redeem you for Himself forever.

Indeed, He has redeemed not only you but all people. There are no exceptions. He has redeemed the whole world, and reconciled the world to God, not counting anyone’s trespasses against them.

He has given His everything to buy the entire field, for the sake of His people, His Church, His chosen possession, His Treasure.

That is how He regards you, dear child of God, in His love for you. You are holy and precious to Him. You are His pearl of great price, for whom the Father did not spare His Son but gave Him over to death, and for whom the same Son willingly suffered and died. That is your great value and precious worth: not your stats, but His steadfast love for you; not your savings account and savvy investments, but His free and full salvation, by which you are counted righteous in His sight.

Who you are, and what you are in truth, is still hidden in this world. It is hidden even from you. What you still see and feel and experience is sin and death, within you and all around you. You’re still up to your neck in the dust and the dirt. You’re still sinning every day, and you’re still being sinned against. Despite your boasting and bravado, you honestly don’t find much to brag about in yourself. Your best efforts too often fall flat and fail. Mostly what you’re given to do is the tedious bearing of the Cross for neighbors who don’t recognize any great value or priceless treasure in you. And the Cross seems hardly any way for God to prize and regard His beloved.

But, then again, who’s to wonder? You don’t really find any great value or priceless treasure in yourself, do you? You don’t much feel like such a precious pearl of great price. Leastwise, if you are honest with yourself, as a Christian, you know that you are a poor, miserable sinner, and that you surely deserve nothing but punishment for all your many sins. If you do not recognize or admit the truth of that, all the more do you need to repent.

However, this also is most certainly true, that your great value is not found in you, but in Christ, and in the price that He has paid for you in love. He looks upon you with grace, mercy and peace, and He does not see your dirty, filthy, rotten junk. He does not smell your stink. He rather rejoices over you according to His own righteousness. He perceives you entirely in His great love for you, by which you are most beautiful. He glories in you, according to His own divine grace and glory. And He credits to you His own worth, His own value, by investing Himself entirely in you: not only by giving Himself for you, but by giving Himself to you, by anointing you with His Holy Spirit, by naming you with His holy Name, and by making you a child of His God and Father.

What, then, is your value? What is your worth? It is that of God Himself. It is that of the beloved Son, who, though He was rich, yet made Himself poor, that you might inherit all the riches of the Kingdom through Him. That He has done so by the Cross — by the divine grace of His Self-sacrifice — by making Himself nothing, and humbling Himself unto death, in order to save His enemies — reveals that true value and true worth are not what the world imagines or calculates.

The world looks at the Man on the Cross and concludes that He is nothing but trash. God the Father looks upon that same crucified Man and declares, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” And for His sake, the Father redeems and reconciles the world unto Himself.

That is why the great dragnet of the Gospel is cast far and wide and gathers fish of every kind from all the oceans and seas, all the rivers and lakes, all the ponds and streams on earth. It’s not that God is being reckless in catching good and bad alike. This isn’t one of those “kill ‘em all, and let God sort ‘em out” kind of deals. Truth be told, there are no good fish who are righteous in themselves, but all the fish are bad — not from the beginning, but ever since the fall into sin. There is no one who is righteous; no, not even one. But the Gospel gathers sinners, the bad fish, the guilty, the unrighteous and unclean, and it brings them aboard the holy ark of Christendom.

This isn’t a joke. God isn’t teasing or making sport of anyone. He preaches the Gospel of Christ Jesus sincerely to all the ends of the earth. By it sinners are truly forgiven and saved. The unrighteous are justified. The unholy are sanctified. The dirty are cleansed. The dead are raised to newness of life. For the preaching of the Gospel is the means by which God, the Lord, calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it united with Christ Jesus in the one true faith, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting.

So shall it be done, unfailingly, until the whole number of the elect from every time and place, from every tribe and tongue and nation on earth, have been gathered into the Kingdom of heaven. For those whom God foreknew from before the foundation of the world, whom He predestined to be conformed to the Image of His Son, He calls to Himself by the Gospel, and He justifies by His grace through faith in the Gospel; and those whom He thus calls and justifies by the Gospel, He shall also glorify in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Until then, His Treasure remains hidden under the Cross in the world. Good and bad are gathered together in the net, the righteous and the wicked intermingled, even in the Church on earth, like the weeds entangled with the wheat.

But now, take care how you hear this, lest your ears and heart and mind be given over to pride or despair. Do not measure and evaluate your neighbor, as though to sort out the bad from the good among your fellow Christians. And do not look within yourself, either, to determine whether you are good or bad. Rather, love and serve and care for your neighbor, according to the Word of God, even as the Lord Himself preaches the very Gospel of forgiveness and life and salvation to your neighbor in love. All the more so should you love and serve and care for those who are caught in the same net of the Gospel with you, and forgive them for Christ Jesus’ sake.

And as for yourself, yes, indeed, examine yourself according to the Word of God — consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments — and when you thus discover nothing in yourself but sin and death, from which you cannot free yourself — repent of your sins and heed the Gospel. For the Gospel delivers you from sin and death through the forgiveness of Christ Jesus, by His Cross and in His Resurrection. He is your righteousness, which cleanses you within and covers you without, and guards you against every evil of body and soul. He is the good Fish, in whom you also are good. And in the resurrection at the end of the age, then all the sin and death which for now remain in your mortal flesh, and all the unrighteousness and wickedness which for now reside in your sinful heart and mind and will, shall be removed and done away with forever.

That doesn’t mean that you should take your sin lightly or continue in your unrighteousness. Do not trifle with the Lord, but fear God and humble yourself before Him. Repent of all your wicked thoughts, words and deeds, that these not consume you and swallow you up. Do not presume upon the grace of God while you blithely turn your back and a deaf ear to His Word, and harden your heart against His preaching. He will not cast you out of His net, but if you reject His Gospel and refuse to hear it, you wriggle yourself out of the net and dive back into the chaos of the deep.

Rather, give ear to the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. For it is in Him that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is in Him that you are righteous and safe. It is in Him that you are hidden under the Cross in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. It is in Him that you are God’s great treasure, His pearl of great price. It is in Him that you are predestined for the salvation ready to be revealed at the right time. It is in Christ Jesus that you are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified. It is in Him that all your sins are forgiven, so that nothing is counted against you, and there is no condemnation for you.

It is in Him that you are now found, by His grace, and there is nothing in heaven or on earth, nor in all of creation, that shall be able to separate you from the love of God in Him. For He is the Lord your God, and He is faithful. He shall do for you all that He has promised. As He has called you to Himself in love, according to His good and gracious will (that you be saved), so does He work all things together for your good. As the Father did not spare His beloved Son but gave Him up for you, so shall He not withhold any good thing from you forever. Even here and now, while yet hidden in the field, He keeps His Covenant with you and grants you His New Testament: the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Thus do you abide in Him, and He in you, unto the life everlasting.

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

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