27 November 2011

Oh, that He Would Come Down and Open the Heavens to Us

Be careful what you ask for! For when you call upon God to rend the heavens and come down to deal with your enemies — when you call down His anger as a fire against your adversaries — then you call down His wrath and judgment against yourself, as well.

Because, at the heart of all your worries and difficulties, at the heart of all that threatens to undo you and makes you so afraid, you are the problem. You are your own worst enemy! Which is why your own works and your own righteousness can never save you or deliver you. The harder you try, the more filthy and messed up you and your situation get. The more you attempt to raise yourself up, the further into the ground you dig yourself.

You are the problem: not who you are as a creature of God (as clay in the hands of your Potter), but the way in which your heart and mind are set upon yourself and set against Him; the perversion of your soul and spirit, out of harmony with His good Word and Spirit; and the bent of your will, curved inward upon yourself, intent upon your own wants and needs and feelings and emotions.

Although you should know better, the truth is that your intellect, knowledge and understanding are all clouded and faulty, as surely as your body is wearing out, falling apart and perishing. You have no wisdom, reason or strength with which to pull yourself out of the bottomless pit you are in.

Instead of confidence or certainty, confusion reigns, along with anxiety and fear. You are restless and ill at ease, without any real peace, contentment, satisfaction or security; because you have set yourself up at the center of everything, and yet, you are utterly unable to hold it all together. Although you attempt to control things, including your neighbor, you cannot even control yourself, much less the world around you. Far less can you control the Lord, the one true God. When you call upon Him to secure your life, you don’t have Him on a leash, but you call for His Judgment.

And, when you call for the judgment of His Law against your neighbor — when you demand His right ordering of the unruly world around you — then you call for the justice and righteousness of His Law against yourself and your own unruly life.

Then you find yourself at the foot of Mt. Sinai, trembling in fear at the roar of His thunder and the billowing clouds of His fierce wrath and terrible fury. His holiness threatens to consume you, because the revelation of His will and the perfection of His Law expose how utterly corrupt and wrong you have been, and His Spirit convicts you of sin.

It’s not just that you’ve fallen short, but that you’ve had everything inside-out, upside-down, and back-to-front, so that all of your best efforts and most impressive accomplishments are dirt, and worse than dirt; they are garbage — refuse and sewage. All your works, no matter how they may appear, are filthy and unclean, because you are filthy and unclean. You are sinful and unholy.

You need more than help, more than counseling and guidance, more than medication or therapy, and something altogether different than a new strategy or greater effort. To be rescued from the threatening perils of your sin, from the judgment of God’s Law, from punishment and death, you must be redeemed by God Himself, justified by His righteousness, and resurrected to a new life.

How, then, shall you be saved? What hope do you have?

The answer is at hand, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, and even now is entering upon the holy city and into the house of the Lord. Here mercy flows down from the hills, like oil down Aaron’s head and beard, anointing you with the Spirit of God, not only to consume the sinner you have been, but to resurrect and recreate and sanctify you for life. For here the Lord, your royal Priest and Shepherd King, has come in righteousness and peace, endowed with salvation for you.

He is already here at hand. There is no gift or grace of God that is lacking to you. But, again, He is altogether different than you have expected or perceived. Your eyes have not seen, nor have your ears ever heard, such a God as He is: Who acts on behalf of the One who waits for Him, and Who meets the One who rejoices in doing righteousness (that is, who lives according to His Word).

You have not known Him, because you have not waited upon Him. You have not called upon His Name. You have not known Him, because you have not done righteousness, but have continued in your sin a long time. From conception, and from your mother’s womb, you have done wrong.

But now He reveals Himself in Christ Jesus. He comes to you in peace, not with anger but in mercy. Not as though He has been absent or far removed from you, but He comes now, in the flesh, by the way of the Cross, in order to save you by the righteousness of His life and His death.

He has come in the flesh, into the valley of the shadow of your death, in order to bear your sins and carry your sorrows — like a beast of burden — like a lowly, humble Servant, come to serve you. And by this path of voluntary suffering and Self-sacrifice, He comes to the Father — through death into life — in order to bring you with Himself, in His own Body, to His God and Father in heaven.

He never has departed from you (though He does hide Himself to reveal Himself under the Cross), but, since you have departed from Him and fled from His presence, He has come to you, in order to bring you back to Himself. This is what He has done for you by His Cross and Passion, and this is what He now does by the Gospel, in order to save you for life everlasting in body and soul.

He sends His disciples — in His Name, and with His Word — to find you where you are: tied up and tangled in your sins, on the outside, in the street — and, by His divine command, to loose you from all your sins and death, to clothe you with His righteousness, and to bring you back to Him.

He comes to you in this way, in gentleness and meekness, by His unassuming means of grace and forgiveness, in order to bear you in Himself and to bring you into His Kingdom: a free citizen!

So has He lived faithfully and righteously — for you — in perfect faith and perfect love. For He has called upon His Father and waited patiently upon Him, even unto His death upon the Cross. And He has walked in the way of the Lord, also as true Man (bearing mortal flesh like yours).

And now you have been called into fellowship with Him. He has been laid upon your heart and mind, upon your body and soul, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness in His Name. And you have been united with Him and bound to Him by your Baptism into His death, so that you also share His Resurrection and His Life. What is more, you are most intimately knit together with Him in the Holy Communion, in the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood.

All of this, so that, as I have often said before, everything that belongs to Christ Jesus — all that He has done and accomplished, and all that He has received in His Resurrection and Ascension; His faith and love; His righteousness and holiness; His life and salvation — all of this is given to you, and it is yours. For keeps. Forever. For the same Lord God who has come to you and called you by the Gospel, shall likewise strengthen and preserve you in that Gospel, in the one true faith, in the fellowship of Christ Jesus, unto the life everlasting.

Just as you are now blameless in His sight, because you are fully clothed and covered in His own Righteousness, so shall you be found blameless when He comes in glory for the final judgment.

Already it is yours — credited as yours, for Jesus’ sake, and pressed into your hands and placed upon your lips, into your mouth and body — even as it shall be fully and openly revealed at last.

Do not be ashamed or embarrassed, therefore, to bear and carry this Lord Jesus Christ — and His Cross — in your body and life. He is indeed your Savior and your King, even in great lowliness. Do not be swayed by the fickle opinions of the world, whether they be positive or negative. And do not despair of the Lord’s tender mercy and loving kindness toward you. For He is faithful, and He has freed you from bondage and called you to the fellowship of Christ Jesus. The burdens of this body and life, and the Cross of Christ that you carry, are no indication of God’s displeasure, but are in fact a participation in His divine life and glory, by His grace.

Wait upon the Lord, and know that He will rescue and exalt you at the proper time. His help and His salvation are as sure and certain as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Therefore, call upon His Name in faith and hope. For He has given you His Name in your Holy Baptism, and He has taught you, invited you, and even commanded you to pray — and He has promised to hear and to answer. Indeed, His answer is already given: “Yes” and “Amen.” For God raised His dear Son Jesus from the dead, who has named His Christians with His own Name. So it is that everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved. You shall be saved!

As you pray in His Name, so also lay hold of His gracious answer to your prayer in His Ministry of the Gospel. Arouse yourself to hear His Word, and give attention to it. Avail yourself of Holy Absolution, which is the voice of God Himself, who speaks and it is so. Find nourishment, health and strength for your body and your soul in the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, your Savior.

Take hold of Him, also, as He takes hold of you, by living unto righteousness in Him. That is, not by constraining your neighbor to do what is right, but by constraining yourself to do what is right for your neighbor (in the faith and freedom of the Gospel). Really, it is a matter of living within your own vocations — as Christ Jesus has lived for you in His vocation — and thus bearing the burden of the Cross for your neighbor in the particular path that God has stretched out before you.

To proceed upon that path in the peace of Christ, in the love of God, in the hope of the Gospel, is to walk in the ways of the Lord Himself.

You walk in His ways, in His footsteps, as following His example. But you know, too, that He is far more than a good example for you. To be sure, His good example shows you His fulfillment of the Law on your behalf and in your stead, and, as such, His example of faith and love is nothing else and nothing less than His own faithfulness and love for you, as your Savior and Redeemer.

You are able to follow after Him, to learn from Him, and to live as He lives, because He has set you free and rescued you from sin and death and every evil. He has defended you and defeated all your enemies — including, yes, even the enemy of yourself!

And even now, as you are called to bear and carry Him in your vocations, He is the One who still continues (and ever shall) to bear and carry you in His own Body, to cleanse you with His Blood.

Indeed, His Body and His Blood — given and poured out for you, His dear Christian, to eat and to drink — are the remembrance of His mercy for you; His act of salvation, here and now, on your behalf and for your benefit; and the free gift of His righteousness, that you may live by His grace.

To walk in His ways, therefore, is not first of all your working and doing, but is principally your receiving of His work and of His good gifts, and your resting in Him, who is with you always, even to the close of the age, and who comes to you now in His Peace.

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

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