18 January 2012

The Confession of St. Peter

The true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is the knowledge of repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins. It is the knowledge of His Cross and Resurrection; not only as historical facts, but as the means by which He has accomplished salvation and entered into His Glory as the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed.

To confuse Him with John the Baptist is mistaken, yes, but not so far fetched; for it is by John’s Baptism that Jesus is manifested and made known to Israel. Everything flows from and with His Baptism, even unto His death upon the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.

The Father revealed Him to be the Christ and His beloved Son when the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove, and the voice from heaven spoke concerning Him, as He came up out of the waters of His Baptism. All of this belongs to the Jesus who went into the waters on behalf of all the people (including you); who submitted Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; who thereby committed Himself to sacrificial suffering and death as the Lamb of God, who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the world.

The Word and promise of the Father at His Baptism is the faith that Jesus confesses with His entire life, and the confidence with which He proceeds to Jerusalem, to the rejection of the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and to His Cross and Passion. He has willingly taken up the Cross in His Baptism, and He carries it faithfully unto His Crucifixion, in the expectation that His Father will raise Him up again. He knows that His suffering and death are neither useless nor unfruitful, because He knows that He is thus given under heaven among men for the salvation of all people. He takes their place under the Cross, under the burden of their sin and death, in order to receive on their behalf the Name that is above every name, and the Spirit of God in His own human flesh, and the very Life of God as true Man. So that, in His Resurrection from the dead, you and all people — all who believe and are baptized in His Name — become partakers of the divine nature.

This is what it means for Him to be the Christ.

As a Christian, a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ, you learn all this, you know all this, and you receive it and share in it, by following after Him, that is, by taking up His Cross and following Him, through death, into life everlasting. That means suffering the rejection and hostility of the world, on account of Christ and His Gospel. And it means bearing the burden of your neighbor’s needs and of your neighbor’s sins, by loving and serving your neighbor, and by forgiving his or her trespasses against you. But it also means the daily dying of your old Adam, and of your own sinful flesh, through contrition and repentance. It means that you are put to death by the Law of God, in order to be raised to new life in Christ by His Gospel, His forgiveness of your sins.

You have been named with His Name, anointed with His Spirit as a Christian, and adopted as a beloved child of His Father, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism. That is where and how you have received His Cross, and it is from your Baptism that you now follow after Him and learn from Him. You confirm and make certain His calling and choosing of you there, by the ongoing catechesis of His Word; that is, by the preaching of His Law and His Gospel, the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection.

Apart from that preaching and catechesis, you do not know the Man. You will not confess Him, at least not rightly, but you will deny Him when His Cross looms large and His Passion presses upon you. Apart from His preaching and catechesis, you will fear the wrong things, and desire the wrong things, and be zealous in pursuing your own good intentions, which actually do nothing but pave the road to hell. Your own wisdom and knowledge, without the Word and Spirit of Christ, are a Satanic delusion, which promise you the world at the cost of your soul.

But, now, the Lord Jesus has given His Life, His body and soul, in exchange for the world; that the world might be saved through Him, and have life in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead. Thus has He given Himself for you and for all, and for all of your sins. And by His Cross and Resurrection, He has opened up the gates of Hades, in order to bring you out; He has opened up your grave, in order to raise you up from death; He has opened up heaven to you, in order to bring you into life with Himself, in body and soul. And He has opened up the way of repentance for you through His Gospel of the forgiveness of all your sins.

It is for the sake of that Gospel that He raised up Simon Peter, and restored Simon Peter, not only to discipleship, but to the apostolic ministry. He rebuked Peter and called him to repentance, to be sure; but He did so in love and with mercy, both for Peter and for His whole Church on earth. He rescued Peter, in order to rescue and raise up His people through Peter’s confession of His Name. He poured out His Spirit upon Peter, in order to give him the true knowledge and wisdom, and the true boldness and confidence, not of bravado, but of the Cross and Resurrection.

Thus, by St. Peter’s preaching and catechizing, men and women, boys and girls, were brought to repentance, to faith in the Gospel, and to Christian discipleship. You hear that throughout the first half of the Book of Acts, beginning with the great Day of Pentecost. Let us give thanks for that.

But St. Peter also knew, from his own experience, as also by the Lord’s Word and Spirit, that all of this — repentance, faith, and life in Christ — continues to depend upon the preaching and the ongoing catechesis of Christ Jesus.

Even though you already know the story and the facts, and you have already been established in the Truth (by your Baptism into Christ), the knowledge by which you have life and godliness, and by which grace, mercy and peace are multiplied upon you, is the living and active Word of Christ which is preached to you; which daily calls you and brings you to repentance, and purifies you from sin; which names you with the Name of Jesus, and anoints you with His Spirit, and teaches you to pray, praise and give thanks to your dear God and Father in heaven.

Therefore, in love, and by the grace of God, St. Peter’s preaching and catechesis have been preserved and handed over for the edification of the whole Church: in the Acts of the Apostles, in his two Epistles, and in the Gospel According to St. Mark (written under St. Peter’s apostleship). By these apostolic Scriptures, the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene continues to be given under heaven among men, so that, by His Name, you are raised up from death to stand in the health and strength of faith in the Gospel; and you shall be saved.

Along with St. Peter’s confession, you also have the comforting example of the Lord’s mercy upon him. In grace and peace, the Lord Jesus cared for Simon Peter and made of him a faithful disciple and a great Apostle, so that he was by no means useless or unfruitful. The Lord bore good fruits in him, which still feed the Church to this day, to the ends of the earth, and to the close of the age.

By these good fruits of St. Peter, and by the catechesis and confession of Christ Jesus in this place, the same Lord also cares for you, and He bears good fruits in you, as well. The preaching of His Cross and Resurrection puts sin to death in you, and brings you to life in Him. As you are preserved in the grace and promises of your Holy Baptism, and as you are given to eat and to drink the holy Body and precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are indeed a partaker of the divine nature. You are set free from the bondage and corruption of your covetous lust and selfish greed, and you are brought from faith to moral excellence, to self-control, to brotherly kindness and love.

These qualities are yours, and they continue to grow and increase, because Christ is yours, who has given Himself for you, and who gives Himself to you by the Gospel. He does not abandon you, nor leave you to your own devices; but as He was crucified for your transgressions, and has been raised for your justification, so does He forgive you, and restore you, and give you His own life.

Though you know your flaws and failings — such as your arrogance and pride on the one hand, and yet also your fear and denials on the other hand — nevertheless, your holiness and righteousness are sure and certain in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead. He is with you in peace and love, and He is your courage and strength, your confidence and sufficiency. Even your falling and rising, your daily repentance and His daily forgiveness of all your sins, are a beautiful confession and example of His perfect grace and mercy.

As you are His Christian, you are neither useless nor unfruitful, but even your enemies, as well as your friends, begin to recognize that you are with Jesus — because He is surely with you.

As He is the Chief Cornerstone of His Apostles and Prophets, and of His whole Church in heaven and on earth, so is He the Chief Cornerstone of your life, both body and soul; and so does He glorify His Name in you, both now and forever.

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

14 January 2012

Come and See the Heavens Opened to You in the Body of Christ

Before you ever came to Him; before you were called to faith; before you were even conceived in the womb and borne from the body of your mother, Jesus saw you in love and mercy.

He purposed to come, by His grace, to seek you out and find you, in order to give you life.

And now He has called you to Himself, to follow Him: to come and find your life in Him, who is your Savior and your God, your Rabbi and your King.

He speaks. You, follow Him, first of all by listening to what He says.

He warns and admonishes you against sins that destroy faith and love and lead you to death.

He disciplines and instructs you in the way of faith and love, which is the way of life.

Best of all, He promises an open heaven to you, through His fulfillment of the Scriptures for you; as demonstrated already in His Baptism, and fully accomplished by His Cross and Resurrection.

By all means, search the Scriptures for Him, as Nathanael was doing under the fig tree; for that was a place for the study of Moses and the Prophets. The Scriptures speak of this Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is called the Nazarene. Therefore, catechize yourself and your family with the Holy Scriptures. Read and study the Bible, or listen to it being read by your parents or your siblings. Pray and confess the Catechism, which is a simple summary and teaching of the Holy Scriptures.

But so also hear and heed the Word of Christ, and follow from the Scriptures to the place where He is, that is, to His preaching and His Absolution, and to His Body of flesh and blood.

That is where heaven stands open to you: Not “up there, somewhere, over the rainbow,” but right here, right now, in His Body and His Blood, upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. Notice how the angels begin from below, that is, from here on earth, where the Body of Christ is found in His Church. For here in His Body is the House of God; that is to say, the true Beth-el. Here in His flesh and blood is the very gate of heaven.

It is His Body of flesh and blood that has broken the bondage of sin and death, by His atoning sacrifice upon the Cross. And in the Resurrection and Ascension of His Body, from the grave to the Right Hand of the Father, you also are raised from death to life, and seated with Him in the heavenly places. You and your life are hidden with Him in the bosom of His God and Father.

So, He sees you, and He comes to you, and He calls you to “come and see,” to find Him here in His Church. For the Altar of His Supper is the Ark of the New Covenant of Yahweh Sabaoth.

It’s easy to be cynical and skeptical, because of what you see and experience on the surface. The Church on earth is beleaguered, the pastors are fallible, and all the people are flawed, including the officers and leaders of the congregation. Everyone is so finite, frail and mortal. Resources are limited and stretched so thin. Can anything good come out of something so pathetic as all this?

Yet, the Word of the Lord is true, and even though heaven and earth pass away, and everything else perishes, His Word remains. The Lamp has not gone out, but He calls and sends His preachers to preach, and He does not allow their words to fail; for they are His Words. What you now hear by the testimony of the Apostles, you will see with your own eyes in the Resurrection at the last.

In view of the Resurrection, even now — for it has already appeared in His own Resurrection from the dead! — He calls you to come in body and soul; and He cares for you in body and soul; He unites Himself to you, body and soul, and anoints you with His Holy Spirit, also in body and soul.

Therefore, follow Him, confess Him, and manifest Him; not only in your soul, within yourself, but with your body in the world, and for your neighbor (also in his needs of both body and soul).

Your body is cleansed and forgiven by the Gospel, and set free from sin and death. Your body is given peace and rest in Christ Jesus, in His means of grace: Words in your ears; waters that have washed over your body; and real food and drink in your mouth, upon your lips and tongue, and down your throat. So shall your body also be raised in glory unto the life everlasting; like Jesus.

Take care, then, what you do with your body, which has been created, redeemed, and sanctified for the Lord, for life with Him. As your eyes now look upon the Cross, and as they shall finally and forever look upon the Lord in His risen and glorified flesh, be careful what else your eyes look at in the meantime. As your ears are granted to hear the Name of the Lord, and the forgiveness of His Gospel, be careful what else your ears listen to. And be careful what your lips and tongue speak, when they have also received and eaten the Body and Blood of the Son of God. Shall you curse, swear, lie or deceive with the same mouth that has confessed Christ and tasted His Supper?

Consider where your feet should take you, and where they should not go; and what your hands should do, and what they should not. Your body is free, no doubt; for Christ has set you free by His Cross and Resurrection, and by His Gospel. But do not use your freedom to rush back into the slavery of sin. Do not return to the bondage of death.

You are free, because you have been bought with a price, that is, the precious blood of Christ. Therefore, you are not your own; nor should you want to be, since you cannot give life to yourself! But you are the Lord’s; not as though you were His slave, but that you may have real life in Him.

Follow Christ Jesus, therefore, in and with your body — in the freedom of faith in His Gospel — in the way of life that has been given to you in your Baptism — in the hope and expectation of the resurrection of your body.

Follow Him by seeking out your neighbor and going to your neighbor, as Christ your Lord has sought you out and found you; and as Philip did in going to get Nathanael.

Follow Christ by speaking to your neighbor what Christ has spoken to you; by calling and inviting your neighbor to “come and see” what you have found, by God’s grace, here within His Church.

And follow Christ by worshiping Him with your body — along with your heart and mind, soul and spirit — in repentance, faith and love. Humble yourself before Him, as Nathanael was moved from his cynical skepticism to the reverent honor and praise of Christ Jesus.

So acknowledge your own sins and failures, your frailty and weakness,
but also the great glory of Christ’s mercy, His grace, His forgiveness and love.

Here, now, enter the heaven He has opened to you through His holy Body and precious Blood. For these great things are here for you, given and poured out, that you may taste and see His Glory.

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

07 January 2012

The Dawning of the New Creation

To begin with, God created the heavens and the earth by His Word and Holy Spirit — out of nothing — out of love. He started with the waters of a great cosmic deep (brought into existence by His will), and over those waters His Spirit hovered and His voice sounded, bringing forth all things in good order. He spoke, and it was so: “Let there be,” and there was! And it was all good. Divine Love brought forth Light and Life.

The Lord crowned His good work of creation with Man, made in His own Image and Likeness — male and female He made them, the man and his wife, as living icons of Christ and His Bride, the Church (from the beginning, it was always about Christ Jesus and His people).

Created in love, for the sake of love and friendship — with God and with each other — the man and the woman were permitted the freedom to fall; and all of creation fell with them.

Disregarding and disobeying His Word, fleeing His Voice and His Spirit, man fell (and fled) back into the formless void and deep darkness of existence apart from the Word and Spirit of God.

From the lush and fertile Garden into a tough and barren wilderness they went. Everything became hostile and hard. The ground from which the man was taken doesn’t cough up food easily or for nothing, but only with hard work and bloody sweat. The water without the Word and Spirit of God is not just simple water only, but a dark and dangerous deep, a chaotic abyss. Then again, life without water is no better, but deadly; for that is to wander in the desert, in the waterless places to which the demons flee in fear.

That is where you find yourself — or, rather, that is where you are lost — except the Lord Himself come and enter in, to find you and to save you, to bring you back to life.

Apart from His Advent and Epiphany — His coming and appearing — you exist, to be sure, but you do not really live. Until He fills you up, you are empty and void on the inside. Until He grants you His peace, there is chaos surrounding you on all sides, hounding you and haunting you, and always threatening to swallow you up and consume you. Until the Lord shines His light upon you, there is only darkness, within and without. And without His forgiveness of your sins, there is only death; not that you die once, and then it’s over, but perpetual dying.

That is the wilderness — outside of Paradise, outside of Canaan — in which John the Baptist appears, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He comes announcing the solution. He has the answer to all your hurts, confusion and fear. His appearance, his preaching and his baptism, as you have heard from St. Mark this past month, are the beginning of the Gospel. This is the dawning of a New Creation — the promise of Light in the midst of deep darkness — this voice now crying in the wilderness.

So all the people go out to him in hopeful expectation. Judah and Jerusalem make their way out to John in the wilderness, seeking a fresh start; looking for salvation; waiting on the redemption of Israel. They hear his preaching of repentance, and so they are baptized, confessing their sins.

In this you see the practice of Confession & Absolution, and its connection to Holy Baptism. It is the way of repentance, which seeks and receives the forgiveness of sins.

The Absolution and the answer are not found in John the Baptist, but in the One to whom he points, whose way he prepares, and of whom he preaches. For John is not the Christ. He is not your redeemer, nor could he be. He is not your rescuer, your savior or solution. But his preaching and his baptism usher in the One who is all of these.

Enter Jesus of Nazareth. He is the Mighty One who comes, who is greater than John. And though John cannot take His place, this Jesus takes the place of all the people in submitting Himself to John’s preaching and baptism of repentance!

He stoops down to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. And what does such baptizing with water indicate? It signifies His death and burial, His sacrifice for the sins of the world. Not merely as a symbol, but as a Sacrament, which actually gives what it says and does what it declares.

In submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, Jesus assumes responsibility for the sins of Adam and Eve and all their children, and He commits Himself to die their death. As surely as He enters into the waters, so shall He be crucified, dead and buried.

He dies for all the people, because the waters of His Baptism have soaked Him in their sins, and soiled Him with all their sins. That is why the waters of your Baptism wash away all of your sins — because He absorbs them into His Body, like a sponge, by submerging Himself in the waters of Baptism. You get clean, because He gets dirty.

But now, also, He comes up out of the water. He emerges and arises from the waters of His Baptism, as He shall also arise from death and the grave. And because He does so as the One who has taken your place in the water, your sin and your death, so do you also emerge and arise from the waters of your Baptism, unto faith and life and righteousness in Him. For so intimately has He united Himself to you in the waters of Baptism, and so tightly has He bound Himself to you, once and forever.

Everything that Jesus receives from His Father through His Baptism, He receives for you, so that you also receive it through your Baptism into Him.

Thus, it is first of all true that you are buried with Him through Baptism into His death. You are crucified, dead and buried with Him; so that sin is put to death in you, and your body of death is done away with.

But then you come up out of the water with Him; you are risen with Him in His Resurrection, and the heavens are opened to you. If you want to know for sure and certain what will happen to you when you die, remember that you are baptized, and consider this Baptism of our Lord for you, and then you will know that heaven has been opened to you — and it will not be closed. Only do not abandon your Baptism, but return to it; for there the door stands open forever in Christ Jesus.

He proceeds from the waters of His Baptism — on the way to His Cross and Passion — in that same faith and confidence, in that same promise of His Father. Having taken your place in His Baptism, He lives your life, as a Christian lives, by the Word and promise of His Baptism.

When He received the Spirit, who hovered over the waters and descended upon Him, He received the surety, the guarantee and down payment of His Resurrection from the dead. And though He had taken upon Himself the sins of the world, and bore them in His Body as the sacrificial Lamb, He also received the Word of His Father: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased!”

Here is the Word and Spirit of God, by which all of Creation is resurrected and renewed in the Body of Jesus. And that Word and Spirit are given to you, and they are yours, by your Baptism into Him. Thus, you are resurrected and renewed, in both body and soul, unto the life everlasting.

Indeed, you have been reborn as a beloved son of God in Christ. You have been recreated in His Image and Likeness, as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church. And your God and Father in heaven is well-pleased with you. Do not let go of that Word, nor forget that declaration:

You are beloved and well-pleasing to your Father.

Though you still feel and experience sin and death in yourself, in your thoughts, words and actions, there is no sin or death in you that Christ Jesus has not taken upon Himself, and made His own, and suffered and died for you. Therefore, just as sure and certain as He is the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God — even as He bears your sins in His Body from the waters of His Baptism to His death upon the Cross — so sure and certain are you beloved and well-pleasing to your God and Father in Him. And as surely as God raised this same Jesus from the dead, so surely shall you also be raised. Because you are His own, and He loves you.

This voice of the Father from heaven is the Light that shines upon you in the darkness, which also causes the Light of Christ to shine within your heart.

This pledge and promise of your Baptism is the dawning of the New Creation for you — and now in you, in your heart and mind, body and soul, by the grace of God, through faith in the Gospel.

It has already been accomplished for you in Christ Jesus, the Son of God: by His Incarnation and Holy Nativity, by His Baptism in the Jordan River, by His Cross and Resurrection, and by His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father in His glorified Body of flesh and blood.

And all of this that He has done and accomplished for you, He has given to you in your Baptism. It fills you up and gives you peace. It is all yours. For Christ is yours, and you are His forever.

Now, then, you live in the New Creation — in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus — by living every day in His Baptism, and in His Body.

What does that mean? And how do you do that? By living in your own Baptism: through daily contrition and repentance. Which isn’t something you can do for yourself, but it is worked in you by the Word and Spirit of God. So give attention to His Word, and live according to His Word.

Examine yourself, your thoughts, words and actions, and your place in life, according to the Ten Commandments. Then you will know how to live in faith and love, and what you should do, and what you should not do. You’ll also know what sins to confess, going to your pastor as the people went to St. John, that you might hear and receive the forgiveness of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Examining yourself and confessing your sins is the first way to use the Word of God, as an exercise of faith and a means of repentance. It allows the Word of God to expose your sins and put them to death — and to crucify the old Adam in you, with all your sinful lusts and desires. That sounds pretty scary and self-defeating, I realize, but it is the beginning and first step of repentance, which is the only way of life.

God identifies your sin and puts it to death with His Word — and He crucifies you, and puts you to death, by the Cross of Christ — in order to free you from sin and death, to save you for life with Himself, through His Word of Absolution or forgiveness.

That voice of the Gospel — that forgiveness of all your sins — rings out clearly in Confession and Absolution, surely. But it also sounds forth throughout the Church: in the preaching of Christ Jesus, and in the administration of His Body and His Blood with His own Word.

You live and abide in His Body — in His Resurrection from the dead, and therefore in the New Creation, in the Paradise of your God and Father — by listening to the Gospel and receiving the Sacrament. These are the bodily means by which Christ Jesus is with you, and by which His Holy Spirit descends upon you and rests upon you.

So does the Gospel of Christ Jesus, which reverberates throughout the Church, also resonate in you, in your thoughts, words and actions. The more you immerse yourself in its good vibrations, the more its sweet frequencies permeate your life and your relationships. The sound originates in Christ Jesus, in the voice of the Father speaking to you by His Son, but it echoes and reverberates and sings in you by the breathing of His Spirit.

For your Baptism not only puts you to death and buries you, but it also raises you up and gives you new life in Christ. This is not your work, but His work, and His free gift to you. Yet, it is now your life, which you live in Him by faith in His Gospel.

Thus are you also taken from the dust of the earth, and recreated in the Image and Likeness of God, and given to breathe the Breath of Life.

Thus are you a beloved son of the Father, well-pleasing in His sight.

For the Light of His Glory shines upon you, His peace is with you, and you shall be saved.

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