01 April 2012

The Self-Sacrifice of Christ for Our Salvation

There are many reasons for which people contemplate or threaten suicide, and of course each situation is unique. But most of those people who actually attempt to die by their own hands have these two things in common: (1.) They have limited connections to other people, whether few in number or mostly casual and superficial; and (2.) they have come to believe that others would be less burdened, and so the world would actually become a better place without them.

If you are thinking along these lines, and feeling this way, please talk to your pastor or teacher, confide in your parent or spouse, or go and see your physician. Seek help, and do not believe the lie that the world would be a better place without you. The Author and Giver of life has created you for the sake of His love, and He has a purpose for each day and every hour that He gives you.

If someone else confides in you that he or she is contemplating suicide, do not simply encourage but actively assist that person in seeking help. Insist on the counsel and care of at least a parent, a pastor or physician, and follow through in making sure that help is obtained. Your neighbor’s life is too precious to risk doing nothing or letting it go out of awkwardness or loyalty to a friend.

But now, then, what are we to think or say about Jesus? Is He bent upon some kind of suicide mission? Is He intent upon throwing His life away? He’s had a lot of followers, off and on along the way, but He’s also managed to alienate many if not most of them. Public opinions rise and fall like election polls; the crowds tend to be fickle, their loyalties shallow. Is Jesus getting desperate, or despairing? His own extended family has already feared, at times, that He has lost His senses.

Hasn’t He been telling His disciples that He’s going to Jerusalem expecting to be condemned and put to death? And remember how He responded when Simon Peter objected to that prospect? He has spoken of His coming death as a given, a necessity, and as the very purpose for which He has come into the world. He has clearly said that He will lay down His life in order to save others.

So, is Jesus suicidal as He enters Jerusalem on a bee-line for the Cross?

By no means! He is not despairing, but confident and faithful, trusting in His God and Father. He is not giving up hope, nor abandoning His vocation, but proceeding in the way that His Father has set before Him, in the very Office to which He has been called and ordained by the Holy Spirit. His death upon the Cross is not suicide — although it is true that no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly. It is not suicide, but Self-sacrifice. He offers Himself up to God, in perfect faith, in love for God and for His neighbors: for all of His neighbors, including you.

The fallen world cannot make sense of this Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. It can discern, to some extent, the self-sacrifice of duty, of those who put themselves in harm’s way to save others. And the world surely does pass judgment, in one form or another, not only on those who shirk their duties and run away from danger when it comes, but also on those who have ended their own lives.

But the fallen world does not recognize, nor can it really know, the true glory of the Cross. It does not see the bullet that Christ takes, the bomb that He smothers and absorbs with His Body; nor does it realize the ransom that He pays to redeem the world from destruction. The Cross seems to be, not the faithfulness of duty, but simply foolishness; not the glory of heroic rescue from danger, but a futile waste, a misguided effort, a failed mission, a dismal loss. Or, at best, the world might think of the crucified Jesus as a martyr for some cause, as a fervent emotional appeal for tolerance.

Confronted with the Cross of Christ, the world slips easily into cynical unbelief and proud idolatry. If that’s what God is like, well then, no thanks! Cold reason kicks into gear and begins to calculate survival. Hardness of heart sets in, not only against God, but also against the neighbor. Sacrifice may be fine, to a certain extent, if there’s some return on the investment, some marketable glory to be gained. Every move is governed by the twin goals of self-preservation and self-promotion.

That way of thinking obviously doesn’t aim at suicide, but in resisting and fleeing from the Cross, it does lead to the spiritual self-destruction of apostasy; which is ultimately far worse. In trying to protect yourself and preserve your life by rejecting the Cross and the Crucified One, you make a show of strength and competence, but you cut yourself off from the only true and lasting Life.

Alternatively, the fallen world sometimes simply falls apart when confronted by the Cross; that is, instead of cold logic and calculated strategy, there is a kind of craziness or madness that emerges. Not hardness of heart, but insanity, lawlessness, and perversity of every kind. The nervous system comes unglued, the mind becomes unhinged, and open foolishness begins to reign. Faced with the consequences of sin, the certainty of death, and the condemnation of the Law — which is what you see in Christ on the Cross — there is the panic, the chaos and confusion of a waking nightmare.

So what are you to make of all this, when the so-called “real world,” on the one hand, seems so solid, so objective and so certain, and yet, on the other hand, it is frequently so very unstable? Soldiers gone berserk. Pilots gone crazy. High school students opening fire on their classmates. Football coaches molesting little boys. Fathers blowing up their children.

At the same time, the true reality — that of the Holy Triune God and His Word, His Kingdom and His Righteousness — and His dwelling place, the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens — that all sounds so imaginary and fantastic, so make believe and fairy-tale foolish.

Too good to be true, for one thing; but then it is manifested and bestowed by the way of the Cross, which appears to be, and feels like, exactly the opposite!

It seems as though sanity ought to be rather savvy, reasonable and strong, the way the world likes it and wants it to be. But here the sanity of God enters in with this foolishness, in humility and weakness, mounted on the foal of a donkey. He who is God empties Himself, and makes Himself nothing. He submits Himself, in utter poverty and human shame, to death upon the Cross.

Such divine sanity appears absolutely crazy, as though God were out of His mind. And yet, you are called to have this mind of God in yourself, to share this sanity of Christ, which is the sanity of His Cross. That shall be yours only by faith in the Word of God. It is not by sight or sense; neither by emotion nor experience.

Appearances are deceiving. So, what’s really going on?

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is the Lord’s selection of the Passover Lamb. That’s what was happening in the holy city on that day. Here the Father chooses His own beloved Son, without spot or blemish, and hands Him over to be slain for the Feast.

So it is that Jesus comes and enters in, and then He becomes the King of the Jews — He saves His people now — by entering upon His Holy Passion, and then mounting the throne of His Cross.

He goes up to Jerusalem, in order to enter the Most Holy Place once for all by His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross, by the shedding of His Blood. He thereby atones for the sins of the world and redeems all the people at the cost of His own Life, freely given in faith and love.

In this way, the Lord Jesus establishes the New Covenant in Himself — in His own Body, with His own Blood. Which is to say that He reconciles the world to God in Himself; so that heaven and earth, God and Man, are perfectly and permanently united in Him, in His Person, in Peace.

The testimony of that reconciliation is given by God the Father in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ Jesus. For He who died for you, bearing your sins, has been raised up and seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Not only that, but His reconciliation is also given, here and now, to you, in the New Covenant of His Body and His Blood.

For here is the Meat and Drink of that Passover Meal, of the Lamb who was chosen by God and sacrificed for the salvation of the world. His flesh feeds you. His blood cleanses you from sin and covers you from death. This is the eternal redemption that Christ has obtained for you.

This is the true wisdom of His Cross; the true sanity and stability of His salvation; the true victory of Christ, which prevails for you against all of your enemies: against sin, death, the devil and hell.

Therefore, if you have given up or despaired of hope, return to this stronghold — to this Covenant of Christ the Crucified. For this very day, He declares, He restores double to you.

He is faithful. He shall do it.

The world does have its own victories of self-sacrificing love, its own heroes, its own martyrs for good causes: Soldiers who don’t go berserk, but who lay down their lives in defense of others. Firefighters and police officers. Brave citizens who step into the breach. Mothers and fathers who sacrifice in countless ways for the sake of their children.

For a good cause, for a good man, for a good friend, some people are indeed willing to risk their lives, and to die. Man has no greater love to give than that.

And the world, in its own way, honors that sacrifice. But it does so with sadness, with memories of, and with monuments to, that which has been lost and won’t be gotten back again.

God’s love and His Self-sacrifice are far greater. For while we were yet sinners — not good men, but bad; not friends of God, but enemies at odds with Him — even then, the Father gave His Son, and the Son laid down His life for us all.

And see what His love has done: He has reconciled us and the whole world to Himself. He has befriended His enemies. He has brought an end to the war that would not end, and now He speaks peace to all the nations. Instead of chaos, He brings calm. Instead of insanity and instability, He has become your Firm Foundation, and the Wise Master Builder of a House that shall not fall.

In His Resurrection, He has given you a future and a hope. Indeed, He is your future and your hope, your life and your salvation, your strength and your song. Because He is not dead and gone, but victorious and alive forevermore. His dominion is from sea to shining sea; from the Tigris and the Euphrates, and from the Jordan River, even to the ends of the earth.

And here is the irony of the Cross: The world is a better place because of His death; because, by His atoning Self-sacrifice, He has established a peaceful connection and profound communion between God and Man. He has removed the great divide, brought down the wall of hostility, and replaced the stone cold loneliness of sin and death with His divine friendship.

Beloved, that is what is true and real, and sure and certain for you. The world is now a better place, for you and for your neighbor, because of who you are in Christ — God’s own dear child:

Buried with Christ by your Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.

So it is that your life in the flesh, in the world, even now under the Cross, and your labors of love, for your neighbors, friends or foes, these are not in vain, but meaningful and significant. Your faith in Christ and His Cross is not foolish, but the true divine wisdom, which is forever and ever.

For God has highly exalted the Crucified One, and given Him the Name which is above every name; that, at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow — in heaven and on earth, and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

What, then, shall we offer to the Lord for all His benefits to us?

Let us offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Let us take up the Cup of Salvation, and call on the Name of the Lord. For everyone who calls on His Name shall be saved. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

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

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