13 January 2013

The Vocation of St. Jesus the Baptist

In Christ Jesus, by your Baptism into Him, God is your true Father, and you are His own dear child.  He loves you and is pleased with you.  He hears and answers your prayers, pours out His Spirit upon you in peace, and gathers you to Himself, through Jesus Christ, your Lord.

Not only has the one true God become true Man in the Person of Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary; but, see and hear what this incarnate God does for you, in His own flesh: In the Love of the Father and the Holy Spirit, for you and for the redemption of the whole world, He takes His place with all the people in the waters of the Jordan.  To be more specific, He takes His place with all the sinners in their sinful predicament.  Though He is without any sins of His own, He submits Himself to the Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, for the salvation of sinners.  By doing so, He enters upon the Way of His Cross; He takes upon Himself your suffering and death.

At the same time, and also for the salvation of all the people, it is in His Baptism that He receives, as true Man, the Spirit and the Promise of the Father.  His eternal Sonship is now also received and realized in His humanity.  The Holy Spirit comes down from heaven, in bodily form, like a dove, to rest and remain upon His Body of flesh and blood.  So is He anointed as the Christ or Messiah, to be the “Prophet, Priest, and King supreme,” and to baptize His people with the same Holy Spirit.

As the King, He takes responsibility for you, and for all the citizens of His Kingdom; He takes the government upon His shoulders, as we have heard and confessed throughout Christmas Tide.  He is the Prince of Peace after the heart of His own God and Father, and an everlasting Father in His own right.  For He is the New Adam, the Head of the New Creation, which lives in Him forever.

As the merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, He prays and intercedes at all times, for all the children of men; He sacrifices Himself, His Body and His Blood, to atone for the sins of the world; and He opens up heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him, by the way of His own Baptism, His Cross and Resurrection.  In His prayer and His sacrifice, and through the waters of His Baptism, He brings you to the Father in and with Himself: reconciled to God; adorned in His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness; and blameless in body and soul.

And as the Prophet, who is the very Word of God made Flesh, He is the Voice of the Father to you.  He preaches the Gospel to you, which is the forgiveness of all your sins in His Name, and by this preaching He bestows the Spirit of His Father upon you.  With His Breath, He gives you His Life.

All of this, which He does for you, flows from who He is: Not simply who He is by nature from eternity — though that is the foundation for everything else — but, now also, who He is called to be in His human flesh.  That is to say, He does what He does, for you and for all, according to His Vocation as the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, and as the true and perfect Man; as the promised Seed of the Woman, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of David, and of Mary; and as the true Israel of God.

Arising and emerging from the waters of His Baptism, as such a Man of God, He prays with the voice of faith; even as He also then preaches with the Voice of His Father.  In all things, indeed, He lives and He dies, He rises and ascends, in the love and the good pleasure of His Father.

Even more to the point at hand, He proceeds on His Way — from the Jordan River to His Cross and Passion — by the Word and Spirit of His Holy Baptism; which is to say, specifically, by faith in this promise of His Father: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

On this basis, by such faith, He lives in love for His Father, and in love for His “many brethren,” who are children of God by His grace.  Not only that, but He lays down His life for you, as well, in order to atone for all your sins by His death — in the confidence that His Father will raise Him up again in peace — just as surely as He enters, and emerges from, the waters of His Baptism.

All of this He does and He accomplishes, for you and for “all the people,” in and with His Body of human flesh and blood: in order to save you for life everlasting with God in both body and soul.

And everything He thus accomplishes, fulfills, and receives in His flesh, He also credits to you, gives to you, and pours out upon you by grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit: With His Voice, which is the preaching of His Gospel; and in bodily form, that is, by visible and tangible means of grace, by the Sacraments, as “the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.”

As the Word of God and human Flesh are one Christ, so are water and the Spirit one Baptism in His Name.  For the Lord your God is with you in the waters, even through death and the grave, into the Resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Therefore, as you pass through the waters of the Red Sea out of Egypt, and as you go through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan, He is there with you; for He has been baptized for you, and you are baptized into Him.

Thus, you receive Christ Jesus, His God and Father, and His Holy Spirit, in your Holy Baptism: Not only the Son of God as your Savior, but His Sonship as your own, by the gracious adoption of God.  For just as Jesus is anointed by the Spirit to be the Christ, so are you anointed by the same Spirit to be a Christian.

This is who and what God calls you to be.  This is your first and foremost vocation.  Not your job, nor what you should be doing, but who you actually are in Christ Jesus: God’s own dear child, His beloved son or daughter.  What you do, and how you live, as a Christian, flows from that identity, in whatever particular place God has stationed you in the midst of your pilgrimage.

So often, you are tempted to define yourself, to evaluate your worth, and to discern the meaning and purpose of your life, on the basis of what you do and accomplish.  But that is really backwards, inside-out, and upside-down.  It is a basic form of works righteousness, which simply cannot give you life or save you.  It leads to pride and arrogance, or else to despair on account of your sins.

Repent of your sins, and do good works of love, to be sure.  But do not define your life by either.

No, dear child of God, it is not what you do, neither your works nor your sins, that define your life.  Rather, by the Word and Spirit of God, you are a new creation, a new person, a new man or woman: Indeed, you are a child of God, a beloved and well-pleasing son of God in Christ Jesus.

And now it is who you are, by His grace, that defines and determines your life in His peace.  For you live by faith in His Word and Promise.  You live by the Holy Spirit, who has been poured out upon you generously through Jesus Christ your Savior, by the virtue of your Holy Baptism in His Name.  You live in the sure and certain confidence of your dear God and Father; for you are His true child, and He loves you, now and forever.  You live in the hope of the open heaven, which Christ Jesus has opened to you by His Cross and Passion, and in His Resurrection from the dead.

Do not be afraid.  He is still with you in the waters, and He will bring you safely through.  As death no longer has any dominion over Him, neither does it have dominion over you.  You live in Him.

Here, then, is how you live as God’s own dear child: I urge you, first of all, to pray, as the Lord Jesus prayed throughout His earthly life and ministry, and as He ever lives to intercede for you.  Pray, with all boldness and confidence, as the Lord Himself has taught you and invited you to pray: in the certainty that you are heard and answered.  Do not suppose that it will do no good, nor as though you must bargain with God or twist His arm to help you.  But pray as a child to your Dad, to your true God and Father in Christ, who loves you and withholds no good thing from you.

And as you sanctify your days with the Word of God and prayer, do your job, fulfill your duties, carry out your responsibilities, and love your neighbors well, in whatever particular tasks your dear Father has given you to do.  Not as though your life depended on it, but to please your Father, and to serve and care for your family, for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Your place in His family is not at stake, nor His love and good pleasure, which are yours for the sake of Jesus, your Savior.  But your good works of faith and love are pleasing to your God and Father, because you are His own child, and because you are pleasing to Him in that same Lord Jesus Christ, His beloved Son.

The Truth of the matter is in the Word that He speaks to you in the Gospel, and in the Flesh of Christ Jesus, in which that very Word is fulfilled for you: Repentance and faith, the forgiveness of all your sins by His Cross, and the righteousness of God in His Resurrection from the dead — all of these are accomplished for you in Christ; and everything that belongs to Him, is now yours:

His Father and His Sonship are yours.  His Spirit and His holiness are yours.  His heaven, and His Life everlasting in body and soul, all of this is yours, now and forever.

For the God and Father of your Lord Jesus Christ has given you the new birth of water and His Holy Spirit, and has forgiven you all your sins by the Gospel of His Son.  So shall He also keep your body, soul, and spirit blameless, unto the Day of Christ Jesus, your Savior, when He comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He shall do it.

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

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