03 February 2013

He Keeps on Preaching with Authority

He comes down from heaven to earth, in order to raise you up from death to life.  He comes and enters in, to set you free from whatever it is that weighs you down and binds you, and to bring you into His own house and home, to live with Him in His Kingdom.

He casts out your demons and heals your diseases, and He bestows the Spirit of His God and Father upon you; so that you shall be (as you are now, by His grace) a beloved child of God in Him: in Jesus Christ, your Lord.

His coming, however, isn’t entirely comfortable, but rather a striking confrontation.  There is, in this, a clash between heaven and hell, between God and the devil; and what is at stake is a matter of eternal life and death.  It is to be taken seriously, but you will only get your bearings rightly by the Word and Spirit of God: in the preaching of Christ Jesus.

The problem and the challenge is, that the coming and the real presence of the Holy One of God appears as a threat to those in the grip of sin and sinful unbelief.  Satan would have the sons and daughters of man receive the Christ as yet another accusation.  That old serpent, the devil, twists and distorts the coming of this Preacher, to stir up guilt and shame, anger and defensiveness.  The wicked foe would do the same to you, as well, if ever he can manage; so that, when you hear the voice of the Lord and the sound of His approach, you are driven by fear of death and destruction, either to fight or to flee.  Despite the fact that this Lord Jesus comes, not to destroy, but to save.

You know how it is, and you have felt this way at times.  Perhaps today, right here and now.  The man with the spirit of an unclean demon is not an outsider.  This guy is “in the synagogue,” in the midst of the people, a member of the congregation.  And yet, he is terrified of Jesus and denounces Him with loud protests: “This ‘goody-two-shoes,’ this so-n-so, is all uppity and ‘holier-than-thou,’ and now He comes in here with His attitude, His nose in the air, to criticize and condemn us all.  His religion is nothing but rules and regulations, requiring strict obedience and outlawing any fun.”

This is such a common perception of Christ Jesus, and of His Christians, too.  You probably have family and friends who have made similar remarks, maybe with loud and angry voices at times. Maybe you have also said or thought the same kinds of things.  And maybe this popular picture of Christ and Christianity makes you edgy and uncomfortable because it cuts too close to home.

To be sure, this distortion of things has some bases in the truth, both the good and the bad of it.  For one thing, the Word of the Lord, His good and acceptable will, does include His holy and righteous Law: There is right and wrong, and you are required to do the one and avoid the other.  You shall be holy, as the Lord your God is holy.  You are called to be perfect, as your God and Father in heaven is perfect.  And this same Law condemns you, and sentences you to punishment, now and forever; because the soul that sins shall die.  That is the truth.

Then there is the other truth of the matter, that Christians too often are vindictive, judgmental, overbearing, and self-righteous.  But, now, don’t start ticking off the list of people you know who are like that.  Examine yourself, your own thoughts, words, and actions, and repent of your sins against the faith and love of God, and against your neighbor.  When you, who bear the Name of Christ Jesus, are characterized by anger, by a quick and harsh temper, by criticism of others, by impatience, and by a reluctance or refusal to forgive those who trespass against you, then you fuel the demonic fires of Satan; and you, yourself, are in need of cleansing from such a spirit as that.

But, for all of that, the true holiness and actual purpose of Christ Jesus are quite otherwise than the demons and unclean spirits suppose and would have you believe.  For while the Lord Jesus and His preachers do preach the Law and repentance, He does even this in the service of the Gospel, for the forgiveness of sins, and for faith and life in His Love.  His purpose is not destruction, but restoration and healing, unto eternal salvation.  His holiness is manifest, not in death, but in Life, and Light, and Love.  His perfection is not that of arrogance or accusation, but of grace, mercy, and peace.  He comes, not with condemnation, but with compassion. And He comes, not to hurt or harm you in any way, but to lay down His own life, for you and for all, in death upon the Cross.

This Gospel of His Cross is what His preaching proclaims.  And with this Word, He releases you from bondage and cleanses you from sin.  He sets free your conscience from the accusation of the Law, and from guilt and shame.  Not that you are free to sin, which leads to death, but that you are free to live a new life: a real life, in Christ, with meaning and purpose.  In calling you daily to repentance, He does not place the burden on you, but He unchains you from the devil’s slavery and the relentless fear of death.  He declares, as at your Baptism, that the unclean spirit must depart from you, that the Holy Spirit may reside in you, and rest and remain upon you, in body and soul.

The Lord Jesus surely is the Holy One of God; not that He should lord it over you with a haughty nose in the air, but that He sanctifies you by His grace and glorifies you with His own holiness.  So, too, He is the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, who is anointed with the Spirit in His Body of flesh and blood, in order to pour out the same Holy Spirit generously upon you: in peace.  And He has been named the Son of God, also as true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order to make you a child of His God and Father by the gracious adoption of sons: by His Gospel.

It is God the Father, Himself, not the devil nor the demons, who has already openly declared the Lord Jesus to be His beloved and well-pleasing Son, the Holy One, the Christ: In the waters of the Jordan River, by His Word and Holy Spirit from an opened heaven.

One cannot know or confess Jesus rightly as the Christ, the Son of God, apart from His Baptism; which is also to say, that you cannot know or confess Jesus rightly apart from His Cross and Resurrection; for that is what His Baptism signifies and sacramentally lays upon Him.  Especially from that point onward, that is, from His Baptism in the Jordan River, it is not possible to separate His Word and His works from the Cross on His horizon.  So, too, the life and health and strength that He bestows by His Word and works, are the vitality of His own Resurrection from the dead.

It is with the power and authority of His Cross and Resurrection that the Kingdom of God comes, by and with the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  For the Word of God in His mouth is the forgiveness of His Cross and the Life of His Resurrection.

In truth, the preaching of Christ not only declares the coming or the presence of the Kingdom of God; but His preaching already is the Kingdom of God, because it is by this living and active Word of His Gospel that He calls and gathers the nations to Himself and reigns over them in love.  It is by the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection that He treads Satan, sin, death, and hell beneath His feet, and that He raises you up in health and wholeness, to the holiness of a brand new life.

His preaching includes the Law, which always accuses, that is true.  But His preaching is not primarily an accusation, but a removal of the accusation.  It is the Gospel that predominates His preaching, which is the free and full forgiveness of all your sins.  Then there is no accusation anymore, and no need for any fear of death or the devil.  His Gospel muzzles the demonic accuser and compels him to be quiet.  So does He freely bestow His blessed peace and quiet rest to your heart and mind, to your soul and your body.

It is also for your body, which shall be raised in glory in the Resurrection of all flesh.  For Christ is the Creator of your body, and He has come in the flesh, with a Body of His own, to save your body for the life everlasting.  He has accomplished this great salvation for you by His bodily dying and rising.  And so it is, not only with the preaching of His Word, but with the touch of His hand, that He heals you, releases you from bondage, cleanses you from all evil, and raises you up alive.

As He has made you His own, and given you His Name and Spirit, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, so does He lay His hand upon you, and He feeds you with His flesh and blood, in the Holy Communion.

Both of these Holy Sacraments, like His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and as in Confession and Holy Absolution, derive their power and authority from His Cross.  So, too, all of this is scary, and it seems deadly and destructive, because of the Cross.  For by His Cross, you also are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him.  You are thrown down, as it were, in the midst of the people, like that poor man in the synagogue.  And surely, it would seem, that will be the end of you.  But, no, even though you die, yet shall you live.  The Lord does not permit the devil to harm you, no matter how fiercely the accuser rages against you.  For the Cross of Christ has done away with sin and has defeated death, so that, now, His Resurrection is your vindication, your justification, and your sure and certain hope.

Satan, sin, and death simply cannot stand before this dear Lord Jesus Christ, who comes and enters in to lay hold of you in love, to stand with you in every trial and temptation, as your Champion and strong Defender, and to save you for life with Himself, forever and ever.

His Word and preaching, His flesh and blood, truly rescue and release you from every evil of body and soul.  He brings you sweet relief from whatever it is that ails you; whether by removing it from you, already, or by granting you the patience and strength to bear it in peace, until the resurrection of your body in glory at the last.  Even now, He is daily restoring you in His Image and Likeness, and He is giving you the true Sabbath rest, by the Gospel.  And as He sanctifies you with His Holy Spirit, through this forgiveness of all your sins, so is He giving you divine Life in Himself.

You have heard how Simon’s mother-in-law was released from her strong fever, and how she was raised up by Christ Jesus, by His Word, and immediately began to serve Him and the rest of the household in love.  This service of love, beginning with the tasks at hand within your own home, and within the household and family of God, also belongs to the new life that is yours in Christ, which you live now by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

Rise up, then, to serve in your own place, as the Lord Jesus serves you here, within His House.  Do not make excuses for yourself, as to why you can’t, or won’t.  But do not suppose that you must sustain and live this life by your own power.  And do not fear that Jesus has gone away and left you to your own devices, efforts, and failures.  He has not.  Nor shall He ever leave you.

The fact that He must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, does not mean that He stops preaching to you.  Just the opposite is true!  He keeps on preaching in all the congregations of His Church on earth, in every time and place, and so also here and now in this city.  Evening and morning, day by day by day, He comes and enters in, He preaches peace, and He lays His hand upon you.  For already in Simon Peter’s home, He began to establish His one, holy, Christian, and Apostolic Church, in which His Name is preached and praised from the rising of the sun to the place of its going down.

Do not be afraid.  And do not flee from His preaching.  For here He stands and speaks with the authority of His Cross and Resurrection; not to destroy you, but to save you.  Here He stretches forth His hand to feed you in body and soul, to raise you up with Himself, unto the life everlasting.

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

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