17 February 2013

To Be a Theologian of the Cross

What He has always been, and ever shall be, He also becomes, in the flesh, in order to save you.  He who is the Word of God, the almighty and eternal Son, becomes a Theologian, that is, One who studies, prays and confesses, preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Dr. Luther famously describes the making of a real theologian by oratio, meditatio, and tentatio; which is to say, by prayer, by meditation on the Scriptures, and by the agonizing struggle of faith in that Word of God against the assaults and accusations of the devil.  It is a struggle of faith, the dying and rising of repentance, because the Lord God reveals Himself in the hidden Word of the Cross.  So does He work His work of repentance in you, by the way and the means of the Cross.

And so does the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, become a real theologian in the flesh, by prayer and fasting, by the careful consideration and study of the Scriptures, and by the agonizing struggle of faith in His Father, in the midst of the wilderness, in the face of the devil’s temptations.

It is a not a gratuitous charade, but He becomes a real Theologian of the Cross, in order that the Word of God be with you: He’s by your side upon the plain, with His good gifts and Spirit.  The Word draws near to you, here in the wilderness, not only as theology, but as the true Theologian.

What that means, in the first place, is that the Word of God has become like you; not only flesh of your flesh, conceived and born of St. Mary, but also living your life in the world, bearing your sin and its curse of mortality, and being tempted in every way that you are tempted.  He hears your cries of sorrow and anguish, and He sees your suffering and affliction; not from a great distance, but in your place, in the same predicament, in the heat of battle, under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke.

But now the same Word-made-Flesh draws near, in yet another way, by preaching Himself to you: so giving Himself into your ears, into your mind and heart, into your hands and mouth and body.

By His preaching you believe in Him, and you confess His Cross and Resurrection, and you call upon His Name in prayer, with praise and thanksgiving; and by His tender mercy, you are saved.

He, the Word-made-Flesh, the incarnate Son of God, is able to help and save you with His Word and preaching, because He has established His divine Sonship in the flesh, for you and for all people, by His perfect faith and faithfulness.  That is the witness you hear in His Gospel today.

He is tempted in every way, as you are, save only without sin, in order to become your merciful and faithful great High Priest.  Not only does He understand and sympathize with you — not only does He know how you feel, and how hard it is for you — but He is with you in those agonizing struggles; He bears them with you, in order to rescue and redeem you from the devil’s tyranny, and to bring you in safety and peace to His Father, not as a refugee, but as a beloved son or daughter.

He is therefore tempted in all the ways you are, and yet His temptations are also unique, because He is the Christ, your only Savior, and the only-begotten Son of God the Father from all eternity.  That is not to suggest that He has an easier time of it, but quite the opposite: He willingly bears the full extent of the burden, which would otherwise break you and destroy you.

There is a blessed divine Mystery at work in this, for He is not tempted by any covetous lust from within Himself.  He has no sinful heart, no sinful thoughts or inclinations.  But He has taken the weight, the pressure and the sting of those temptations upon Himself, that He might relieve you of that legacy, both by His own faithful perseverance, and by His forgiveness of all your failures.

So He is led by the Spirit in the wilderness, into confrontation with the devil, as your Champion; and He undergoes the full gamut of temptations, in order to overcome the foe who opposes you.

In human flesh and blood, just like yours, He lives as the true and perfect Man.  He trusts His God and Father, and He does not put Him to the test.  But He, the Son, is tested, as Israel was tested, and as you are also tested in the wilderness; and in this testing, He is found faithful.  He prevails in steadfast faith, so that you and all of Adam’s other children might be saved by His faithfulness.  And the content of that great salvation is that you receive the Sonship of Christ Jesus as your own, by the Father’s gracious adoption; just as He has given you and told you in your Holy Baptism.

In this respect, too, the Lord Jesus lives for you, as you are called to live, by faith in the Word and promises of God.  You have heard this before, and again this morning: The devil questions and puts to the test the very thing that Christ Himself has heard and received in His Baptism.  There the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him in bodily form, like a dove, and the Father openly declared to Him: “You are My beloved Son.  With You I am well-pleased.”

So Christ lives and perseveres, in the wilderness, even unto His death upon the Cross, by faith in the Word and promise of His Father; which is not only the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, but also the testimony of His Baptism.  Though He shall be crucified and die, He trusts that God His Father will raise Him up in glory from death and the grave, and the heavens are still open to Him.

Christ Jesus lives by faith in this Word of His Father.  But He Himself, precisely so, is the Word of God the Father to you, and the fulfillment of all His promises to you.  He and His preaching are full of the Holy Spirit, which He has received in His flesh, in order to pour out generously on you.  And so He does.  For everything that He has accomplished and achieved, He has done for you.

He hungers for the Word and Will of His Father, more deeply and more strongly than His empty stomach growls for bread.  But in thus believing the Word and doing the Will of His dear God and Father, He has becomes the Food of God for you, that is, the Word that proceeds from the mouth of God as the living and Life-giving Bread from heaven.

He goes without eating for those forty days, and upon the Cross, and He suffers in His Body, in order that you might eat and be well fed in both body and soul, here in time and there in eternity.  For He establishes the Word of God in His own Flesh and Blood; not only by His Incarnation, but also by His active and passive obedience, by His keeping of the Law, and by His suffering of its judgments in your stead, its punishments for all your disobedience.

That is why the Word of Christ not only teaches and instructs you, but it actually saves you.  His preaching first of all instills in you a hunger for His Word, for His Kingdom and His righteousness — and this same preaching of Christ Jesus also feeds and nourishes you with these very things.

Thus, with His Word to you, the Son of God fulfills the Word of His Father for you.  His Cross has utterly crushed and defeated the devil, all his works, and all his ways, because this Lord Jesus Christ has willingly gone to His death in the holiness and righteousness of perfect faith and love.  And as God the Father raised Him from the dead, He is now the First Fruits of the New Creation.

By His Cross, and in His Resurrection, with His Body and His Blood, He worships and serves the Lord, His God: Not to save Himself, not to bargain or barter for any personal benefit, but in order to save you and others by the grace of God.  For this salvation, there is nothing for you to do or to give but thanks and praise, in which you also become a real theologian of the Cross.

That is the true theology and the fine art of the Christian faith and life: to give thanks for the Cross, by which you are put to death and raised to newness of life, by repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour you in their furious hate and hostility; and though you have the old evil foe on your back, both day and night, hounding and harassing you within and without — the truth of the matter is, that the devil and his minions are defeated; they cannot harm you any more; they’re judged, the deed is done.

The Word of Christ has felled them; that is, the Word of His Cross, which Christ here preaches.

It is by His Cross, by the Fruits of His Cross, that He brings you out of Egypt with His mighty arms and outstretched hands; that He brings you safely through the wilderness, and through the Jordan River into the good Land that He promised: a Paradise flowing with creamy milk and sweet honey (that is, with the pure milk of His Word, which is much sweeter than honey from the honeycomb).

That good Land is not far away, but it is very near to you in this preaching of Christ Jesus.  It is in the Bread with which He feeds you, which is the Word of God made Flesh.  And it is in the good Wine that He pours out for you to drink, which is His holy and precious Blood.  And as God the Father raised this same Jesus, who here feeds you, from the dead, so shall He surely also raise you.

For He is merciful to you, and to all the sons and daughters of Adam, in this Word: His dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Call upon His Name, dear Christian theologian of the Cross, and you shall be saved.

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

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