31 March 2013

Your Land Shall Be Called Beulah

You shall be called by a new name,which the mouth of the Lord will name. You shall also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, And a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah.
For the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you; And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.
I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; They shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, And give Him no rest till He establishes And till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by the arm of His strength:
"Surely I will no longer give your grain as food for your enemies;And the sons of the foreigner shall not drink your new wine, for which you have labored.But those who have gathered it shall eat it, and praise the Lord;Those who have brought it together shall drink it in My holy courts." (Isaiah 62:2-9; NKJV)

Death Is Defeated by the Body of Christ

Christ is risen! — He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

By His death, He has destroyed death.  And in His rising from the dead, he has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  Sin is forgiven, and the whole world has been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, death has been defeated, and the devil is undone.

But, for all that, the last great enemy, death, has not yet been abolished.  Defeated, yes, but death is not yet “dead and gone.”  People are still dying every day, both Christians and non-Christians, alike, even throughout Eastertide.  Cemeteries continue to expand, as graves continue to increase.

Life has triumphed over death in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, and God the Father has put all things beneath His feet.  But you do not see that reality, do you?  It sure doesn’t look like Jesus has got the upper hand.  What you see is that He and His Church still bear the Cross in this world.  Not only death, but sin, too, is rampant everywhere you look.  Both of these are still at work in you.

The new thing that God has created is already established, sure and certain, in the crucified and risen body of the Lord Jesus.  But it does not yet appear as it shall be.  For the time being, in this fallen world, life has the appearance of death, while death has the appearance of life.  What I mean by that is this, that real life is hidden under the Cross, whereas sin is so tempting and appealing, as though it could liven things up and make your life better, when it actually brings only death.

Now, then, before you have ever called out for help or cried out in dismay, the Lord your God has already resolved your dilemma.  He has already answered your prayer.  And yet, His answer is rather elusive.  You do, then, call upon His Name and beg Him for mercy, because you neither see His solution in your life, nor experience His salvation in your mortal flesh and blood.

Even so, while you are still speaking, He is not only hearing your prayer, but He is also already responding with His gracious gifts of the Gospel, and with His promises of life everlasting.

The Truth is that the Crucified One is, now and forevermore, the Living One, and He is never to die again.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!  And that is good news for you, because He has died and risen as your Savior, in order to become your great Salvation.  All of that is rock-solid true.

But what you see is an empty tomb; or, rather, what you see is nothing.  In any event, Him you do not see.  That is the odd thing about this Holy Gospel from the Resurrection Chapter of St. Luke:  The Lord Jesus doesn’t appear in this account.  He is mentioned, and His words are recalled, but He makes no personal appearance, and He doesn’t speak for Himself.  His body is not found, nor is He seen alive.  The women are first of all perplexed; then they are terrified; and when they have gone to report what they discovered, and what they heard from the angels, the Apostles and the rest of the disciples refuse to believe them.  Peter runs to the tomb, to check out their story for himself, but he doesn’t see Jesus, either.  He goes home marveling, which is quite different than believing.

It is an odd Holy Gospel for such a joyous day as this; but, then again, it cuts pretty close to where your own Christian faith and life are at.

The words and promises of the Gospel are perplexing, and they honestly do sound like nonsense.  St. Paul acknowledges that earlier in his letter to the Church at Corinth.  So it’s no surprise that you are hampered by doubts and fears, within and without, no less so than those first Christians were.  At times, no one believes; and that includes you, no matter how much and how badly you want to.

It is still a struggle, a strange and dreadful strife, that contending of life and death inside of you, and all around you in the world.  That combat stupendous, which Christ has already won, still rages in your flesh and blood, and in your heart and soul.

It certainly would seem as though Christians were really delusional nut cases: to believe in the Resurrection against all evidence to the contrary.  It is by faith alone, and not be sight!  Indeed!  But is that just a ruse, a clever hoax, a pious excuse to keep on kidding yourself?  For the fact is, that you labor long and hard, seemingly in vain.  And you bear children, apparently for calamity; or else, perhaps, you bear no children at all.  Either way, it still remains the case, that, in Adam, all the children of men die.  And to be sure, the tombs of your ancestors, and of your loved ones, including some of your own children, are not empty at all, but full of death, of dust and bones.

So, what gives?  And what is the point?  Where is the power and promise of the Resurrection?

Beloved of the Lord, do not despair or give up hope!  For now Christ Jesus, your Savior, has been raised from the dead, and that has actually changed everything and made all the difference.

Children continue to be born to Adam and his kin; not for calamity and death — though they do all experience that — but in order to be reborn and recreated in the New Man, Jesus Christ.  If they are born but once, that is most pitiable, and it were surely better had they never been born at all.  But if they are born again, by the Word and Spirit of Christ, then they are brought forth, out of death, into the resurrection of their bodies and the life everlasting in body and soul.

For the Son of God, Himself, has become a Son of Adam, by His conception and birth of the Woman, in order to die the death of Adam, once for all; and so, by His death, to bring an end to the death of Adam; and in His Resurrection from the dead, to raise the sons and daughters of Adam from the dust of the earth, to live forever as beloved children of His God and Father in heaven.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the First Fruits, as you have heard from St. Paul, His Apostle; and if He is the First Fruits, then you shall follow after Him.  As surely as He led the sons of Israel out of Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, and through the waters of the Jordan River into Canaan, so surely does He lead you through the waters of your Holy Baptism, through death and burial with Him, into the gracious and glorious Paradise that He has promised to each and all of His people.

When He hands over His Kingdom to His God and Father, then will He surely also bring you to the Father, in and with Himself; for you belong to His Kingdom by grace, through His Gospel.

For now, He has established His Kingdom and His dwelling place within His Holy Church on earth, wherein He calls and gathers you to Himself, in order to bring you into His eternal Sanctuary with the Father in heaven.  As He brings you in and plants you here, so does He bring you in and plant you there, even forever.  Everything that belongs to Him, He gives to you here in His Church.

He hands Himself over to you here, by the Ministry of the Gospel, no less so than He has offered Himself up, once for all, and handed Himself over to the Father, by His Sacrifice upon the Cross.  So that you are bound to God the Father, in both body and soul, in the Person and work of Christ Jesus: By His Word and Spirit; and also, by and with His crucified and risen Body, and His Blood.

Where, then, is the Body of Jesus?  That is the big question at the beginning of Easter, and, really, to this very day.  Where is the Body of Jesus?  That’s what everyone is looking for, or should be.

By the end of St. Luke’s Resurrection Chapter, as we shall hear and celebrate in these coming days of the Easter Feast, the answer is given clearly: The Body of Christ is in the Breaking of the Bread.  He is recognized and received at His Table, in the eating and drinking of His Holy Supper.

It is by and with His Word that He reveals and gives Himself to you in this way, by this means of grace.  Do not suppose that it is foolish nonsense, no matter how marvelous and perplexing it be.  For with His Word, He remembers you in love, and He Himself gives to you His own Body to eat; He pours out His own Blood for you to drink.  And by His Word, which He has spoken to you — and He still speaks to you by His messengers — by that Word of His, you also remember Him.

Not only that, but it is also by and with His Word, and by the preaching of it, that His faith and His faithfulness become yours: In the same way that His Victory over death, and His Resurrection from the dead, and the power of His indestructible life, all become yours by the Gospel.  In point of fact, unbelief and death go hand-in-hand (with each other, and with sin).  But Christ has triumphed, as the First Fruits of faith and life, in the New Creation that God has brought about by His Cross and in His Resurrection.  Therefore, when you and all others are faithless, yet, He remains faithful.

So it is, that, by His Word and Spirit, by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, you also now believe: As the women who witnessed the empty tomb, and the other disciples, too, were brought from their doubts and fears and sadness, to faith and life, and peace and joy, in Christ Jesus.

Your rejoicing and gladness, on this glorious day, and throughout this poor life of labor, even in the midst of sin and in the face of death, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting — this joy and gladness are not a joke, a pretense or charade; and they are no lie or subterfuge, regardless of how you may be feeling on the inside.

If you are smiling and singing on the outside, while in your heart and mind you struggle with sorrow and feel like dying, nevertheless, true joy and real gladness are rightly yours, both now and forever, in Christ Jesus.  Not because of how you feel about it, or what you think about it, but here is the Truth: Your rejoicing and your gladness are found and received in the Lord’s rejoicing over you, and in His great gladness in you.  The fact of the matter is, that He delights in you.

The Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, has recreated you for such joy and gladness and life everlasting in Christ Jesus.  He has done it, first of all, in Christ Himself, in His Body of flesh and blood: In which He has been crucified and raised for you and your salvation.  It is a done deal, permanently established for you in Him.

But He has also brought about the New Creation of Christ Jesus in you, through the Gospel, by your Baptism into Him; and by His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for you here at His Altar.  By these means of grace, in Christ, you are a new creation: Born of the new and better Adam, not for calamity and death, but for the Life and Light and Love of God, the Lord.

He is your Strength in weakness, and He is your Song in both joy and sadness, all your days, because He has become your Salvation.  That won’t change, not ever.  It stands fast, and it shall be revealed at the last.  As surely as He has risen from the dead, so surely shall you also rise; for He has died your death, and, therefore, His Resurrection is already your resurrection, evermore.

The Prince of Life, who died, reigns immortal.  He reigns over you in love, and with great joy.  This Victor King has mercy upon you, and the eternal sunshine of His grace, mercy, and peace, His Resurrection and His Life, His Body and His Blood, now warm and light you, all your days.

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

29 March 2013

Behold the Image of God in the Man

It is amazing how visual the Gospel of the Passion is.  “Look!” you are told, again and again.  “Behold the Lamb of God.”  “Behold the Man.”  “Behold your King.”  “Like this,” St. John will describe, as though you could actually see some gesture he is making while he preaches.

No one has ever seen God at any time, but now the Incarnate Son, from the bosom of the Father, has revealed God to us.  For the Word of God, who is God, by Whom all things are made — He has become Flesh.  In Him, God tabernacles among us.  Behold, in Him, you see God.

In the beginning was this Word — the Word was with God; and the Word was God — and as God spoke this Word of His, the Father’s Son from all eternity, so did creation come into being out of nothing.  “Let there be Light,” and there was Light.  For this Word is the Light in the darkness, which is the Life and Love of God.

And on the Sixth Day, on that first Friday of creation, God said, “Let Us make Man in Our Image.”  From the dust of the ground He raised the man and crafted him, and breathed into his body the Breath of Life, which is the Spirit of the Lord.  So did man become a living being.  And, that he should be and live in the Image and Likeness of the Holy Trinity — Who is an eternal relationship of mutual Love between the Father and His Son in the Holy Spirit — God caused the man to sleep, and opened up his side, and from his body crafted the woman, his beautiful bride, to be a helpmate comparable to him.  The Lord brought her to the man to be his wife, and behold, it was very good.

But the Image of God is not a static or stationary work of art, which simply stays put and looks pretty on the wall, on a mantle or a shelf.  In order to see God in man, the man is to live in mutual love with God and with his neighbor: Receiving and requiting the Love of God, and loving the household and family of God in His Name.  Such Love, by its very nature, cannot be forced, demanded, or manipulated.  It is given and received in freedom, in the peace of friendship.

In that freedom, though they were the friends of God, the man and the woman doubted and denied His Word, and betrayed Him with their disobedience.  Though they were His own creation, and His beloved children, from whom He had withheld no good thing, yet, they fled in faithless fear from His Image, and sought instead the knowledge of self-righteousness, which is not the Truth but the likeness of death.  They ran from God and returned to the dust.

The first man and his wife were blinded by their sin.  They could no longer perceive the Lord their God in His good creation, in the clarity of faith and love.  Instead, they were afraid.  They were lost.  They were no longer free, but fallen; no longer fully alive, but subject to death and decay.

Even so, God still beheld them in His mercy, and the gracious freedom of His Love for them was not defeated by their disobedience.  Neither did He punish or destroy them for their sin.  He did not look upon their nakedness, but covered their flesh and clothed them with animal skins: Thus did the Lord offer the first sacrifice, in order to remove the shame of fallen man.

And the Promise was given, that God would remedy the problem, and rectify the situation, and make all things new.  The Seed of the Woman would crush the adversary’s head, and reconcile the world to God.  In Him, the Image and Likeness of God would be seen.

Behold, this is the New Creation that God has accomplished in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, conceived and born of the Woman.  He does not scrap the first creation and start over, but He redeems and restores it, raises it up, and perfects it in this Man: He is the completion of Creation.

For now, again, on the Sixth Day, on the Good Friday of His Cross, God the Father said to His dear Son, “Let Us make Man in Our Image, and after Our Likeness.”  And that is what He has done.

Indeed, this is what the one true God looks like in His Creation.  This is the fullness of the Deity embodied and enfleshed.  And, therefore, this is also the true Man.  For Christ the Crucified is the very Model and Pattern — the Image and Likeness of God — in which the first man, Adam, was fashioned and formed.  From the beginning, yes, even from before the foundation of the world, it was this Man, Christ Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son, whom God the Father beheld in Love, and for whose sake He created the heavens and the earth, and Adam and Eve, and all things.

It is specifically His Sacrifice for the salvation of sinners that shows the grace and glory of God most clearly.  So, if you want to know what God and Man are like, look at Him upon the Cross.

He lives and dies, not for Himself — He does what He does, not for His own sake or benefit — but in love for His Father, and in love for you and all His creatures.  It is such divine Love that you behold in Him; and also perfect faith in His own God and Father, as the faithful and obedient Son.

Thus He becomes your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God; not only for a little while, but forever and always.  Because He has fully taken your place, as the true Man, and He has thereby established His place, as the Son of God, in His human flesh and blood, for you.

He has taken your place, not only by His Incarnation, by His conception and birth of the Woman, but also by coming in the likeness of fallen flesh.  That is, although He has no sins of His own, He takes the sins of the whole world upon Himself, and bears the entire brunt of their burden, the full extent of their curse and consequence.  So that He, who is Life Itself, is made mortal and subject to death.  He suffers all your pain and grief and sorrow, from the cradle to the grave.  He is tempted in all the ways that you are tempted.  He sympathizes with all your frailties and weaknesses.

He takes your place — the place of Adam, and of all the children of men — the place of the skull.

You know that no one takes His life from Him: He lays it down willingly, in love; and He shall take it up again, by the Spirit of His Father.  But He takes that place of yours on purpose, that place of death and the grave, so that He might take you up from there to His own place with the Father.

As your great High Priest, He offers up Himself to God — the Son to the Father — in the faith and love for which you have been created.  He does so, not under ideal conditions, not in the bliss of Paradise, but from within the curse of death and damnation, under the terrible weight of your sin.  Burdened by all the hate and hurt and heartache of the fallen world, still He perseveres in the fear, love, and trust of His Father.  He has no other gods but Him.

Not as though it were easy for Him, but rather, because He is faithful and true; because He is the Son of God, the true Man; and because He loves you, He calls upon the Name of the Lord, even with tears, with loud cries and deep groans of anguish.  He entrusts Himself to the Father.  He takes the Cup and drinks it, confident in the One who is able to save Him out of death.

He was heard because of His piety.  And, Christ be praised, His matchless piety now and forever avails for you before the Father in heaven!  For the Body of Christ, who has been crucified for your iniquities, is your Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.  Therein is where He ever stands for you, as your own High Priest, and ever lives to make intercession for you.  His priestly garment, His unrent seamless tunic, covers your naked guilt and shame.  Therefore, do not run and hide, dear friend, for you are reconciled to God in Christ.

As your merciful and great High Priest, He is also the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, which is to say, the King of the Lord’s Creation.  He truly is the King of the Jews, for salvation is from the Jews.  He is the King of Israel, indeed, of all who are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, by faith in the Promise.  But He is also the King of the world; even though His Kingdom is not from here.  Just as Pilate decrees, by the authority that was given to him from above, that Jesus of Nazareth is “the King of the Jews” in the languages of the whole world.  Thus it is written, and so shall it be, wherever in the world the Gospel is preached concerning this crucified King and His Cross.

As the New Adam, He has become the Head of a new humanity.  But see how His headship is so different from the rulers of the world.  They lord it over their subjects, and use their power to serve themselves, to promote their own advantage and agendas.  The Lord Jesus is not like that.  He reigns in love, He rules in peace.  He lays down His own life, in order to give life to His people.  His Kingdom, and His Power, and His Glory, are the Gospel of His Cross.

And so it is that His own Bride, His Queen, His Holy Church is taken from His opened side as He sleeps the deep sleep of death upon His Cross.  By the water and the blood that pour forth out of His innermost being, the New Woman is fashioned and formed after the Image of this New Man, to be a helpmate comparable to Him.  Even His own blessed Mother is given this new identity, as she who once gave birth to Him, is given new life by Him.  She, too, is redeemed and sanctified by His atoning death, by His holy and precious blood, which she beholds at the foot of His Cross.

She stands there, beneath His Tree, as a member and an icon of His Holy Church, the Mother of all the living.  And so does the beloved disciple stand there with her, as an icon of each and every Christian, who are the children of God by grace, by the adoption of sons.  Behold, in this Mother and this Son, the household and family of God in Christ.

She is entrusted to the care of the apostolic witness and preaching of Christ the Crucified.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, the Church conceives and gives birth to His children, as Mother Mary had conceived and given birth to the Christ Child Himself.  Born from the waters of the font, they are nourished by His blood and flesh at the Altar of His Church.

These are the Fruits of His Tree: the water, blood, and Spirit, which He hands over and gives out from the Cross; His Word of forgiveness, and His Body given, for you and for the many.

As He enters upon His Holy Passion from the garden, and as His sacred Body is temporarily laid to rest in the garden, so is the Cross of Christ the true Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise.  Its good fruits are no evil, no poison or hurt, but the very medicine of immortality, the true ambrosia, by which you have life, and health and strength, in body and soul, forever and ever.

You don’t have to get yourself back to the garden.  Nor could you have done so, but would only have returned to the dust whence you were taken.  But here the Garden of God has come to you, and it is found wherever Christ the Crucified is lifted up in the preaching of His Cross; wherever He is given and poured out in the Fruits of His Cross, His Body and His Blood.

You, now, beloved, who are born from His Body in the water and the blood, and who are fed from His Tree of Life with His flesh — you, now, are like Him, who made Himself to be like you.  You are made brand new in Him.  You are what you eat and drink: the Image of God.

Do not doubt that it is true.  Despite the outward appearance of the Cross, which the world despises in Christ Jesus, and now also in you; and notwithstanding the fact and experience of sin, which remains in your fallen flesh — where you feel it, and the Law reveals it, daily — nevertheless, the Truth of Christ stands fast and remains for you.

He is the Man, and He is the Image of God in Man.  As He has taken your place, even unto death upon the Cross, so has He given you His place, as the Son of God, even unto life everlasting.

That is what His God and Father graciously beholds in you: Not the nakedness and shame, the suffering, sin, and death that Christ Jesus bears on your behalf, but the perfect piety, steadfast faith, and holy love with which He has gone to the Cross for you, and which He lavishly bestows upon you by His Gospel.  Amen, amen, it is and ever shall be so.

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

26 March 2013

God Is Glorified in Christ the Crucified

Brothers and sisters in Christ, consider your own callings, your stations in life, and glorify your God and Father there.  Do not seek to escape from your vocations, but know that God, the Lord, will accomplish His purposes through you (and for you) precisely where He has placed you.

Listen to the Word that He speaks to you; and though it is the Word of the Cross, know that it is eternal life.  For His power is made perfect in weakness, and His wisdom is manifested in the Cross and Passion of Christ, the beloved Son.

He has not left Himself without a witness.  Christ the Crucified is the Light of the world, even to the Gentiles; and the Gospel of His Cross testifies to all the nations that here is the Glory of God.

Not for His benefit, but at His own great expense, that you would be saved unto life everlasting.

If you believe this, you do not remain in darkness, but have the Life and Light of Christ in you.

But, oh, how tempting it is to think that you have been forsaken and forgotten.  And especially so, it is a scary thing to buck the crowd and go against the prevailing wisdom of the world.

Do you find yourself, not only alone against the world, but persecuted and ridiculed?  Does it seem as though your prayers go unheard, unanswered, or flat-out refused by your Father in heaven?

Everything about this Christian faith and life is such a contradiction!

The glorious Light of God in Christ the Crucified appears as though it were the blackest night, while the darkness of the world, which is dying in its ignorance and unbelief, has the appearance of the brightest day.

You will never be able to comprehend the truth or figure it out, except you die.

Until you are crucified, dead, and buried with Christ Jesus, your heart remains hardened; your eyes are blind; your ears are dull; your reason and all your senses are foolish.

It is the Word of the Cross — the foolishness of God — that puts you to death and buries you.

But that is not all.  For it is by that same Word of the Cross that you are lifted up with Christ, and seated with Him in the heavenly places, where your life is safely hidden in God.  Because the foolishness of the Cross is the Lord’s free and full forgiveness of sinners.  That is where and how everything gets turned inside-out and upside-down — for the greatest good: for your salvation.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy One, took His stand with and for sinners, and submitted Himself to the death and damnation of the entire sinful world.  Thus, everything has been judged in Him.

He has borne the entire weight and burden of the Law: the pain, the sorrow, the insult, and the punishment.  He has been tempted in every way that you are.  He has been ridiculed and, for us all, forsaken by the Father who loves Him.

And in that utter foolishness, He glorified the Father’s Name; that your prayer may be heard and answered, and that you may walk in His Light.

That is the Glory of God for you.  That is the Hour to which He has come, not to save Himself, but you and all.  And that is the answer and the outcome of the Cross that you bear: not death, but life forever.  For He has been vindicated of every charge, and, where He is, there shall you be, also.

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

25 March 2013

Here Is Your King: Do Not Be Afraid

Do not be afraid.  Your King is coming to you.

Come up to the Feast and meet Him.  Recline at His Table and share His Supper with Him.  Love Him and serve Him, as you are able; also by loving and serving the poor and the needy among you.

But do not be afraid.

Only understand what it means for Him to be your King; and what that will mean for you — to be His disciple; to be His friend; to go after Him, and to follow Him, and to hang out with Him.

His Kingdom and His Power and His Glory are not of this world, but of the Cross.  His Hour has come, for Him to be glorified, when He has come to Jerusalem to be handed over, to suffer and die.

It is by His death that He is glorified and reigns as your King; because it is by His death that He saves His people from their sins.  It is by His innocent suffering and death, His Cross and Passion, that He saves you from all your sins, from all your guilt and shame, from death and condemnation.  It is by His wounds that you are healed and made alive forever.

This is the purpose for which He has come.  It is for this that He became true Man, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s mortal flesh and blood.  For this that He was baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  For this that He enters Jerusalem, seated on a donkey’s colt.

This is grace, divine mercy and compassion, the Love of God for poor, miserable sinners: for you.

Thus, the royal banner forward goes, and great David’s greater Son shall be enthroned upon the wood of the Cross to reign in triumph from that tree of death.

That is how He tramples sin, death, and Satan under His feet — those beautiful feet with which He has come to preach the sweet Gospel — those feet which St. Mary of Bethany tenderly anointed beforehand: But for what?  To be cruelly contorted and nailed to the central beam of the Cross, and buried in the ground.

So does He now feed you with His Body and His Blood from His nail-pierced hands; and the royal scepter of His Word governs the heavens and the earth with the Spirit that He breathes upon His disciples from the depths of His Passion.

Here, then, is your King.  He comes to reign over you in love from His Cross.

His death has atoned for your sins and conquered your death.  His Word of the Cross forgives you and raises you from the dead.

And for this, the world hates you and conspires to kill you!  That’s your perk and privilege for being a close personal friend of this crucified King.  To die with Him is your glory as a Christian.

Do not be afraid.  As often as you die, you shall live.  The Lord your God shall raise you up again.

For now, He raises you to newness of life, each day, under the Cross, in the midst of suffering.  But, at the last, He shall raise you forever to recline at His Table in His Father’s Kingdom.

Come to meet Him here in this foretaste of that Feast to come.  For here at His Table, in His Royal Banquet, His crucified and risen Body, and His Blood — which are indeed the greatest treasures in heaven and on earth — are given to you for grace and life and every blessing, now and forever.

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

22 March 2013

Sweet Injuries, Indeed

You see here that you dare not underestimate the depravity of man and the wicked perversion of his sinful heart.

The chief priests and the pharisees, the religious leaders of God’s people, bearing holy office and zealous for the Law, observe the many signs that Jesus performs, and for these they seek to seize Him and kill Him.

He healed the sick, made the lame to walk and the blind to see; and now, His most recent crime, He has raised the dead to life.  Sweet injuries, indeed, yet for these the Law and the Priesthood must put Him to death for the people.

Do not suppose that your own sinful heart is free and clear of such depravity and perversion.

To take seriously who Jesus is, what He says and what He does, threatens your comfortable status quo, your place and your position in this world.

What are you called to drown and destroy in yourself, in your body and life?  How must you die?

The Law is constantly reminding you of your sin, and yet it is powerless to cleanse you of iniquity or to heal your mortality.

Though the Law of God is holy, good, and righteous, you are not.  Therefore, it cannot purify your conscience; it cannot set right your body and soul, your heart, mind, and spirit, with the Lord your God.  It only exposes your depravity, and even exacerbates it, and condemns you for it.

But now the same Law dares to lay the same judgment and condemnation upon Christ, because He has come to fulfill the will of God by the offering of Himself once for all.

Born of the Woman, and placing Himself under the Law, He redeems those who are under the Law.  He does it by the self-sacrifice of the same holy body in which He has lived in perfect conformity with the entire Law of God.  And this seeming contradiction, this travesty of justice by any normal standard, is the resolution of the same Law of God: the fulfillment of justice and righteousness.

In this sacrifice of Christ the holy priesthood also finds its perfect fulfillment and completion; for here is the true Passover Lamb, who is also your merciful and great High Priest.

Does He not go up to the Feast?  Indeed, He is the Feast!

He has offered Himself up to God to atone for the sins of the world; to reconcile man and all the world to God in Himself; to purify you and all of creation by His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, and by His bodily Resurrection from the dead.

And now, then, He also feeds you with the same holy body and precious blood, so that you are spared and saved from death and sanctified for life.

Here, then, the Passover of Christ is at hand.  By this Feast, as by Your Holy Baptism, you are purified forever.  And you enter with Christ Jesus, in body and soul, through His sacrificial death and in His Resurrection, into the life everlasting with God, your Father.

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

19 March 2013

The Strong Silent Type

The Scriptures tell us that St. Joseph was a righteous man.  That means, first of all, that he shared the faith of father Abraham, and the faith of his father David.  Not only a general sort of optimism or positive attitude, but confident trust in the Word and promises of God.  He believed that, by the Seed of Abraham, God would bless the sons of Israel and all the nations of the world.  And he believed that God, the Lord, would raise up the Seed of David to reign upon His throne forever; notwithstanding that David’s royal line had ceased and been replaced by the Herodian dynasty.

St. Joseph trusted, hope against hope, that the same Lord God who also raises the dead, who calls all things into being out of nothing, and who gave a promised son to Abraham and Sarah when his body and her womb were as good as dead, was in truth the God and Father of St. Mary’s Son; and that He, who was conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, was the Savior of His people: Immanuel.  St. Joseph had faith that it was so, because he believed what God had spoken to him.

By this righteousness of faith, St. Joseph was also humble and obedient, and faithful and just in his actions.  In each of the several situations that Holy Scripture describes, whatever God told him to do, St. Joseph immediately set about doing exactly that.  No arguments, no balking, no excuses, and no questions.  Not a single word from St. Joseph is recorded.  He simply and swiftly gets up and does what God calls him to do: He rises up in faith to serve his family in love.

The specifics of the case, the particular calling and circumstances in which St. Joseph was found, are certainly unique and extraordinary.  The Church remembers and gives thanks for this particular man because of his special place in the life of our Lord Jesus.  In this respect, by the grace and mercies of God, St. Joseph, his faith and life, and his works of love, were taken up into the Gospel itself; because God the Father chose to accomplish His purposes in this way, in giving us His Son.

But, then again, St. Joseph’s calling and circumstances were not so very different from those of any other husband and father; nor did he have anything else to go by than the Word of God.  True, he did receive some special revelations, by the angel of the Lord in his dreams, concerning the specific situations he was in.  So do you also receive the counsel and guidance of the messengers of the Lord within your own office and station in life.  And yet, the underlying basics are simple and straightforward, for you as for St. Joseph; which is not to say easy or painless.

St. Joseph was called to care for his family, for his wife and her Child, who was legally his own.  He was called to be a husband and a father, albeit under difficult and dangerous conditions, and under great duress.  The challenges confronting him were daunting, and at times overwhelming.  What man’s obligations and obstacles are not like that?  But the Lord had told St. Joseph, the son of David, not to be afraid: Not to be afraid to take St. Mary as his wife, and, therefore, not to be afraid of everything else that would go along with being a husband to her and a father to her Son.

Whether or not he felt the emotion of fear at any given point along the way — and given that he was a sinful man of mortal flesh and blood, it is natural to suppose that he did — yet, St. Joseph was also a man of faith, a righteous man, who lived and worked and carried out his vocation faithfully in the fear, love, and trust of God.  He persevered in the confidence of God’s promises.

And the Lord God was faithful, as ever and always, not only in caring for St. Joseph and providing for all his needs in the discharge of his duties, but also in caring for St. Mary and her Child, our dear Lord Jesus Christ, through the agency and means of this man, the carpenter from Nazareth.

Even more than the glorious King Solomon with his impressive Temple in Jerusalem, it is this son of David, St. Joseph, who is given the privilege and responsibility of making a house and a home for the Lord.  It is a fitting task for a carpenter, if one thinks only of the wood and the nails.  But more to the point, it is a father’s task.  Of all the sons of David, it is only St. Joseph who becomes a daddy to the Son of God: Not by the procreation of his own flesh and blood, but by the Word and will of God the Father in heaven, and by deeds of faith and love as a father on earth: by taking the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary to be his wife, and by taking the legal responsibility for her Son.

So, think about what that means, for St. Joseph to be a father to Jesus on earth.  It means that he takes care of Jesus, and provides for Him, and protects Him, as every dad should do for any of his children, whether begotten or adopted.  It means, too, that St. Joseph teaches Jesus the Word of God, and how to pray, and takes Him to the synagogue and to the Temple, to worship the Lord; for so do the Holy Scriptures require of a father for his sons and daughters.

In its own way, this work of St. Joseph in being a father to Jesus is no less amazing, and no less important, than the fact that St. Mary became the Mother of God.  The Church rightly marvels that the Lord of all, the Creator and Upholder of the universe, was conceived and born of a woman, and that He who feeds the entire world with daily bread depended on His Mother for nourishment.  Such is the great Mystery of the Incarnation!  But so does He also live and grow and learn and develop as true Man, and, throughout His boyhood years, St. Joseph was instrumental in all that.

When the Boy Jesus is twelve years old, it is St. Joseph who takes the Holy Family up to Jerusalem for the Passover.  At that time, when Jesus has reached the age of maturity in Jewish tradition, there is a transition already at work, pulling Him away from His human parents to be about the work of His Father in heaven.  Even then, He submits to them, and to their authority, in accordance with the Fourth Commandment; because they are, in legal fact, His father and His mother on earth.

All the more striking, in the Holy Gospel for this festival day, when the little Lord Jesus is but a Babe in arms, He is entirely passive throughout.  He does not do or say anything, but is carried about and cared for by St. Mary and St. Joseph.  For though He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, by whom all things are made, He is also now a truly human Infant, and His life, as such, is like that of any other Baby in the world.

The Son of God humbled Himself to share the predicament of fallen man, but, even aside from the curse of sin and death, infants and toddlers are fully dependent on their parents, and so now is He.  In this way, too, He lives as true Man — in the way that Man was created to live — by faith in His God and Father in heaven — by relying on the parents God has provided for Him, for everything.

He becomes true Man in every way, save only without any sins of His own, in order to save His people from their sins.  He takes their place, not only to suffer the punishment of all their sins, but also to fulfill and satisfy the Law on their behalf.  He thereby lives vicariously, for them, and for all people, including each and all of you, in the way that everyone is called to live, but everyone else has failed to do.  He alone does it.  So that is why He is taken into Egypt: Not simply to escape the murderous wrath of Herod, but to relive the time of Israel in Egypt, and then also the Exodus.

In all of this, He is actively the Savior of His people, and of all the nations of the world: from Babylon and Persia in the east, to Egypt in the west; from Bethlehem of Judea in the south, to Nazareth of Galilee in the north; from Jerusalem to Rome, and even to the ends of the earth.  But His active obedience begins with the active passivity of quiet faith and trust in His God and Father.

From His Mother’s womb, to His crucifixion, death, and burial, the Lord Jesus is the Son of David after His Father’s heart.  Certainly, He truly is the Man after God’s own heart; for He is the Son of God from all eternity, of one Substance with the Father, and His human heart and mind, soul and spirit, are always in complete and utter harmony and unity with the divine Will.  So, too, in perfect faith, the Lord Jesus Christ walks in the ways of father David, that is, in the righteousness of David’s faith; although, of course, great David’s greater Son surpasses him, overcoming all temptations, and not committing any sins, but atoning for the sins of father David and all others.

But Jesus of Nazareth is also a Man after the faithful heart of His foster father, St. Joseph, and, in view of the Incarnation, that is not to be overlooked or taken lightly.

As St. Joseph is set before you, in the Holy Scriptures, and by the Church on this particular day, to serve as an example to you, to encourage you in faith and love, so was he also an example to the little Lord Jesus, as He was growing from infancy to manhood, increasing in wisdom and stature.  That is no dishonor to Christ Jesus, our Savior, but a testimony to His faith and life as true Man, that He learned from St. Joseph, from that father’s catechesis in the home, and from the example of that righteous man’s holy faith and works of love.

Dare we say that, as true Man, growing up, the heavenly Bridegroom of the Church first observed and began to learn what it means to be a husband, in the faithful care of St. Joseph for St. Mary.

To be sure, the righteousness of faith that Jesus saw exemplified in St. Joseph, He Himself — and He alone — has fulfilled and completed to perfection: By His life of humble obedience; by His death upon the Cross, in faith toward God and in love for all mankind; and in His Resurrection from the dead, as the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Not St. Joseph, nor St. Mary, nor any other creature in heaven or on earth could do these things, which Christ Jesus our Lord has done, for the salvation of the world, and for all the people of all times and places.

Whereas St. Joseph was given the privilege of giving the Child of St. Mary the blessed Name of “Jesus,” there is yet no other Name under heaven, given among men, by which anyone is saved.  St. Joseph and St. Mary are instruments of God in giving us this precious Gift, but the Child Jesus has become our Strength and our Song, because He has become our Salvation.

Whereas St. Joseph was the carpenter, the husband and the dad, who made a house and home for the Child with His Mother here on earth, it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Seed of David, who has become the true House of God in His own flesh and blood; whose crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God among men, in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever.

Whereas St. Joseph took care of his home and his family, as a good husband and father should do, the Lord Jesus is the new and greater Carpenter from Nazareth, who, by His innocent suffering and death, and in His Resurrection from the dead, has become the Cornerstone of His Church.  By the washing of water with His Word, He has cleansed and sanctified His Church, and has taken her to be His holy Bride, adorned in His own perfect righteousness.  By His Word and Holy Spirit, He conceives and gives birth in her to the children of God; He cares for them, feeds and shelters them, and provides for all their needs of body and soul, by the free gifts of His Gospel.  Upon the Holy Ministry of that Gospel, as upon a solid Rock, He has built His Church to stand fast and strong; not only against the murderous wrath of mortal princes like Herod, but against the gates of hell.

The Lord called St. Joseph to care for the Child Jesus, with His Mother, and through St. Joseph God the Father Himself took care of that precious Holy Family.  It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should give Him thanks and praise for this grace and mercy of His, and so also for His gift of St. Joseph himself.  That righteous man of faith is a good example for all of us Christians, and for husbands and fathers, in particular.  So, too, we should give thanks and pray for the husbands and fathers by whom the Lord God serves His people here on earth, in this poor life of labor.

In like manner has the same Lord called pastors to care for His Church with the Gospel, to be for her spiritual fathers of grace, mercy, and peace, and to shepherd her with the good gifts of Christ.

Therefore, do not be afraid: The Lord whose Father called Him out of Egypt, who called the Light out of the darkness, and who raises the dead — the Lord who tabernacled with St. Joseph wherever he went, even cradled in the arms of His Mother — He is no less with you in this place, to save you by His grace, by His forgiveness of all your sins, and to feed you with His Body and His Blood.  As He has called you by His own great and holy Name, and as He has established this House for you, by His Gospel, on earth as it in heaven, so as a tender Father will He provide you with all that you need; and as your faithful Husband, He will never leave you nor forsake you.

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

17 March 2013

The Vineyard of the Lord

Behold, the Lord, the Maker of the heavens and the earth, is doing something new, which the nations have not known, nor could they perform it.  The Lord, who opens a way through the sea, and brings His people through the mighty waters on dry ground; and who causes rivers to spring forth in the desert wilderness, to give drink to His people: He forms a people for Himself, and He gives them life, to the glory of His Holy Name.

He plants them as a vine, and cultivates them as a vineyard in a good land, that they might thrive and bear good fruits of faith and love.  Not because He is hungry or in need of produce and profit, but for the sake of His divine and holy love, with which He bestows life and grants salvation.

That grace of God, His own divine Love, is the reason and the purpose for which He plants His Vineyard, His people, His Church; and for which He daily and richly provides for His own and cares for them.  All of this He does, purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, so that they might live — so that you might live, and grow and flourish, and bear fruits after His own kind: In faith toward Him, and in love for others, for your neighbors in the world, and for all the nations.

Therefore, in love, He entrusts the care of His Church on earth to His people, in various ways, to each person according to his or her particular calling and station in life.  As each of you are called to be His own, and are planted in His Vineyard by His grace, so are you given a stewardship of His Vineyard in your own place or portion.  Thus are you given to care for others around you.  And so are you, also, cared for by your neighbors, and by those in authority over you: in body and soul, for this life on earth, and for the life everlasting.

The stewards of the Vineyard certainly include the pastors and professors of the Church, who are charged with the preaching and teaching of the Lord’s Word, for the benefit of His people.  But so, too, are fathers and mothers entrusted with care for their children; and brothers and sisters for each other; and teachers for their students, and students for their studies and their classmates; and doctors and nurses, engineers, accountants, cooks, and computer programers.  Wherever the Lord has placed you, whatever He has given you to do, that is where you care for His Vineyard in love; and that is where and how, by faith in His Word, you also bear fruits to the glory of His Name.

But then, because He works in this way, through various masks and means, through neighbors and governing authorities — because He chooses to care for His Church and for creation through His creatures — it may often seem that He has gone away “on a journey for a long time,” that He is far removed from the cares and concerns of His Vineyard; that He is uninvolved, and unobservant.

That is not so, but that is the temptation; and then, either to despair of His providential care, or to seize control of the Vineyard, to the extent that you are able, in the hopes of fending for yourself.

Nevertheless, the Lord has not forgotten His Vineyard and its needs; nor has He relinquished His care and cultivation of the Vineyard.  His “journey” is not a turning away or departure from His people, but His slowness to anger, and His withholding of the punishment that sin deserves.  He deals with His people, not directly, but through means, in order to be gentle with His Vineyard.

Thus, already from the fall into sin, and even to the close of the age, the Lord governs His people, His Church, by His Word of promise, and by the Word of His Prophets and Apostles: Written, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Scriptures, and continued in the Office of the Holy Ministry, in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The Lord is patient and long-suffering in sending His servants to preach to His people, and thus, by His Word, to bring forth the fruits of His Vineyard.  Thus have you heard in the Parable; and how He continues to do so, even in the face of rejection and refusal.  The treatment of His slaves, whom He has sent, is an attack upon His honor and authority, and yet He has persisted in peace.

Let this be a caution and encouragement to you: For as the Lord Jesus spoke this Parable against the scribes and the chief priests then, so has it been written in the Holy Gospel for your instruction.

Consider the stewards of the Lord’s Vineyard, and how, instead of producing the fruits of the Vineyard for Him, they seek to keep it for themselves, for their own benefit: not only the fruits it has already brought forth, but the entire Vineyard.

From the very first Garden, until now, it has always been this way: That man would take the fruit that God has not given — the fruit that belongs only to God — and that man would thus attempt to seize life for himself in that forbidden fruit, because it looks so good; and that he would likewise refuse to receive the true divine Life that God is freely giving by His grace.

The gardeners and vine-growers do not comprehend that the real treasure and true glory of the Vineyard is not to be found in itself, but in its Lord — in His gracious providence and good gifts; and that Paradise is not found in the pretense of self-righteousness, but in the presence of the Lord.

Even so, that true divine grace and glory of the Lord has ever been the case, and so does it ever remain, even after man has fallen into sin, into unbelief and disobedience.

Therefore, by His grace, in love for His Vineyard, the Lord God sends His own beloved Son, in whom His Church is gathered into being.  And His people do have life, through faith in Him; for, in Him, the Vineyard is fruitful and productive, to the glory of His Name.

Therefore, He sends His own dear Son, in grace, mercy, and peace.  And then what happens?

Happy ending?  Doesn’t sound like it!

As the Parable is drawing to a close, it would appear that everything has gone from very bad to much, much worse.  The Lord of the Vineyard has lost it all: His Vineyard has been taken over, and His beloved Son has been thrown out like rubbish and killed.  That is where sin, at its heart, is always aiming and leading: To usurp the glory of God by the rejection and murder of His Son.

And then, when it already seems too late to do any good, or to make any difference, the Lord of the Vineyard comes and destroys those vine-growers — and He gives the Vineyard to others.

Here is the new thing which God does!  Here is the Mystery of His Vineyard, which all the nations of the earth could never have imagined or pulled off.  It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous.

The rejection and death of the beloved Son is not only the height and culmination of sin, but is, in fact, the precious Cornerstone that God has set and established for the building of His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Christ goes voluntarily to this death, knowing what will happen: He is the One who tells this Parable ahead of time, before it happens; and yet, He proceeds in love.

He goes to His death upon the Cross, handed over by His own people to the gentiles, in order to atone for the sins of all the people by the giving of His life and the shedding of His blood.  He lays down His life willingly, and He will take it up again, so that by His innocent suffering and death He might destroy death and remove its terrifying power from all the children of men.  He comes in peace and submits Himself to the abuse, to the beatings, and to His death by crucifixion, in order to reconcile the hostile world to His God and Father, by the Ministry of the Gospel of His Cross.

Thus, the judgment of unrighteousness and the destruction of sin is first of all borne by the beloved Son; so that, in this way, the Vineyard might be spared, and restored to its Lord, and given Life in His Resurrection from the dead.  So has He done, and so it is.  The Vineyard lives, and it is given — not rented or sold, not relinquished, not bartered or abandoned — but it is given to others: to all who believe and are baptized into Christ Jesus, who share by faith His Cross and Resurrection.

Make no mistake: Whoever does not believe will be condemned.  There is the coming judgment of unrighteousness.  There will be that final day of reckoning, when those vine-growers who reject the beloved Son and refuse to repent will be subject to the destruction of eternal damnation.

But now is the day of grace, in which the servants of the Lord continue to be sent in patience and in peace.  And now is the day of salvation, in which the crucified and risen Son of God comes to cultivate His Vineyard, His people, His Church, by the preaching of repentance and forgiveness.

It is by His Cross that the whole Vineyard is forgiven.  And it is in His Resurrection from the dead that His Vineyard is justified, enlivened, and abundantly fruitful.  That is true for you, as well.

What, then, shall your fruitfulness be like, now, in Him?

By the measure of the world, and by the conceits of your own sinful heart, your fruitfulness is going to be found in what you manage to accomplish, to achieve, and to accumulate for yourself.

The truth is, though, that everything is determined by the Cross of Christ: Either unto repentance, faith, and life, or unto the judgment and condemnation of unbelief.  He is a Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense, who breaks into pieces those who fall on Him; and who smashes into dust and scatters those on whom He falls.  But He is also the Chief Cornerstone, upon whom you are built.

Fear God, therefore, and repent of your sins.  And put your trust in Christ Jesus.  Remember the grace, mercy, and long-suffering patience of the Lord your God, who loves you; and that He did not spare His beloved Son, but handed Him over to His death on the Cross, in order to save you.

By the grace and Spirit of God, you know that your righteousness, your resurrection, and your life are not found in yourself, nor in your own works, but in this dear Lord Jesus, crucified and risen.

So it is that your good fruits of faith and love are found in the fellowship of His suffering, as you are conformed more and more to the Image of His crucifixion.  That is to say, not only that your old sinful self is put to death, but also that you carry the Cross and lay down your life in love for your neighbor, for Jesus’ sake.  And by the power of His Resurrection, He raises you up in faith each day, through the forgiveness of all your sins; until you also are raised up in glory at the last.

For you, indeed, are among the good fruits that He bears to the Glory of His God and Father!

Here, in the Gospel of His Cross and Resurrection, is a pathway through the sea, and living water in the desert.  Here the Heir bequeaths to you the Inheritance of His Father: And the Fruits of this true Vine are given and poured out for you to eat and drink.  Here, then, in His Sacrament, lay hold of Him — Who here lays hold of you for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

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

15 March 2013

The Authority of the Gospel of Christ

The Lord Jesus connects His authority to the Baptism of John: Not simply as a trump card to the trick question of the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the people, but because His authority to preach the Gospel has been received through His Baptism by St. John.

For here we do not have in view His raw power and authority as the Son of God, which is always His by right, by His own divine nature.  But here at hand is the authority of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners, the justification of the sinful and unclean.

This is the authority that has been given to Him, in heaven and on earth, because He has become the Author of Salvation.  It belongs to Him as the incarnate Son, the Lord’s Anointed, the Lamb of God who has taken upon Himself the sins of the world and borne them in His own body.

He has, in fact, gone so far as to become sin, and has suffered the curse of sin and death, in order to do away with all of that, to resolve the problem in Himself, and to reconcile the world to God.  Therefore, the Judgment of the Law has been laid upon Him, in order to be fulfilled and satisfied in His flesh and blood.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, He and the world are justified.

St. John the Baptist was sent by God, to preach and baptize as a testimony to this same Lord Jesus Christ.  In this respect, St. John himself has been authorized to preach the Gospel, whereby he points to Jesus and declares: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”

But there is more to St. John’s office and role than even that beautiful Word.  For he is a prophet, but also more than a prophet, in that he goes before the Lord to prepare His Way.  To that end, he preaches a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; which does prepare the people for the coming of the Christ, by calling them to faith in Him.

And yet, even St. John is caught by surprise when the Lord Jesus comes and submits Himself to that Baptism of John: to that baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins!

It was, St. Luke writes, when all the people were baptized — when all the publicans, prostitutes, and other poor, miserable sinners were baptized by John — that Jesus also was baptized.  In doing so, He not only took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, but He also subjected Himself to repentance for all of those sins, on the world’s behalf.

Which is really to say that He committed Himself to the Cross, to His innocent suffering and death.  Because, in submitting to the Baptism of John, the Lord Jesus placed Himself under the authority and judgment of the Law, in order to accomplish and fulfill all the preaching of the Law and the Prophets, for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners.

Thus, in the waters of the Jordan, by the Baptism of John — as Joshua the son of Nun was once ordained by Moses — so now Jesus, the new and greater Joshua of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, has been anointed by the Spirit of His God and Father, and ordained to preach the Gospel, which He Himself authors by His Cross, and His Father confirms by His Resurrection.

He goes ahead of His people into the waters administered by St. John the Baptist — the waters included in God’s command and combined with His Word — and, by doing so, Jesus goes ahead of you, through death into life, through the Cross into the Resurrection.  He crosses the Jordan ahead of you, in order to lead you and bring you out of the wilderness into Canaan, out of this vale of tears into the great eternal Feast of Paradise: to eat the finest of wheat and sweet honey.

That is the authority by which the Lord Jesus has also sent me to preach His Gospel here to you, to forgive you all your sins in His Name and stead, and to feed you with His Body and His Blood.

This Ministry of the Gospel is from God in heaven, even here on earth among men, that you might hear this Word of forgiveness, and so believe and trust in Him, and open up your mouth to be fed by Christ Jesus, to live with Him in body and soul, both now and forever.

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

10 March 2013

He Turns to You a Father's Heart

Both boys are blind to begin with.  Neither of them knows who he really is, nor what his life is worth, nor how to live in peace and joy and contentment.  Maybe you have the same problem.

One of them adopts a strategy of extravagant spending, the other of disciplined saving, but neither of these sons is satisfied.  One of them is restless and tired of the routine; he wants to leave, to make his own way in the world, and he goes for it.  The other is unhappy and resentful of his lot, but he doesn’t dare leave.  He follows the rules and keeps his nose clean, but he doesn’t like it.

Both boys are lost, each in his own way, because they have both lost sight of their Father.  They do not know themselves, not rightly, because they have forgotten what He is like.  They do not feel at home with Him, because they no longer know His heart.

But He has not forgotten either of them.  He has not lost sight of them, no matter where they are, near or far.  And He has not turned His heart away from either one of them.  Not at all.

That is the point on which the story turns, on which everything depends.  Not what the boys are like, nor how they behave, but who the Father is, and what He does.

You’ll finally find yourself there, too, neither in wanderlust nor work, but in your Father, in His household and family.

I do not mean that your day-to-day life in the world doesn’t matter.  I’m not suggesting that what you do, be it good or bad, is of no account or consequence.  You should not neglect your job, nor should you waste what God has given you, certainly not in wrongdoing.  A child of the Father will want to make different decisions than that.

But the point is, that you do not make a life or a name for yourself.  Nor do you have to.  You have been given life, and you live it, by the grace of your Father.  And His house is your home, your true home, your place of peace and rest, because He has named you with His Name.  All that He has is yours, because He is your Dad.  Even His servants are well-cared for, and well fed.  How much more His own dear children!

That is what is true and constant, stable and consistent.   The Father remains faithful to who and what He is.  He cannot deny Himself, and so He will not disown His children.  Not when His younger son wishes He were dead, and values wealth over family, and runs off to squander himself and his life on the reckless pursuit of fun.  And not when His older son tells Him off, and yells in His face, and contemptuously refuses to enter the house.

He does not disown them, because He loves them, and He has compassion for them, even though they suffer the consequences of their own attitudes and actions.  He is patient with them, and He gently pursues them in peace.

He does not disown you, either, but as He has called you by name, so does He seek you out and call you back to Himself.

But who, then, will be the Son after His Father’s heart?

He will be the One who has learned to live in His Father’s House.  Who looks to His Father, and trusts Him, for all good things.  Who does not seek His own, but the Father’s will, and gladly receives whatever His Father gives Him.  Who does not begrudge the Father’s generosity to His brothers and sisters, but lays down His own life for each and all of them.

He is the One who receives sinners and eats with them; who calls publicans and prostitutes to repentance, and in mercy welcomes them to His Table.  He goes looking for the lost sheep, rescues it from danger, and bears it home upon His shoulders, rejoicing in its recovery.

This is the Son in whom God the Father reconciles the whole wide world to Himself, not counting trespasses or keeping track of sins, but forgiving iniquity, absolving guilt, and covering shame with His own grace and glory.  Such is the staggering extent of His divine Love.

The Lord your God is not passive but active in this rescue of the lost.  He takes every initiative in seeking them out and saving them.  Indeed, He has become your Salvation.  Not abstractly or generically, but concretely, in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.

You see it in the case of the older brother, when the Father goes out to him and pleads with him.  This is the ministry of reconciliation: “My child, I am at peace with you.  Be at peace with Me, and with your brother.  Come on home, and come inside.  Rest yourself here in My love for you.”

This ministry of reconciliation hinges upon the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.   Already there God has turned to you a fatherly heart in the Person of His Son.  In His flesh and blood you are shown what your God and Father is really like, and you find out how far He has gone to love you, to find you, and to bring you home.

He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on your behalf — to become your sin; and to bear and suffer all its consequences for you — in order to justify you, and to reconcile you to Himself.

What that means is that the only-begotten Son of God has gone on a journey, from the House of His Father, into the far country of your sin and death.  Here He has emptied Himself, and made Himself nothing.  He has spent Himself entirely, in love for sinners, for all of the unrighteous and unworthy.  He has made Himself unclean with their uncleanness.  He has soiled Himself with your slop, and made Himself stinky with your stench.

He has placed Himself under the burden and the condemnation of the Law, and has suffered its judgment, its punishment and shame.  Abandoned and alone, a stranger in a strange land; beaten up, a bloody mess; stripped naked, and hung up on the Cross in shame.  The eyes of the world are upon Him with contempt, because the handwriting of your sin has been leveled against Him as an accusation.  “Where is Your Father now?” the mockers taunt and tease.

But the Father has handed Him over to this death, and this Son, the true Son after His Father’s heart, goes willingly.  He becomes your sin.  He bears your curse, and He becomes that, too.  He is damned in your place, as you have deserved.

As Life is found with the Father, in the Father’s House, so does separation from the Father bring death.  That is where you were, so that is where this Son goes, even unto death upon the Cross.

In Him, the Father comes to you and finds you.  And not for nothing does He do it.  Nor merely to commiserate with you.  Neither to wallow in the muck and the mire without any help or hope for you.  But He comes to you, in order that you might become the righteousness of God.

For the Son who went on a journey into a distant country, has also risen from the dead and returned to His Father.  The One who humbled Himself unto death, sharing your shame and disgrace, has also been highly exalted, and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.  He died, and yet, behold, He lives.  He became sin, and yet, He is glorified and honored, He is righteous and holy, in the presence of His God and Father, forever and ever.

This, then, is the answer to all of your questions.  This is the resolution of all your predicaments and problems.  This is your resurrection and your righteousness.  This is who you are, and what you are worth.  For as Christ, the Son of God, was baptized into your pig sty, and has returned to His Father in peace and joy, so are you baptized into His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.

To come to yourself, to find yourself, and to know yourself rightly, is to know God as your Father in Christ Jesus.  It is to remember your Baptism, and what your Baptism means and does for you; that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so do you also rise and walk in newness of life.

Recognize your sins, and repent of them.  Return to the Lord your God.  Come home to your Father in Christ; no matter whether you have been far, far away, pursuing the fake and fatal “freedom” of debauchery, or always close at hand, but hardening your heart while trying to earn your keep.  Forget all of that, and remember who you are by the grace of God: “You are My beloved son,” the voice of the Father declares.  “With you I am well-pleased.”

Beloved, do you hear?  Your Father calls you to repentance, which is to say, He calls you to come home to Himself: Not as a bargain to be struck, nor as a barter to be made; not as a condition or contingency; but because He loves you, and He longs for you to be with Him, in order to give you Life.  And it surely is not hopeless; nor are you a lost cause.  For there is no depth or distance from which He has not already found you and brought you back home to Himself in Christ.

Consider the prodigal son, in whose place you have also been, and whose place the Son of God has freely taken: Already when the prodigal “comes to himself,” it is because he begins to remember his Father, and his Father’s House, and what his Father is like.  That is what raises him up and turns him homeward.

And while he is still strategizing, feeling sorry for himself and ashamed of his sin, but ready to make a deal — while he is “still a long way off” — even then, “his Father saw him.”  His Father’s eye has always been upon him, and has never lost sight of him.  Not looking over his shoulder to criticize and condemn, but with deep, divine compassion for him.

He will not force His son to come home.  He has freely allowed the boy his fatal freedom; for what the Father longs for is not a servant, not a slave or hired hand, but His son.  He loves him, and that is how he deals with the boy.  So, He will not force him against his will; but neither does the Father simply wait it out and make His son bridge the gap and go the distance.  By no means.

What you need to understand, in order to get the picture of this parable, is that the Father goes out to get His boy and brings him back home.  In doing so, He takes the prodigal’s shame upon Himself, and He adorns the young man with His own honor.  He serves notice that, “Anyone who has a problem with My son, has a problem with Me.”

But there is no law, no accusation, guilt or shame, that can separate a child from this Father’s love.

It is no mere emotion, nor sentiment, nor empty show.   This Father’s heart is turned toward you, and open to you, and beats for you, in the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead.  It is in Him that God the Father runs to you, embraces you, and kisses you.  It is with Him that your Father robes you in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  It is by His Gospel of forgiveness that He puts a ring on your finger — not a wedding ring, in this case, but the signet ring of a child and heir of the house.  So, too, are your feet shod with the sandals of peace, for you are welcomed without any reservations or restrictions.  You are at home.

Little wonder that St. Paul genuflects before this God and Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.  We bend the knee, too, not in shame or terror, but in faith and love, in gratitude and joy, and in reverent awe of His mercy.  For such love the Father has for us, that He has given us the right to be called His children.

This is what it means to be a father.  This is what it looks like.  Patience and peace for your children.  Compassion, even for their self-inflicted hurts, and forgiveness for all their sins.  Not returning anger for anger, but exercising gentleness and self-control.  Not giving up on the wayward daughter and prodigal son, but watching and waiting, ready to run to them with open arms and bring them home.  And to do it all over again.  Not keeping score.  Not counting the cost, nor counting their trespasses against them.

What man among you is like that?  Where has there ever been, or where shall you ever find, such a father as that?  You do not see it in yourself, nor in your family.  “Show us such a Father,” you pray, “and that will be sufficient.”

My dear child, He is already with you, and so shall He always be.  For you know the Father in His Son: In the One who receives sinners, including you, and eats with them.  In the One who has become the Sacrifice, who now feeds you with Himself, with His Body and His Blood.  In this One who has become your Brother in the flesh, in order to make you a child of God in Him; who was dead and has come to life again, that you might live.

Great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel!  For this flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is the heart of God the Father: for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  For you fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters; for you husbands and wives, and for you widows, widowers, and orphans in distress.  Here is your everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, who does not cast you away from His presence, but has found you and brought you here, home to Himself, in love.

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

06 March 2013

As God Speaks, So Do You Pray

The Lord your God has commanded you to pray, and He has promised to hear you.  He has also taught you how to pray, and what to pray, so that you may approach Him and call upon His Name with all boldness and confidence.  And it is meet and right that you should do so, because your need for Him is great: He is your life and salvation, your help and hope at all times, in all places.

Pray to Him in faith, according to His Word, that is to say, in the way that He has taught you, and in the confidence of His promises.  Because He has so tenderly invited you to do so, look to Him as your own dear Father in Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  And rely upon Him for all good things, for all that you need in body and soul, trusting in His mercy, His grace, and His forgiveness.

This way of prayer is the way of true wisdom: in the fear, love, and trust of the Holy Triune God.  It is your acceptable and pleasing sacrifice, and your sweet-smelling incense, in the presence of the Lord your God.  And it begins, not with your speaking, but with your listening to His Word.

You know how and what to speak, both to and about God — you know how and what to confess and to pray — first of all, by hearing what God the Lord says to you, and then by speaking, to and about Him, as He has spoken.

“Righteousness looks down from the sky,” and then, “faithfulness springs up from the ground.”

God speaks His justifying Word of the Gospel to you, and then, by faith, you pray to Him as He has spoken.  For His Word does not return to Him empty or unfruitful, but, as the Lord gives the seed, the sunshine and rain from heaven, and thus brings forth a bounteous crop from the earth, so does He raise you up, a new creation, and open your mouth and your lips to show forth His praise.

It is from a heart of faith in Christ Jesus that you pray: The Son of David, who is the incarnate Son of God, the true King of Wisdom and of Peace, He is the One by whom you pray and are heard.  He is God’s Word to you — the Word of the Father, in the flesh of His Son — who has become your sure and certain Word of Prayer to God.

For this Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished and fulfilled the good and gracious will of God for you and your salvation.  He has overcome death and the grave, and He has defeated the devil, by atoning for all your sins with His holy and precious blood, with His own sacrificial death.  In His Resurrection from the dead, and in His preaching of the Gospel of His Cross, He has brought and established the Kingdom of God in His Church on earth.  And in your Holy Baptism, He has not only made you a free citizen of that fair and glorious Kingdom, but He has made you a member of the household and family of God, a dear child of His Father, by naming you with His Name.

All of this, for which you pray, He has done for you by His Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection, and He now gives to you by His Ministry of the Gospel, by His preaching and His Sacraments.

Thus, He teaches you to pray, first and foremost, for the Gospel; which He delights to give you, and to do for you, by His grace.  He teaches you to pray for what He is already doing and giving!

The Gospel of Christ Jesus is the most important “daily bread,” without which you have no life.  Therefore, He teaches you to pray, that you would learn to know your need for it, and that you would look to Him alone to save you, and that you would receive the Gospel with thanksgiving.  He does not force it upon you, but He desires you to have it from Him, so that you may live.

Worldly riches, earthly power, human fame, and temporal success: all are attractive and enticing, but all of these are empty of real life, and altogether unable to save you.  To be sure, they are gifts of God, to be received and used with thanksgiving, and sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.  But everything depends upon His Word and Spirit, lest His good gifts become your deadly idols.

It is rather with the Gospel that the Lord your God gives you every good and perfect gift, and all that you need, already here in time, and the more so for your body and soul hereafter in eternity.  With the Gospel, God Himself is yours, by His grace; and His Kingdom and His Righteousness are yours through His forgiveness of all your sins.  Purchased and won for you, and for all, by the giving of the Son of God, even unto death upon the Cross, and by the raising of Christ Jesus from the dead, who ever lives to make intercession for you before the throne of His God and Father.

Everything depends upon the forgiveness of sins.  For all that you deserve is only punishment, now and forever.  But the Gospel is entirely by the grace and mercies of God in Christ, by the divine and perfect charity of the Father in His Son.  For His sake, He forgives you all your sins.  In Him, the Father speaks peace to His people.  And with that grace, He freely gives you all good things.  For it is in Christ Jesus, by your Baptism into Him, that God the Father is your God and Father.

He is your true Father, and you are His own dear child.  But He is not your Father only.  He is the Father of all who are baptized into Christ Jesus, the beloved Son.  He is the God and Father of all who belong to Christ by His grace, through faith in Him.

Therefore, as often as you pray, you do so in the fellowship of the whole Christian Church, both with and for your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.  You pray to one and the same God and Father of all Christians everywhere, in the holy Name with which each and all of you are named.

And all those many brothers and sisters of Christ, all those children of the heavenly Father, they all pray for you, and with you, in the one Lord, Jesus Christ, and in the Life-giving Holy Spirit.  Really, there is that one Prayer of Christ and His Spirit, to which your prayer, and the prayer of all the baptized faithful, is united.  Christ Jesus Himself, crucified and risen from the dead, and the Holy Spirit, are the uplifted hands and holy incense of your prayer, of your evening and morning sacrifice, which ever ascend to “Our Father who art in heaven,” and are gladly received by Him.

As this great fellowship of the Church depends upon the forgiveness of sins, so does the Church on earth live in the mutual forgiveness of sins: each and all of you, one for the other, confessing your sins to one another, and freely forgiving each other.

The faith that lives before God in Christ, dwells in love with the neighbor in Christ.  And as you pray to your Father, in faith, for His forgiveness of all your sins each day, so do you live in His love and forgive one another, for Christ Jesus’ sake.

A refusal to forgive those who trespass against you, is a rejection of the very forgiveness of sins that you yourself need and depend upon.  And that refusal of your neighbor, that rejection of the Gospel, wrecks your faith and ruins your prayer.

You cannot pray in the peace of Christ while refusing to forgive.

For this reason, your Father calls you daily to repentance.  He does so in His great love for you, His own dear child, so that you do not grow hard and cold and die in your sin, but that you would be turned to Him in faith, to receive from Him the forgiveness, life, and salvation of Christ Jesus.

He performs a kind of open-heart surgery, cutting you open and piercing your flesh to its core, in order to expose and deal with your animosity and enmity, your bitterness and grudges, and your stubborn rejection of grace: for that is what your refusal to forgive your neighbor actually is.

This painful process, which threatens to kill you — and in a sense, it does, laid open there on the operating table — is the discipline of a loving Father for His beloved child.  He opens you up and exposes your sick and sinful heart this way, in order to speak tenderly to your heart by His Son.

He allows you to be tempted and tried, and He puts you to the test, in order to restore your faith, and strengthen your faith, and teach you to pray.  For surely your need and your hurt, your poverty and suffering, bring you to your knees, and turn your ears and heart back to God, to listen to Him; and then also your mouth and your lips, to pray, to call upon His Name for mercy and salvation.

He teaches you not to despair, but to pray in this way, and He also answers your prayer, by the way and the means of His Gospel.  He hallows His Name in you by the preaching of His forgiveness.  And He protects your faith and life within His Kingdom, by His Holy Spirit, through this same Holy Gospel.  So, too, according to His good and gracious will, He thwarts the wickedness of the devil, the world, and your own fallen flesh, and He preserves you steadfast in His Word and faith.

He daily and richly forgives you all your sins — by His Gospel in His Church — and He daily and richly provides you with all that you need for this body and life on earth.

And by this same grace and mercy, by the Word and Spirit of His Son, and by the strong protection and sacred service of His holy angels, He guards and keeps you in the midst of temptation, and He delivers you from every evil of body and soul.

So it is, that trial and tribulation, temptation and tragedy, are not able to destroy you, but rather serve to drive you back to God your Father in Christ Jesus: in Whom you endure — in Whom you have peace and rest — unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.

That dear Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior, is the true King Solomon, the real Prince of Peace, and the very Wisdom of God the Father.

By Him God speaks to you — His Perfect Peace and His Sabbath Rest for your body and your soul — and in Him, you speak to God: You pray, praise, and give thanks, and you call upon His Name.

As He speaks to you by His Son, so do you pray to Him by the Same.  What is more, dear child of God the Father, your prayer is heard by Him, it is acceptable and pleasing to His ears, and it is gladly answered in love with a resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” which is Christ Jesus Himself.

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

03 March 2013

The Lord Is a Tender Teacher and a Patient Pastor

Let’s face it: Life in the wilderness is hard.

It’s not as though there are no joys along the way, no pleasant perks or satisfactions.  Indeed, there are many good things, by the grace of God, for which to give Him thanks and praise.  He both leads and follows after you, your Vanguard and your rear Guard both, your right hand and left.  And He feeds you on the way; He opens up His hand to provide you with everything you need.

But life in the wilderness is hard.  You work hard, and it’s a struggle to keep your head above water, to make ends meet, and to get ahead.  No matter how secure your investments, and no matter how safe your neighborhood, there are threats and dangers that may still lay hands on you.  And all around you, near and far, your neighbors in the world are falling prey to foul play and disaster.

Some of what you read and hear about, and some of what you know firsthand, may seem like the natural consequences of poor decisions, reckless behavior, or a lack of any foresight and planning.  If it befalls someone you don’t know, or someone you don’t like, you’re likely to wag your finger and your tongue; and if it happens to a friend, you may commiserate and shake your head in that sad and knowing way you have.  But such things won’t happen to you, right?

Be careful.  If you think that you are standing tall and fast, take heed, lest you fall down hard.

There are those calamities, of course, where no amount of planning ahead or being careful make any difference at all.  Like a sinkhole opening up beneath your home and swallowing you alive while you sleep in your own bed.  Or minding your own business, going about your day, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and yet, ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone you don’t even know finally snaps and goes postal.

There, indeed, but for the grace of God, go you.

But what is the point or purpose of it all, and what’s your plan?  Is it a matter of being savvy and working hard?  Or is it chance?  A game of luck, be it good or bad, but not of strategy or skill?

As a Christian, you know better.  The Word and Spirit of God have taught you so: He has made you and all creatures, and He still takes care of you.  Even in the wilderness.  Bad stuff happens, but He remains faithful.  All of creation is under the curse of sin and death, but there is still hope.

For the Lord your God has entered His creation and become flesh; He has taken your sins upon Himself and lived in the wilderness; He has suffered your death, and He has risen from the dead.

As the Lord Himself lives — not only from eternity, in Himself, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also in His Resurrection from the dead, in the Person of the incarnate Son, in His own Body of flesh and blood — so surely does He love you and give you His own Life.  That is divine grace.

He calls you to live by faith in Him, which is to fear, love, and trust in Him above all other gods.  And He calls you to that life, not by force or constraint — not by twisting your arm, not with bribes or threats, and not by violating your will — but by His Word and Spirit.  He preaches and teaches, and He pours out His life and His good gifts freely upon you; that you might learn to love Him.

Your life on earth, here in the wilderness, is not a game; it’s not a meaningless exercise; nor is it a scientific experiment, as though you were a rat being run through a maze in some cosmic lab.

But this wilderness is a training ground — as well as a battle zone between God and the devil.  The outcome of that contest is already safe and secure in Christ, but He wages the war in such a way that you may share in His victory.  So there is this boot camp, as it were, which is your earthly life.  It is an apprenticeship, which we normally describe as discipleship; that is to say, you take up the cross and follow after Christ, in order to learn from Him: how to think, and how to speak, and how to live, and how to die.  The world is your classroom, and mortal life is a learning experience.

What the Lord is teaching, and what you are here learning, is a daily, ongoing call to repentance; which is painful and hard, to be sure, but it is for your own eternal good.  For this is how you learn to live in the faith and love of God, in the neverending divine glory of His grace and goodness.

Sin and its consequences, including death, both within your mortal flesh and all around you in the fallen world, are a preaching of the Law of God; which not only exposes and accuses your efforts to live without the Lord (for that is what you do with all your sins), but it also brings to bear the utter futility of any and all such attempts to make a life for yourself.

Dead men tell no tales.

You do not (and cannot) live by your own self-righteousness, which is really no true righteousness at all, but rather an idolatry of your self.

So, too, even when you are prospering (for a little while in this fading and fast-fleeting world), yet, when others around you suffer, whether as criminals being punished or as victims exploited, in them you are confronted with your own mortality, with your own culpability and vulnerability.

And thus you are reminded of where, and where not, you are called to look for and find your life.

Do not become complacent and lazy, resting on your laurels, or supposing that everything will simply continue as it always has.  Nor become haughty and brazen, presumptuous and pushy, as though you had any rightful claims upon life.  The truth is that you live by the charity of God, and that you cannot extend your life by so much as a single day beyond what He bestows upon you.

But do not despair of hope, either, and don’t suppose that you will gain control by ending your life.  Despair and the death that it brings are neither mastery nor liberation, but a dark enslavement.

Despair of yourself and your righteousness, yes; but then also hope and trust in Christ, your Lord.

Repent of your sin.  That is what I mean, and that is what I must preach, if I am to be a faithful watchman of the Lord’s people.  Repent of your sin: in all of its breadth, and height, and depth.  That is to say, in all of your thoughts, words, and deeds, cease from doing evil, and begin to do what is good and right.

Remember and return to the Lord your God.  He is the beginning of your faith and righteousness.

Remember that He brought you out of Egypt through the Red Sea waters of your Holy Baptism, and so now enter into Canaan, with Joshua, by returning to the significance of your Baptism.

That does not mean relying on your Baptism as a presumptuous excuse to sin, as though it didn’t matter; as though it made no difference; as though you could go on sinning with impunity.  No, the history of Israel in the wilderness is proof against that, and a warning to you against that lie.

But, rather, leave your sin and every evil, Pharaoh and his chariots and horsemen, drowned in the depths of the sea behind you.  Do not dredge them up again in your life and conduct.  Instead, live now by the Word of God, by the Food and Drink that He provides, and by His Righteousness.

The wilderness is not only hard but precarious; the time is short, and the Lord’s call to repentance is urgent.  Therefore, do not crave evil, but hunger and thirst for the Lord and His good gifts.

Evil does not wear a name tag, but it masquerades as a golden god.  It offers enticing promises, stroking your ego, stimulating your mind, warming your heart, and arousing your flesh.  It teases your tongue and fills up your belly with tasty morsels and sweet wine.  It tells you what you want to hear.  It makes you feel good.  It looks and sounds like the answer you’ve been searching for.

Do not be deceived.  Do not be an idolater; and do not kid yourself that idolatry is easily spotted and avoided.  Your gluttony of food and drink is idolatry.  Your lust and fornication are idolatry, even if your false gods are only on the internet or in a magazine.  Your addiction to gossip, or to shopping, or to anything at all, is idolatry: With your time and energy, with your mind and body, and with your wasted talents and squandered treasures, you worship and serve your addictions.

Beloved, do not try and tempt the Lord your God.  Hear and heed His warning, and repent.

In particular, cease and desist from your grumbling and complaining, lest you be destroyed by the devil with his wicked deceits.  In this, too, Satan would lead you into complacency, and have you suppose that there is no danger or harm in your muttering and whining.  But you are a Christian!  Do you not realize that words are powerful?  That what you speak, as well as what you listen to, shapes and gives substance to your thoughts and feelings?  Even your whispers give voice to the meditations of your heart, and, in turn, they inform and determine the imaginations of your heart.  Thus, with your grumbling complaints, the devil hardens your heart against the Lord your God.

But, now, repent of that, and live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord:

Hold His Word and preaching to be sacred, and, therefore, gladly hear and learn it.  And, as you have heard, so also speak.  Armor and shield yourself with His Word, and bear it as your Sword against the crafts and accusations of the devil.  Let your heart and mind be taught by Christ, that is, by confessing, and praying, and singing His Word.   That is where your life is truly to be found.

Then also live your life in Christ, by His Word, by practicing justice and righteousness.  That is to say, what you have heard and received from Him, by His grace, put into practice in the way that you speak to your neighbor and deal with your neighbor.  Practice charity with all people.  Have mercy and compassion on those who are in need; not only with kind words, but with good deeds and generous gifts.  Freely forgive, and gladly do good to those who trespass against you.  And, where you have done wrong, or failed to do right, now make amends and reparations, as you can.

Such righteous living derives from the righteousness of faith in Christ.  It cannot be purchased, nor is it manufactured by human ingenuity.  But the good works of which I preach — the practice of justice and righteousness, to which the Lord calls you — these are the fruits of repentance; the fruits of faith; the fruits of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, which are borne by the Tree of His Cross.

This is the repentance to which He calls you, that is, the repentance of His own Cross, and of His Resurrection from the dead.  Indeed, His Body and His Blood, crucified and risen, are the First Fruits of repentance, which bear fruits after their own kind in you.  And this is the way of escape that He has provided, in order that you may endure the temptations of the devil, the world, and your flesh, and survive the wilderness journey, and finally enter into Canaan, into eternal Life.

The Lord is a tender Teacher, and a patient Pastor.  He is merciful, kind and good; long-suffering, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.  As surely as He lives — crucified and risen from the dead, never to die again — so surely does He love you; and so does He desire to give you life.

Thus has He given His own life for you, and shed His own blood, by His crucifixion under Pontius Pilate, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for all your sins, and for the sins of the whole world, without exception; and so to conquer death and the devil for you, treading them to dust beneath His feet.

The Tree of His Cross bears the Fruits, the ripe and luscious Figs, by which you live; as much as His death and resurrection are your repentance, your righteousness, your salvation, and your life.  For so has He rebuilt the fallen walls and crumbled towers of Jerusalem in Himself, in His Body, that He might be a sure refuge and a mighty fortress for the people of God, in heaven and on earth.  This is the New Life to which you are called: here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  And this is the House where you now live, in safety and in peace, by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.

As you are daily called to repentance, so surely are you daily and richly forgiven all of your sins.  And in this Spiritual Food and Drink, which is Christ — even here in the wilderness, in the midst of sin and death — you are given a Life that is forever, in body and in soul.  So that, whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.  And, in Him, you shall never perish, but have everlasting life.

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