24 June 2013

The Preaching of Repentance in Christ

The coming of Christ, the Son of God, is most wonderful and terrible.

He comes as Light in the darkness to lead you out of Egypt by His uplifted arms; to save you from the bitter slavery of sin and death; to bring you into the promised land.

But how shall you receive Him?

You cannot. Your sin that cuts you off and separates you from God, prevents you from receiving Him and His salvation in faith. Indeed, not only that, but for your sin you deserve condemnation from the Lord who comes, and punishment and death. You are sinful and unclean, unrighteous and unholy. Thus, you cannot abide nor survive in His presence, nor can you stand in His judgment.

Still, for all of that, it is with tender mercy and divine compassion that He comes. It is by and with grace that He takes every initiative in coming to you with life and light and love.

So it is that, in order to prepare you for His coming, the Lord raises up and calls and sends a messenger before His face — a preacher — to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. In sending such a man to preach His Word, He sends one who is like Himself; for the Lord Jesus Christ is the very Word of God who has become flesh; He has become true Man (for us men and our salvation).

Before the Lord’s own miraculous conception and birth, you see the grace, mercy and peace of God already revealed in the way that St. John the Baptist is conceived and born and named: not by the reason or strength of his old man and his barren mother — he is the gift of God.

St. John’s entire life, from even before his conception, and even while yet in the womb, is bound up with and a proclamation of the coming of Christ. So, too, especially, his preaching and his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s all about Jesus; it’s all pointing to Him.

It is only by such preaching of the Word that you are prepared for Christ Jesus. It is only by such preaching that you or anyone can receive Him and respond to Him in faith, unto life.

Praise God for His preachers, for His messengers who go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way, and to prepare you for Him. You would be lost and gone without them.

But there is still a problem.

You can no more receive or respond to this preaching of the Word than you can or could receive the Word-made-Flesh Himself. Your sin still gets in the way and prevents you. His Law, by whomever it is preached, still condemns you and puts you to death.

You cannot live without Him; but you can’t live with Him in your sin, either.

No, the preaching of the Word of Christ accomplishes His purposes and saves you from sin and death, not by any power or response of yours, but only because Christ Jesus Himself submits to that Word and fulfills it first of all.

Jesus receives and responds to the preaching of St. John the Baptist, and thereby He fulfills all righteousness for you.

Really, it is in this way, in particular, that St. John prepares the Way of the Lord. He preaches the Law to which Christ submits Himself (in order to redeem you and all who were under the Law). St. John preaches the repentance which Christ undergoes by His death and resurrection, in order to open the way of repentance for you. St. John preaches and administers the Baptism of repentance, to which Christ Jesus submits Himself (in faith and love), so that, by the Lord’s own death on your behalf, your Baptism is for you the forgiveness of all your sins and a participation in His Resurrection from the dead.

The preaching of the Word of Christ that is granted to you is a living and active and powerful Word, because it is a Word already fulfilled in Christ.

The preaching of repentance not only puts you to death, but raises you to life. It causes the Light to shine upon you, where previously you walked in darkness. It gives you the new birth of the Holy Spirit, and bestows upon you the Name of God by His grace. It grants you the peace that passes all human understanding and achievement, because it is the Word of Christ who has reconciled you to God.

Thus, the preaching of repentance is the preaching of forgiveness — and it does and gives exactly what it proclaims! — and it calls you and brings you to faith and life through that forgiveness of all your sins.

By this preaching of the Word of Christ, not only are you prepared for His coming, but it is precisely by this way and means that He comes to you in love and visits you with tender mercy and compassion.

He remembers you with this preaching, and He raises you up to feast with Him at His Table, to eat and drink the New Covenant of His Body and Blood. This is a most precious feast (though it may taste like locusts and wild honey); it sustains you in the desert of this world unto life in the promised land forever. So do you continue to live and grow and become strong, by grace through faith in this Word of Christ.

It is this peaching of the Word of Christ which has opened your ears and your heart to receive Him, and has released you from all your sins; which also now opens your lips to show forth His praise, and looses your tongue to confess His holy Name, that His great mercy may be displayed in you.

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

16 June 2013

We Are Debtors, That Is True

We are all debtors; that is true.  Nor is any one of us able to repay the debt that is owed.

You are obliged, first of all, to keep the Law and obey the commandments of God.  But you do not.  And for every point at which you fail and fall short, for every act of disobedience, and for each and every duty that you have neglected to do, you are under the curse of the Law.

There is more to your burden and your brokenness than that.  Not only do your find yourself unable to fulfill the Law’s demands, but neither can you go back and try again to make things right; no more than David could rewind the clock in order to undo the evil he had done.

You may be able to do better in the future, and maybe you will, or maybe you won’t.  But you can’t take back the sinful words that you’ve already spoken; and you can’t reverse the hurt and the harm that you’ve already caused.  Often enough, it is not even possible to clean up your mess, to repair the damage you’ve done, or to make amends for your failings.  Indeed, your efforts to “correct” and cover up your mistakes may lead only to more and worse sins.  You can’t pay back your debt.

Neither can you repay what is forgiven by the grace of God, or what He gives to you by charity. That is by the very nature of the case: You cannot earn His favor, but can only receive His gifts.  You could not afford to purchase all that He gives you, even if it were for sale, and even if you weren’t already broke.  But He gives it to you freely, by fatherly divine goodness and mercy, for the sake of His own love.  Your debt, in return, is simply to give Him thanks for all His benefits.

It is meet and right to give Him thanks and praise; not only for your life and all that you have, for your body and soul and all that you need, from one day to the next, but especially because the Lord God graciously forgives all of His debtors all of their debts.  He foots the bill and covers the cost.  He forgives even your ingratitude, and continues to provide for you and all, even without thanks.

Under such grace, there is no difference between sinners, as though one were less bad or another much worse.  No one is deserving; no, not one.  And yet, everyone is forgiven everything by God.

For Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in human flesh and blood on our behalf, has become the curse and has removed it from us all.  He has paid the entire debt of the whole Law, suffering its condemnation and its punishment of sin, while fulfilling it completely in our stead: Not only the letter, jot and tittle, of its demands, but also its heart and spirit, which is divine love, grace, and mercy.  He has acted in perfect faith and faithfulness before His God and Father, and with full and free compassion for sinners, being the one true Man after His Father’s own great heart of love.

The preaching of repentance, therefore, proclaims and points to Him, to this Man, Christ Jesus, and says of Him: There is God, and His Kingdom, and His Righteousness.

The sinful woman in this Holy Gospel heard that preaching of repentance, perhaps from St. John the Baptist, and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, she responded in faith by seeking out Jesus in love, trusting His forgiveness, and giving Him her thanks and praise.

She speaks not a word, but her actions confess her faith and love, and they teach you concerning Christ Jesus: That forgiveness and life and salvation are found in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood, in the House and at the Table where He is.  That is where you go to receive His gifts, and to worship the Lord your God.  Faith and love lay hold of God, by laying hold of Christ’s Body.

What this woman does for Jesus is not very practical or “necessary,” but rather quite extravagant.  Many people would say and accuse that her actions are “too much,” or “inappropriate.”  But the Lord acknowledges her, and He graciously receives her love for Him, because it is the overflowing of His great love for her.  She lavishes such grateful affection and loving devotion upon Him, who loves her and has given Himself for her; who also loves you, and has given Himself for you.

Simon the Pharisee perceived the whole situation very differently.  He measured and evaluated everything and everyone according to the righteousness of the Law; except that he didn’t really grasp or understand the Law rightly.  He sat in judgment of Jesus, and in judgment of the woman, while he justified himself in his own estimation.

Simon hid his sins from others, and perhaps he hid them even from himself, but he was not without sin; nor could he hide his sins from God, any more than he could hide his thoughts and feelings from the Lord Jesus.  In fact, on this occasion, anyway, Simon the Pharisee was condemned and cursed by his own condemnation of the woman, because he had no compassion for her.  For he placed himself under the judgment of the Law, by which no one shall be justified.  And he rejected the Christ, who alone fulfills the Law and redeems those who are under the curse of the Law.

The woman, though, acknowledges the true justice of God: She recognizes the righteousness of His Law, and she has been painfully aware of her many sins.  But she also trusts the compassion of Christ, and that He alone is righteous in His grace and mercy and forgiveness.

She forgets herself, and loses herself in love for Him alone, and suffers herself to be crucified and die with Him, as it were; so that she might live, no longer in herself, but in Christ, and He in her.

She has it exactly right.  This is the wisdom of God.  This is the peace that belongs to His children.

The grace and beauty of her love derive entirely from the grace and beauty of her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She sees no one else but Him.  She is not self-conscious, nor is she troubled or dissuaded by the accusing looks, the disapproving stares, and the whispered taunts of Simon and his guests; because she has come to know and to believe that Christ Jesus graciously forgives all sins, and that He is the Savior of sinners.  Knowing herself to be a sinner, she knows, therefore, that He is her Savior.  And she loves Him, because He loves her and has given her a whole new life.

Believe this: Your sins are also forgiven by the same Lord Jesus Christ.  Your life and salvation and peace with God are found in Him.  And all of this is for you, because He loves you.

The Rich Man who made Himself poor in order to make you wealthy with all the treasures of His Kingdom and the righteousness of God; who bore your sin and became the curse that condemned you, in order to bless you by His grace and bear you back to His God and Father as a beloved child and heir — He sees you and beholds you in tender compassion and with sweet affection.  He does not see in you a loose woman or a loser.  He does not see “white trash,” nor any other kind of trash, nor a worthless, wasted life.  He does not look at your sins, nor does He consider them or count them against you.  But He looks on you in love, and, for the sake of His love, He counts your faith in Him as abundant fruit, and your works of love as precious gifts: The way a father loves and receives the simple words and drawings of his children as masterpieces of eloquence and art.

You are not a floozy or a flunky in His eyes, no matter what your past or your reputation may be.  But you are a beloved daughter to Him, or His own dear son, and He delights in you.

Thus, at His invitation, you have entered His House, and here you receive His gentle hospitality.  See, He has prepared His Table before you, even in the presence of your enemies, who no longer have anything to say against you, because the Lord has silenced all their accusations by His Cross.  He washes your feet with His Word of forgiveness, so that, by the grace of His Gospel, you are entirely clean.  He anoints your head with the Oil of His Holy Spirit, whereby you are sanctified; and His own righteousness is your perfume, whereby you and your life are a fragrant and pleasing aroma to your God and Father in heaven.

And now, the Lord Jesus girds Himself to serve you, so that you may eat His Bread and drink of His Cup, and recline here in His bosom, and find your peace and rest in Him.  Therefore, do not be afraid.  You shall not be put to shame.  For the Lord is faithful, who forgives you all your sins and remembers them no more.

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

14 June 2013

For the Prayers of the Church

O God, by whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named, we give You thanks and praise for our fathers on earth, and for the good gifts of daily bread that You provide Your children through them.  Grant to all men the grace to serve with a compassion after Your own heart, caring for their own families, for Your Church, and for widows and orphans in distress; that they would use the strength and skill You have given them, to defend, protect, and support the weak and the small and all of their neighbors; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

11 June 2013

The Son of Encouragement

He was not one of the Twelve, and he was gradually overshadowed and eclipsed by St. Paul, but St. Barnabas was an apostle, a “sent one” of the Lord Jesus.  He was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith,” who was called by the Holy Spirit, not only to discipleship, but to the apostolic ministry of the Gospel.  To that Office he was ordained by the laying on of hands with the Word of God and prayer, and he was sent by the Lord through His Church to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus.

In this sending of men, like Barnabas, whom He has called and ordained, the Lord Jesus continues His own Ministry of the Gospel.  For He sends them with His own authority to cast out demons, to heal diseases, to forgive sins and save sinners.

Everything that Jesus does, His Apostles do as well, always depending on Him and delivering what He has uniquely accomplished by the atoning Sacrifice of His Cross.  It is the Redemption of His Cross, the purchase and cleansing of His holy, precious Blood, and the New Creation of His Resurrection, that He proclaims and bestows by the preaching and ministry of His messengers.  And though, of course, they do not make atonement for sins (which Christ has done once for all), they do bear and carry the Cross after Him.

Those who are sent, including St. Barnabas, are first of all called to follow Jesus, and to learn from Him, as disciples and catechumens of His Word.  They have nothing to give to others, except what they themselves have heard and received from Him.  Nor are they to rely on anyone else, but they receive His provision by grace within the household and family of His Church.

What is true for every Christian, is especially true for the ministers of the Gospel, that, like the Levites of the Old Testament, their heritage is the Lord Himself and His Holy Name.  Not land or wealth, nor privilege, popularity, or prestige, but the Gospel is their Treasure.

That same Gospel is also your Treasure, which the same Lord Jesus Christ generously gives to you by the Ministry of His means of grace.  In Holy Baptism, He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous Light.  He has raised you from death and the grave unto newness of life.  He has turned you from your sins to Himself, and to His God and Father in Him.  And He has brought you from idolatry to the worship of the true and living God.  He has cast out your unclean spirit by the forgiveness of all your sins, and has anointed and filled you with His Holy Spirit.

Thus, He has made of you a new creation, and has prepared a permanent place for you in Paradise.  That is your true home, and there is your true family, with Barnabas and all the Apostles, and all the saints of God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore, though you are not an apostle, and most of you will not become pastors and teachers of the Church, nevertheless, as a Christian you are called to live by faith in Christ and in love for your neighbors, especially for those who belong to the household and family of God.

What that meant for “Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth,” even before he was called and ordained to the Office of the Ministry, was that he sold his property and laid all of the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles for the care of the community of the Church.  Such charity of faith exemplifies the reason for which the Apostles called him, “Barnabas,” that is, the “Son of Encouragement.”

Thus did he become a true Levite, indeed, in supporting the Royal High Priesthood of Christ in His Church and Ministry on earth: Not only the Twelve in Jerusalem, but then also St. Paul following his conversion, in the blossoming mission of the Gospel to the Gentiles.  Later, St. Barnabas lent his strength and support to St. Mark, by whose hand we have received the Holy Gospel.

Again and again, we find St. Barnabas giving of himself in loving service to others; not seeking fame or glory for himself, but living in the grace of his Lord Jesus Christ, by faith in the Gospel.

That is what it means to be sent out without any bread or bag or money belt, but only with your staff in hand and sandals on your feet.  It is the new and greater Exodus of Christ, the Son of God, who has crossed over from death into life by His Sacrifice for us and in His Resurrection.  He is our true Passover, who is alone our Meat and Drink indeed.  He is your Daily Bread, your Manna from heaven, which God the Father opens His gracious hand to provide you in the wilderness.

You are baptized into His Exodus, and, now, it is by His Staff that you are guarded from all harm and danger, and that you are guided on the Way of Life.  So, too, it is with His perfect Peace, such as this world cannot give, but He gives by the Gospel, that your feet are washed and sandaled.

You have such Peace in Christ, as Barnabas did (and does!), whether you live or whether you die, because your sins are all forgiven, and your true and everlasting life is hidden with Christ in God.

Barnabas was a good man, not because he was sinless or perfect, but by faith in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, by the cleansing and sanctification of the Holy Spirit: by the grace of God, and to the Glory of His Name.  For He who created the heavens and the earth, for the sake of His own divine eternal Love, also brings about this new thing by His Word:

Even to the ends of the earth, to coast lands and islands, to Cyprus and Cyrene, to Singapore and Sumatra, to Siberia and Sudan, and even to South Bend and southern Michigan, He causes His Word to be preached, He pours out His Spirit, and He provides the Bread of Life for His people.

As surely as the Gospel went out from Jerusalem to the Greeks by the speaking of St. Barnabas, and as surely as alms were then sent from the Gentile Christians in Antioch to the Church in Judea by the hand of that good man, so surely has the Lord opened His mouth to speak to you, and opened His hand to feed you in this place.  As He thereby opens your ears to hear and opens your mouth to feast upon the Passover of Christ in His true Body and true Blood, so then also, sing unto the Lord this New Song that He has taught you: The Song of God and of the Lamb forevermore.

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

09 June 2013

Christ Jesus Comes with Compassion

This familiar Holy Gospel follows immediately after that of the centurion and his servant, which we heard last Sunday.  In that previous case, our Lord Himself praised the centurion’s faith and his wise confession of Christ Jesus; and it was done for him as he believed, because by faith he laid hold of that which is found in Christ and given by His Word.  He prayed, and he was answered.

The centurion sent messengers to Jesus and asked for His help, that his servant would be healed and spared from death.  And when Jesus was coming to do so, the centurion met Him with other messengers, to seek only the Word of authority, which would heal the servant from a distance.

Now, in the case of the widow of Nain, by contrast, there is no prayer or request, nor any mention of faith on the part of the woman, far less on the part of her son, who was dead, nor even on the part of the mourners who made up the funeral procession.  No one comes to find Jesus; nor has anyone asked Him to come.  He comes, nonetheless, and conquers death by His own initiative.

This miracle exceeds the previous one; for here He does not simply heal the sick to keep them from dying, but He actually raises the dead back to life.  He does it with a touch, and with a Word, and that is all.  He does not wait for anyone to ask or to believe, but His own compassion moves Him to act; and His gracious action moves others, then, to confess and call upon the Name of the Lord.

What you learn from this, first of all, is that the miraculous deeds and good gifts of Christ Jesus do not depend upon your faith, but your faith depends upon His speaking and doing and giving.

He comes with divine compassion.  He reaches out to those who are hurting, to those who have suffered loss, to those who mourn, and even to those who are dead in their trespasses and sin.  He speaks a Word which comforts your troubled heart and mind because it forgives your sin and gives you life.  For He is still coming and doing all of these gracious good works for you in this place.  Before you have called, He has answered; while you are still speaking, He is already saving you.

He is indeed a great Prophet, who speaks the Word of God; and the Word of God in His mouth is the Truth itself.  That is the case, no less, in those whom He calls and sends to speak His Word, in whose mouths He has placed His own voice, as He did with the Prophet Elijah and the Apostle St. Paul.  For He is not only a Prophet, but more than a Prophet.  Not only does He speak the Word of God, but He is the Word who is God Himself, who has become Flesh and tabernacles with us.

In His coming, by His Word and with His Holy Sacraments, it is the Lord your God who visits you.  And the permanence of His visitation is revealed in His Sacrifice for sin and in His Resurrection from the dead.  For He comes to raise you from death and to give you life with Himself forever.

You have heard it described and verbally depicted in this Holy Gospel: The Lord Jesus approaches and draws near to the city with His entourage, and He meets the weeping widow coming out, with the pallbearers and the corpse of her son, and the crowds who follow with their cries of mourning.  It is like the meeting of two armies on the outskirts of this little town, the one of life, the other of death and the grave.  There’s no avoiding the clash of life and death, but Christ wins the victory.

Death comes to all the children of men and confronts them; because all men sin, and the wages of sin is death.  So, it is for you as it was for that widow of Zarephath in Elijah’s day, for the widow of Nain, and for every other widow, widower, and orphan: Death, whether in your own mortal flesh or in your children and your loved ones, is a reminder and an accusation of your sin; it causes grief and sorrow, anger and fear.  It is what you deserve; it is stronger than you; and you can’t stop it.

But now, Christ Jesus comes and enters in, your great Redeemer.  He confronts death and the gates of Hades head on, and He challenges sin and sorrow with the authority of His Word.  “Don’t cry,” He says.  “Arise, young man!”  Christ commands both life and death, and they are subject to Him.

Telling the poor widow not to cry — who has already lost her husband and is now bereaved of her only son — may seem callous or inconsiderate at first.  She is left alone, with nothing and no one.  Or, so it seems.  But Jesus sees her dire straits, her desperate need, and He feels her pain deeply within Himself.  He does not speak clichés or platitudes, but the powerful Word of His Gospel.  He cares for the widow by removing the cause of her sorrow.  He is not embarrassed by her tears, but He wipes them away in tender love for her, and He replaces them with His peace and joy.

The compassion of Christ Jesus is a divine emotion, which He feels and experiences in His own human flesh.  It is a churning of His guts, His entrails, like those of the Old Testament sacrificial animals.  Indeed, this deep divine compassion has brought the one true God into the flesh, in order to bear your sins and death like a beast of burden, and to offer Himself as a Sacrifice for all men.

Thus, the Lord stretches out His hand and touches the funeral bier, on which the dead man is being carried out of the city for burial.  In doing so, Jesus defiles Himself.  The Holy One makes Himself unclean, so that life and death must clash and contend within His own Body of flesh and blood.  And, as such, as the Sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the world, He will be crucified, dead, and buried outside the gates of Jerusalem: as though He, the Son of God, were the vilest refuse.

The Prophet Elijah likewise depicts this sacrifice of Christ Jesus, in a similar but different way, when he raises the widow’s son from death at Zarephath.  He lays the child upon his bosom, and then upon his bed, and he stretches out his body upon him (in the form of a Cross) three times over, while he calls on the Name of the Lord  to return the child’s life to him.  So has the Lord Jesus taken sin and death upon Himself, and carried us in His bosom to the Cross; and He has made His bed in the dust of the earth, where our own bed must be made; and on the third day, He has risen from the dead, in order that we, too, might rise to newness of life in Him.

His Resurrection from the dead is also your resurrection, because He is your merciful and great High Priest; and He Himself is the Sacrifice offered for you.  This, then, is the Lord’s compassion for you, and His sympathy.  As those words convey, He makes your suffering His own: He suffers with you, and for you; not gratuitously, but vicariously, in order to save you from sin and death.  He has borne your griefs and carried your sorrows in Himself, in order to release you from them.

And so it is, that, in His Resurrection, He becomes and brings about the New Creation for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  As He has borne your sin and death, your pain and sadness, in His Body to the Cross, so does He bear you up in His risen Body, out of death, even unto God.  You find your true rest in Him, and you are raised up in Him, unto the life everlasting.  For Christ Jesus leads the way, through death and the grave into life, and all of His disciples follow after Him.

He brings life out of death, as He created all things out of nothing by His Word in the beginning, and as He brings you from idolatry and unbelief to faith by the preaching of His Gospel.  His Word of forgiveness is not a command of the Law, but a Word of compassion, which removes your sin and makes you brand new.  This promise is for you, and for your children and grandchildren.

Now, then, understand that He gives children to people, in order to bear children for His Church; in much the same way that He gave that young man, whom He had raised, back to his mother.  That is to say, that children are the heritage of the Lord: He gives them life on earth, whether for a few days or many years, in order to give them life with Himself forever and ever.  That is the point.

Otherwise, what shall we say or think concerning those to whom He gives no spouse or children, and of those who are widowed or bereaved, and of those orphaned while yet in their childhood?  Let us have compassion for each and all of these, as our Lord Himself has compassion for them and for us all.  And let us pray for them, and help them, as we can, to be companions with them.  But do not lose sight of the family and the fellowship to which the Lord calls each and all of us.

If your child is sick, and the Lord does not grant healing in this life on earth, as He once healed that centurion’s servant; or, if you are bereaved of your child, and the Lord does not restore him or her to mortal life, as He once raised the widow’s son at Nain; do not suppose that you love and care for your children more than He does, or even as much as He does.  He loves both you and them, and He is still moved with the same deep divine compassion for you all, to give you eternal life.

The Lord creates and calls your children, as He creates and calls you, for that life everlasting with Himself, in both body and soul, in Paradise forever.  If He has not given you children or a spouse, or if He has already called your spouse and children from this vale of tears to His nearer presence, then take comfort that He Himself comes to you; that He keeps on calling you to Himself, as He has drawn near to you; and that He calls other to Himself through you: He calls both you and them to become His Christians, sons and daughters of His Church, the children of God, who are, then, brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such is your true family, in Him who is your Husband and Head, in whom the Lord your God is also your own dear Father, here in time and hereafter in eternity.

For there is one Father, and one Family in Christ; and, whatever your calling on earth may be, it is for real Life with that Father in His Family that anyone and everyone is conceived in this world.

Therefore, He gives children to people on earth, to bear children for His Church, and thereby to call them to Himself, to become His own dear children: by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism in His Name, and by the ongoing catechesis of Christ.  It is by the preaching of His Word of authority, that is, by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, that He gives to them newness of life.

Take this to heart, that, if He gives children to you, whether by birth or adoption, He does not do so for calamity, but for the granting of life everlasting, by the way and means of His Cross.  Thus, death does not defeat His cause, but even that great enemy is commanded to serve and support it.

In all things, come what may, the Lord does not abandon you, nor does He abandon your children, but He accomplishes His gracious purposes for you, and for them.

Beloved, cease your weeping, and do not cry, but arise and live.  There is a time for weeping, to be sure, as the Scriptures also testify, and as our Lord Jesus also wept for His dear friend Lazarus.  Only, do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in the peace and comfort of the Resurrection.  For God raised Jesus from the dead, and He, who once was dead, but now He lives, still comes to you: He draws near and approaches to forgive your sins, and to rescue from death and the grave.

As He called and sent St. Paul to preach His Gospel to the nations, so does He continue to call and send pastors to you, to speak and act in His Name and stead; and He Himself is actively present in that Holy Ministry of His Gospel, in order to grant you His own divine and everlasting Life.

He reaches out and touches you with compassion, as He feeds you from His own hand with His holy Body and precious Blood; and with His Word, which He preaches to you here and now, He raises you up from your death bed to live in His presence, in body and soul, to the glory of His holy Name, and to the glory of His God and Father, with the Holy Spirit, both now and forevermore.

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

02 June 2013

A Man Under Authority

Genuine authority belongs first of all to God, because He is the Author and Builder of all things; and all legitimate authority on earth derives from Him, as He so delegates and assigns within the “story” of His world, according to His Word.

Being “under authority” is to recognize and respect the good order that God has established and arranged; and, so also, to live within that arrangement in relation to God and to the neighbor, as God has determined and declared in His Word: That is, to live in faith toward God, and in love for one another, each person within his or her own particular place, wherever God has stationed.

It’s easy to see how that applies in a military context, such as the centurion describes in his words to Jesus; and those who have served in the military will understand the clear chain of command.  But this same sort of arrangement, or ordering of life, pertains to the entirety of life in the world, both before God and in every aspect of human society.  It is the way that God, the Holy Trinity, exercises His divine authority throughout His good creation, in a beautiful harmony of all things.

The Lord establishes authorities under Himself on earth, in order to serve His whole creation by the means of His creation, and to carry out His purposes in love for His people.  Thus, He serves you by those whom He has put in authority over you, and He serves others, in turn, through you.  In submitting to the one in peace and without fear, and in serving the other with confidence and compassion, you honor the Lord your God as the Author and Giver of life.

Respect for authority, as belonging to the one true God and deriving from Him, and so also the responsible exercise of authority, is a matter of humility before Him, who is your Lord and King; and of confidence in that which He has given you to do, whatever your place in life may be.

This is not a case of pride in yourself, nor of reliance on your own powers, but of confident trust in the Lord your God, and of obedience to His Word.  Godly authority is not a “power play,” nor at all a matter of “might makes right.”  Strength and skill are gifts of God, and they are rightly used when they are put into the service of His calling and command.

So it is that our dear Lord, Jesus Christ, is a “Man under Authority,” as the centurion profoundly confesses.  Although He is the one true God, the almighty and eternal Son of the Father from all eternity, He has also become the true Man; and, not only that, but He was born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law.  Therefore, as we heard from Him last Sunday, He does not glorify Himself, but He honors the Father.  He speaks and does what the Father declares.  “Not My will, but Thine be done,” He prays in the Garden of Gethesemane.

The incarnate Son is sent by God the Father, He is baptized by St. John in the Jordan River, and He is anointed by the Holy Spirit, to preach and perform the Gospel.  That is His Divine Call, His Vocation, His Office and station in life.  It is uniquely His, for no other creature in heaven or on earth could do and accomplish what He has been called and sent to do for the salvation of us all.  But He humbles Himself and honors the duties of His Office, just as you are called to do in yours.

The difference, of course, is that He is perfectly faithful in all that He says and does, and in this, He makes all things brand new: in Himself, to begin with, but on your behalf, and for all mankind.

Where the first man and his wife fell short of the Glory of God and broke their relationship with Him and with each other, the Son of God, Christ Jesus, the new and better Adam, has submitted Himself to the Authority of His Father, in order to rectify the relationship of God and Man.

The Lord Jesus does not undermine or overthrow the Authority of God, but affirms and honors that Authority as the bedrock of the New Creation.  He atones for man’s sin by suffering the broken-ness of the fall, while at the same time He establishes the proper place and holy purpose of man in His own faithful obedience and life of love.

The obedience of Christ, therefore, replaces the disobedience of all other men.  On the one hand, sin is put to death in His sacrificial death upon the Cross, whereby He suffers the punishment that man deserved.  And on the other hand, His own faith toward God, and His love for His neighbor, are the pattern of true human Life in the Image and Likeness of God, which is brought to light and poured out upon all flesh in His Resurrection from the dead.

By His Cross, and in His Resurrection, this Lord Jesus Christ has become the Author of salvation, and the Author and Perfecter of the faith, according to the Word and Will of His God and Father.  As true God and true Man, His active and passive obedience have perfectly accomplished and permanently established the good order of Creation.

This is what it means for Jesus to be a “Man under Authority,” and to receive “all Authority in heaven and on earth.”  It is the “special authority” of forgiveness and salvation, which belongs to Him by right as the Author of the Atonement and of Justification.  As the One who has taken the place of all men, and borne the sins of all men, and died the death of all men, He has the authority to forgive the sins of all men, and to save sinners for the Life everlasting of the Holy Triune God.

It is indeed remarkable that the foreign centurion recognized and trusted that authority in Jesus, even before the Cross and Resurrection had yet been accomplished, solely on the basis of the Word that he had heard concerning Jesus.  Such great faith is the divine work and gracious gift of the Holy Spirit, who works, where and when it pleases God, in those who hear the Gospel.  So, too, has the same Spirit obtained such faith in you by the proclamation of the Word of Christ Jesus.

For it is, in fact, by the speaking of His Word, that your Lord Jesus exercises His Authority for the forgiveness of your sins, and for your salvation.  He speaks, and you are healed: in body and soul, for the resurrection and eternal life.  This, too, that same centurion remarkably confessed, in whom God demonstrated His grace and mercy, not only for the Jews, but for all the nations of the world.

Which is why the crucified and risen Lord Jesus uses His Authority to call the nations to Himself, to become His disciples: by the washing of the water with His Word, and by the ongoing catechesis of His Word.  Take note that everything depends upon His Word.  He speaks a Word, and it is so.

He calls the nations to Himself, to take up the Cross and follow Him.  But, already in the Word that He preaches, He has drawn near to them; He is present and active, even to the ends of the earth.  And that is no less the case in the preaching of those men whom He calls and sends in His Name to speak and act in His stead.  They also are men “under Authority,” in whom Christ Jesus speaks; not unlike the way that centurion spoke to the Lord through those whom he sent as messengers.

Thus, as Pr. Chryst is called and sent by God to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments in Singapore, we believe and confess that Christ Jesus thereby preaches His Word and gives His good gifts to His people there.  It is the same in the case of your own pastors here in South Bend.

The called ministers of Christ, who are the pastors of His Church on earth, are not “free agents,” nor “freelance artists,” as though they had some arbitrary or independent authority of their own.  No, they are men “under the Authority” of Christ Jesus.  They are under His divine command, to deal with you according to His Word.  That is what “ordination” means and does: It places the man “under orders,” within the chain of command that derives from the Author of Salvation.

There is simply no genuine authority in any alternative “gospel,” as St. Paul strenuously insists.  Because there really is no other Gospel; nor is there any other authority for life and salvation; as there is no other Lord than Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, crucified and risen from the dead.

He alone, the Lamb who was slain, is worthy to be worshiped in heaven and on earth, by angels and archangels, and by all of creation.  For He alone has redeemed and rectified what was broken.  He alone has reconciled God and Man; and that He has accomplished in Himself, in His own Body.  Therefore, there is forgiveness, life, and salvation in no one else, and nowhere else, than in Him.

In human relationships, in the dealings of this life on earth, certainly we can recognize and honor the worthiness of those who live according to the laws of the land; who do their jobs and fulfill their duties faithfully; who respect the chair in which they are seated, that is, the office they hold.  So it was that even the Jewish elders were able to acknowledge the worthiness of the centurion; and our Lord Jesus points us to the great faith which supported that man’s good works of love.

But before God, not one of us is worthy of the least of all His benefits.  Of ourselves, not one of us is righteous, and, therefore, none of us has any right to stand before Him or ask Him anything.  Not one of us has the prerogative to presume upon God.  Even at our very best, we are unworthy servants.  We have done no more than our duty; that is to say, if we have done even that much.  We are not “overlords,” but men, women, and children “under authority.”  Thus, it is right that we should follow the example of the centurion in confessing our unworthiness and seeking grace.

Yet, again, it is also “under authority” that we do have confidence in doing our God-given duty.  Although you are unworthy, it is the Lord your God who has called you and positioned you, and there you may rejoice that it is pleasing to Him for you to do whatever your office requires of you.  That is to find your sufficiency and strength, not in yourself, but in His Word and by His Spirit.

So, too, beloved, take courage and find confidence in the Authority of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Trust and believe that His Word does what it says, and that it gives you what He speaks to you.  When He absolves you of your sin, you are forgiven.  When He bids you take and eat His Body, to drink His Blood, do not be afraid, but so receive Him gladly, and know that He gives you Life.

Likewise, do not be afraid, but call upon His Name, and ask for His forgiveness, for His help and His salvation.  Notwithstanding your unworthiness, He is worthy of your worship and petitions.  And He Himself has commanded you to pray, and has taught you to pray, and has promised to hear and to answer your prayer.  He forgives all those who ask; He saves all those who call on Him.

There is no worthiness, nor any genuine authority, apart from God’s Word.  Nor can faith live or proceed apart from His Word.  But hear, then, what He has spoken and established by His Word; and so, by faith in His Word, receive what His Word declares and delivers to you by His grace.

For God the Father loves you, and He speaks to you by His own dear Son, by whom He has built your Synagogue and established His Temple, so as to gather you from the ends of the earth to Himself, and to abide with you in peace.

Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, in His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified for your sins and raised again for your righteousness — He is the Temple of God, on earth as in heaven forever.  It is in Him, in His Body, that God dwells in your midst, in order that you may draw near to Him in confidence and dwell with Him in peace: in body and soul, even now, by faith in His Word.

Therefore, listen to Him in His preaching, and look to Him here, where His Word directs you to find Him.  Pray to Him, as He has taught you to pray; even as He ever lives to intercede for you before the Father in heaven.  And come now, under His roof, to eat and to drink at His Table, in the safety and security of a dear child in your Father’s house and home.  No harm shall befall you.

For by His Word of the Gospel, Christ Jesus has saved you from sin and death, and has made you well, and has granted you His Life.  He is worthy to be worshiped and praised and given thanks for all His gifts and benefits, and for His great salvation, which He graciously bestows upon you here and now.

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