25 January 2015

Receive the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus

Ready or not, the Kingdom of God is at hand.  It comes to you here and now in Christ — as it has come, and as it will — with or without your prayer.  But the Lord has taught you to pray, each and every day, that His Kingdom would come to you in peace; not for destruction, but for life and salvation in Him.  And for the sake of Christ Jesus, your Father in heaven hears and answers that prayer by pouring out His Spirit upon you through the preaching of the same Lord Jesus Christ; so that, by His grace, you believe His Holy Word and lead a godly Christian life according to it.

You have heard again this morning, as you did last Sunday in the calling of Philip and Nathanael, that Jesus takes the initiative in seeking out, finding, and calling disciples to Himself.  So has He done for you, and so He continues to do, by calling you daily to repent and believe the Gospel.

In the case at hand, the calling of Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, and of James and John the sons of Zebedee, it is no mere coincidence that Jesus makes His move after John the Baptist has been taken into custody.  As the Forerunner, St. John has necessarily gone before the face of the Lord to prepare His way by the preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And along with that, his suffering and finally his death for the sake of the Word that he preaches anticipate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to His Holy Cross and Passion.

Indeed, it is by the death of Christ upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead, that the Kingdom of God is established for you and for all, on earth as it is in heaven; and that the way of repentance is opened for you to enter that Kingdom in the Body of Christ Jesus.

The old regime of sin and death is ended in His Body on the Cross.  He crucifies and buries the reign of the old Man, the devil, the world, and fallen flesh.  And all things are made brand new in His flesh, in His Resurrection from the dead.  He is the New Man, the King of the New Creation.

The Kingdom of God is at hand, therefore, in the preaching of the crucified and risen Christ, which is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.

There are two sides to this repentance; both of them are necessary, and both sides are demonstrated by the people of Nineveh when they are turned away from their past wickedness and sin, and they are turned toward God in faith, to call upon His Name in the hope of His mercy and forgiveness.

Such genuine repentance in both of its aspects — that is to say, both the dying of contrition and the rising of confidence in Christ — moving from sorrow and regret over your sins to faith and hope in God — it is the Lord’s work, not yours!  He not only calls you to repentance, but He works it in you by the preaching of His Word, the Law and the Gospel, the Cross and the Resurrection.

It was for this purpose that God sent the Prophet Jonah to Nineveh.  And despite that man’s initial reluctance and subsequent pettiness, the Lord worked through his preaching to bring the people of Nineveh to repentance.  He turned them from their wickedness to Himself and His mercy; not only in their hearts and minds, in their feelings and emotions, but also in their words and actions.

The same Lord has had mercy on you, and has called you to repentance, and has raised you up to new life in the Gospel.  In fact, He calls you daily to these things, as He calls you here and now.  He calls you to follow Him as a Christian disciple — to live, now, by faith in His Word — to and from your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, by the ongoing catechesis of His preaching.

His Law and His Gospel are still at work, to this very day, in this very place, to call you from sin to forgiveness, from unbelief to faith, from false belief to the worship of the true and living God.  By the preaching of His Cross and Resurrection, He calls you day by day from death to life, from darkness into light, and from eternal damnation unto everlasting salvation in Him.  He calls you to enter the Kingdom of God by His Blood, as that divine Kingdom comes to you in His Body.

Repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel.  Cease and desist from your wickedness and violence.  Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.  Fast and pray.  Hunger for the Lord your God, and call upon His Name for mercy and forgiveness.  Trust not in yourself, but in Him, in His Word and the gracious promise of His Gospel.  Die to the world, to yourself, and to your sin, and flee unto God in Christ.

Find your life in Him alone, above and beyond everything else.  Not in this world, nor in its kings and kingdoms, be they big or small, but in the Kingdom of God, which is at hand; which is here.

What such repentance means for you and looks like, practically speaking, is that you hold on loosely to your life on earth, as you have heard from St. Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth.

That is to say, hold on loosely, but don’t let go.  Live in the world, but not of it.  Neither demonize nor idolize the creation, which is God’s good gift.  Receive it with thanksgiving from His hand, and sanctify it to yourself by His Word and prayer.  In faith and love, make use of whatever God gives to you, but not as though your life depended on anything other than the risen Lord Jesus.

Likewise, discipleship does not mean that you escape from your place in the world, but that you follow Christ Jesus, according to His Word, in the particular place to which He has called you.

Neither the example of those first disciples, who were called away from their boats and their nets, nor the challenging words of St. Paul concerning marriage and its demands, should be taken as a rule that you are to abandon your family and your God-given stations in life.

On the contrary, it is from within your vocation as a child of God, in your own proper office and station, and within your family, such as God has given you — it is right there, and in those very ways, that you are called to follow Jesus in repentant faith and holy love.

It may be that some of you men will be called to the Office of the Ministry in the Church on earth in these last days.  Others of you may be called to some new vocation of service to your neighbors in the world.  But in any case, for each and all of you, there is a newness to all of your vocations and stations in life.  It is a daily newness, as striking and remarkable as death and resurrection from the dead.  For all of your relationships, and all the ways you deal with the world and with your stuff, are all placed under the Cross of Christ, and are now perceived and approached in the hope of His Resurrection, in the Light of the Kingdom of God.

Love and serve your neighbor, then, including first and foremost your own family, and forgive those who trespass against you, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Be faithful to your spouse and children, to your family and friends.  Keep your word.  Fulfill your duties and responsibilities.  And whatever your particular job may be, carry it out in the fear and faith of God, as one who has died and risen with Christ, whose life is hidden with Christ in God; for that is surely who you are.

Where you have fallen short and failed in what the Lord has given you to do, and wherever you have done what you should not, repent of your sins, return to the Gospel of life and forgiveness, and live unto righteousness in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  For the Kingdom of God is at hand in Him who has come, not to condemn you, but to save you by His grace.

Not only once upon a time, long ago and far away, but also here and now He continues to come — in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary — with His personal and powerful Word, spoken by the mouth of His servants.  He comes to serve you with His free and full forgiveness of all your sins, and with all the fruits and benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

It is by this Ministry of His Gospel, with Spirit-wrought faith in His Gospel, that you live by the grace of Christ in the Kingdom of God, in the eating of His Body and the drinking of His Blood, in the righteousness, innocence, and blessedness of the same Lord Jesus Christ.

Here, then, in His Church on earth, in the Liturgy of His Word and Holy Sacrament, is the answer to the prayer He has taught you to pray.  For here in the fullness of time God’s Kingdom comes to you with grace, mercy, and peace, with life and light and salvation, for now and for eternity.

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

18 January 2015

Heaven on Earth

Location. Location. Location.

It’s a matter of where to find God, of where and how you shall be able to see Him and know Him.  Not for the sake of idle curiosity, but for your life and salvation.  For the true and only God is not simply a helper or a means to some other end, but He is the point and purpose of your existence and of your place in the whole scope of creation.  To know Him and to love Him, to live with Him, and to worship Him with all that you are and have, that is why you are here and what it’s all about.

The dilemma is that you can’t see Him, know Him, or live with Him by any prerogative or power of your own, because you are utterly blinded by your sin and cut off from God by death.  And that is not unique to you.  It is the condition of the whole wide world apart from the Spirit of Christ.

The Word of the Lord is rare in these gray and latter days.  Visions of the Truth are infrequent, as they were in the days before the Prophet Samuel.  Eyes have grown dim, unable to see well.  There is a hunger for insight, for revelation, and for a kind of spirituality; a longing for security, which is met with lots of false and failing words, all making a pretense of wisdom, perhaps even piety and holiness, but presuming upon the Lord and offering lies.  For all of that, the fallen world and sinful man are unable to recognize the one true God.  He is hidden in, with, and under the Cross.

No one has ever seen God before, but the only-begotten Son who abides in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him to us by His Cross.  The Word of the Lord has been fulfilled, as He spoke by the mouth of His Prophets, in the Incarnation of the Son, who has come down from heaven and established Himself among us here on earth in His own flesh and blood.  By His death for our sins and in His Resurrection from the dead, His Body has become the Temple of God.

He has seen you and known you.  He has sought you out and found you.  And He now calls you to Himself, to come and see the Father in Him.  For He is the very Image and Likeness of God.

Neither you nor anyone else will ever be convinced of the one true faith by rational arguments, by scientific proofs, or by the logic of so-called common sense.  Rather, you are confronted with the Word of this Word-made-Flesh, and you are called to come and see the heavens opened and the Glory of God in the Body of Christ Jesus, which is to say, in His Church and Holy Sacrament.

The Body of Christ Jesus is the location, the real estate of God Himself, the very heart of heaven, and the center of gravity for all of Creation.  The Holy Spirit rests and remains upon His Body, and God and Father is revealed in the flesh and blood of this incarnate Son, in His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  His Holy Sacrament is truly heaven on earth.  How awesome is this place!

For the one Lord comes and stands, and He calls to you in His Temple, where His Ark is located, that is to say, where His Word is preached in its truth and purity, and where His Body, conceived and born of Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and risen from the dead, is given to you in His Name.  So does He remember you in love, with mercy and compassion and forgiveness of sins.

Hear and heed His Word, and come to Him, to find Him here, to see and know the true and only God in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to behold the Glory of the Father manifest (epiphanied) in Him.

Rest yourself in His Body, and live as a member of His Body in all your going out and coming in.

The Lord your God has come down from heaven and taken for Himself the same human nature as your own from His Mother Mary.  Thus, the very Son of God has a Body of His own, in which He lives and dies for you and for all, and rises and ascends and lives forever, for you and your salvation.  He is and remains your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.

So it is that the same Lord Jesus Christ comes to you and stands before you in His Church: In the waters of His Holy Baptism; in the preaching of His Holy Gospel and in His Holy Absolution; and in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you and for the many in the Holy Communion.  Notice that all of these means of grace and salvation are given and received in and with the body.

The fact is that your body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for your body, as St. Paul has written.  Not in the way of carnal desire, neither the idolatrous passion of lust nor the gluttony and drunken-ness of perishable food and drink, but as the incarnate God who is your Meat and Drink indeed, whose flesh and blood are the truly Spiritual Food of eternal Life for both soul and body.  It is in and with His Body that you receive from Him and share with Him the Holy Spirit of the Father.

Flee immorality and sin, therefore, and follow Christ Jesus in and with your body.  Discipline your flesh and your behavior, your words and actions.  Not as though to justify yourself, which you cannot do, but to live as a Christian, as a child of God, in the righteousness of Christ your Savior.

Confess His holy Name; serve the Lord with gladness; worship Him in the beauty of holiness; and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in His Spirit and His Truth.  Do it first of all by listening to and learning from His Word in the place where He is found, and then by serving your neighbor in your own place according to the Lord’s Commandments.  That begins with your own home and family, as a son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, father or mother.  It also includes your office and station within the life of our congregation, as well, whether you are an usher, a trustee, a musician, or an elder; in the choir, on the altar guild, or one of the youth.

As the Lord Jesus is your Rabbi, pay attention to His teaching, and put it into practice.  Believe and obey the Word that He speaks to you.  Live under Him as your true and only King.  Worship Him, the incarnate God, in His Body and His Blood; and worship the Father in Him.  Lift up your heart and mind to heaven by giving attention to the Word and Sacrament of Christ Jesus here on earth.

It’s not that you mentally and emotionally ascend to His Body up there, “somewhere over the rainbow,” or whatever, as if you could ever manage such a thing.  But, no, it is in His Body here with you in His Church on earth, that you ascend with Him in body and soul to God the Father in heaven.  So it is also from His Body, in which you are united with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit, that you descend, as it were, to your neighbor in divine and holy love.  Not that you look down on your neighbor, but that you bend down to serve and care for him or her in humility.

This is what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple, to be where He is, to go where He goes, and to live as He lives: in faith and love toward God, in love for your neighbor, and in the sure and certain confidence that you are safe and secure in the Body of Christ Jesus, both now and forevermore.

For as God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead, who was crucified for you, so has He forgiven you all your sin and justified you; and so shall He raise you from the dead unto the life everlasting in your body and your soul.  Your body is for the Lord, and the Lord is for your body, not only here and now, but forever and ever in the resurrection of your flesh to the Glory of God.

By His Sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead, He has opened heaven to you: to pour out His Spirit upon you and to bring you to His Father by the preaching of His Gospel.

Come and see!  Hearken to the Word that He places in the mouth of His servant at His Holy Altar, the Word that He will not permit to fail or fall to the ground.  The Lamp of the Lord has not gone out, nor shall it ever be extinguished.  For Christ is risen from the dead, and here, by His Word, heaven stands forever opened to you in His Body and His Blood, the Ark of the New Covenant.

How wonderful is this Man, Jesus, whose holy Body is none other than the House of God, and whose flesh and blood are the very Gate of Heaven!

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

11 January 2015

The New Creation in the Baptized Body of Jesus

So this is the beginning of the New Creation in the Body of Jesus.  When darkness shrouds the whole world, and thick darkness permeates the hearts and minds, the bodies and souls of all the people; when the chaos of Satan’s wicked lies and savage tyranny seems to have the upper hand; when all appears to be for naught, the Spirit hovers over the waters and God the Father speaks.

And in the baptized Body of the incarnate Son, the Holy Triune God brings forth new Life from out of death and causes the true Light to shine forth in the darkness.  Instead of doom and gloom and deep despair, He gives hope, new confidence, and courage in the promise of the Resurrection.  For all of Creation, all things in heaven and on earth are made new in the Body of Christ Jesus.

This divine good work of the New Creation is brought about through the repentance of St. John’s preaching and baptism unto faith in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting with God.  And be sure of this, across all these many years and all the many miles, you also are called to this same repentance and faith, as you are baptized into this New Creation.

But it is first of all accomplished for you and for all by the Lord Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son from Nazareth in Galilee.  He who is true God and perfect Man, the very Word made Flesh — all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, sinless and holy, flawless in every way, without any blemish or defect — He humbles Himself and takes His place with all the people, with you and all the other sinners.  He comes and numbers Himself with each and all of us in the waters of the Jordan, and submits Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism of repentance.

This is what it means for Him to be the sacrificial Lamb of God, as you sing to Him in the Liturgy, in the Agnus Dei, in the Holy Communion.  Namely, that He takes upon Himself and repents for the sins of the world; He drowns and destroys them in the waters of His Baptism; He puts them to death with His own flesh and blood upon the Cross.

He is baptized for the forgiveness of all our sins.  Though none of them were His to begin with, He makes all of them His own, and He makes Himself accountable for them in the River Jordan.

So does He also achieve and establish repentance concretely in Himself, in His Body of human flesh and blood, in His dying and His rising, for you and for all the people of all times and places.

His going into the water is already His Crucifixion, death, and burial, wherein He bears the full responsibility for all of the sins of the world, from Adam & Eve to the close of the age.  Although He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth, it is as though He were the worst of all the sinners, indeed, the only sinner ever.  As though He were the One, the only One, who had actually committed all of your sins.  As though He alone were guilty of all the bad stuff in you.

Hence, the profound paradox of the “happy exchange,” as Dr. Luther loves to call it: The dear Lord Jesus goes into the waters of His Baptism all clean and sparkly, absolutely perfect in every way, and He comes out of the water all dirty and dying, stained and stinky with the whole world’s sin; whereas you go into the waters of Baptism dirty and dead, and you come out alive and clean.

Now, then, you wanna tell me what’s “fair,” and what’s “not fair,” in your experience of life?

It is for your sins of thought, word, and deed; for your unbelief and false belief; for your refusal to love anyone as much as yourself; for your selfishness and greed, your covetousness and bitter envy; for your laziness and neglect, and your unfaithfulness in your vocations; for your cheating and shortcutting; for your apathy and anger, your antagonism and arrogance — for all of that, and for everyone else’s sins, all of which Jesus receives in His Baptism — it is for all those sins that Jesus suffers and dies.  Which is why His Baptism is an immersion in His own Cross and Passion.

Yet, even bearing the sins of the world under the judgment of the Law — and even though your sins alone are a crushing and damnable weight, which daily threaten to take the very heart of you and drive your conscience to despair — yet, the Lord Jesus remains faithful and obedient, holy and righteous, even unto death.  He does not whine or complain.  He prays and confesses.  He does not waver or fall, but walks forward.  He does not balk or resist, but He lays down His life willingly.

As the true and perfect Man — and this is what it means to be truly human — He lives by faith in His Father, in the Word and Promise of His own God and Father.

I especially want you to take careful note of this: Although He is thoroughly soaked and saturated with the sins of the whole world in the waters of His Baptism, Jesus emerges and arises from those waters and receives the Word and Spirit of His Father from a heaven that is torn open to bless Him and receive Him.  The heavens are rent and the Spirit comes down, not for the condemnation of the nations, but for the demise and destruction of death and the grave.

The true Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens, is opened to the One who is both Priest and Sacrifice; so that all of the people of God may enter with Him through the Veil of His Flesh, by the cleansing of His Blood, to live by His Holy Spirit in the presence of His Father.

This Promise He receives from heaven, by and with and in the Word and Spirit of His Father, as He who bears the sins of the world comes up out of the waters of the Jordan.  It is thus already the Promise of His Resurrection from the dead, which is the proclamation of forgiveness for all those sins that He carries, and of justification and sanctification for all who are members of His Body.

It is, in short, the Pledge and Promise of the New Creation in the baptized Body of Christ Jesus.

Jesus lives, and He goes to His death upon the Cross, in this faith and confidence; which is to say that He lives in the significance of His Baptism.

So are you likewise called to live in the significance of your Baptism; which is to live by faith in the Cross and Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ.  And what does this mean for you?  The Word of the Lord has taught you, and tells you again this morning: Daily to repent of your sins, not only in your heart and mind, in your thoughts and feelings, but in your words and deeds, in your body and your soul.  You are to become altogether new, altogether other than you have been; to live and die righteously; to confess your sins, and to rely upon the Absolution of the Gospel.

It is a completely false understanding of Holy Baptism to suppose that it sets you free from any accountability or responsibility before God.  It does not save you from God, but sets you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  It is the fountain and source of your identity and calling to be and to live as a child of God, that is, according to His Word, by faith in His Word and Promise.

Your Baptism calls you to trust the Lord your God, to rely upon Him for all that you need and for all good things, and to pray to the Father in the Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ.  It calls you to flee from sin and every evil, and to do as the Lord commands within your own station in life.  It calls you to confess His Holy Name, and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.

To be baptized in the Name of the Lord also means that you belong, not to yourself, but to Him, and to His people, His Church.  For there is one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, one true faith, one Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and one God and Father of all Christians.  As you are baptized into Christ, you are a member of the one Body of Christ Jesus, and therefore a fellow member with all His brothers and sisters.  You are not a free agent, but a servant of the Lord.

You live in this significance of your Baptism, as a child of God, by faith in His Word.  There is no other way to live, not really.  As all of Creation is enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the Author and Giver of Life, so also do you live by the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  You can’t catch the Spirit or keep Him by any power or intelligence of your own, but you receive Him in the Ministry of the Gospel, in the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, and in the Body and the Blood of Christ Jesus.

It is the gracious good work of God that, day by day, He separates the Light from the darkness in you by calling you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins.  Though you wander and get lost in the wilderness, and you keep returning to the same old, same old bad habits, to the sinful lusts and wicked desires of your fallen flesh, and to the deadly patterns of your inheritance from Adam, the Lord continues to send His messengers to preach to you in the wilderness, to call you back, again and again, to the significance of your one Baptism into Christ Jesus, so that you should die to sin, to yourself, and to the world, and that you should live unto righteousness in Him.

Not that you should pull yourself up by your own bootstraps!  But that you are raised from death to life by the grace of God, by the Word and Spirit of the Father in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  For His free and full forgiveness is given to you in His means of grace.  Not as permission or license to keep on sinning, but as genuine freedom from sin and death, and from the tyranny of the devil, so that you are free to live in Christ as the true man or woman that God created you in love to be.

Your sin no longer has the upper hand, because your dear Lord Jesus is risen from the dead, and the Spirit of His God and Father has come down upon Him, upon His Body of flesh and blood.  God and Man are permanently reconciled and united in harmony in that baptized Body of Christ; and as His Baptism, His Cross and Resurrection have become your Baptism and your repentance, so is His crucified and risen Body your Justification, and His Holy Spirit your Sanctification.

In the bodily Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead is the fulfillment of His Baptism and the restoration of the Image of God in Man.  He is Himself the Image of God in His Incarnation, because He is the Word made Flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.  But you are recreated in the Image of God by your Baptism into the Baptism of our Lord; for so do you share His Cross and Resurrection, His faith and faithfulness, His Righteousness and Holiness in your own body of flesh and blood, in the life that you now live by faith in Him.

So it is, by the Ministry of the Gospel, by the preaching of His Word, and by the Holy Sacrament, that God raises you from the dead, from the dust of the earth, and breathes His Holy Spirit into you through His forgiveness of your sins.

And you really do live in the true Light of His Salvation, in righteousness and purity before Him.

Indeed, His Word to you in Christ Jesus is that you are His own dearly-beloved son or daughter, and that you are well-pleasing to Him.  For His forgiveness of your sins is not a joke or let’s pretend or wishful thinking, but is as tangible and certain as the waters of your Baptism, and as real and complete as the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead — in whom all of Creation is made brand new and is perfected, and in whom you also are a New Creation, now and forevermore.

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

05 January 2015

What He Is, and Where He's At

In light of His Baptism, St. John has recognized that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  What is more, he perceives and proclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world.

It is for this that the Lord Jesus has been anointed by the Holy Spirit in the waters of the Jordan, in His own flesh and blood; namely, to accomplish salvation.  And that sacred purpose determines where He goes and what He does, in order to save you and all people for eternal Life with God.

According to the good and gracious will of His God and Father, He bears sin and death in His Body to the Cross.  In perfect faith and holy love, He sacrifices Himself to atone for the sins of the world, to defeat death and trample Satan underfoot.

Remember, therefore, the significance of your Baptism in His Name, and listen to this preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins.  Behold the Lamb of God in His Holy Gospel, in His means of grace, His Body and His Blood.  And follow Him.  You are called and catechized to be His disciple, to go where He goes, to live and work according to His Word, and to stay with Him throughout the long day and night of this life on earth, unto the Resurrection of your body and the one Eternal Day of the neverending ChristMass in heaven.

As the Holy Spirit rests and remains upon His Body — from His Baptism unto His Cross, and in His Resurrection from the dead — so then, come to His Body, and rest and remain in Him.  Here is your house and home.  Here is the Christ, the promised Messiah, who brings you out of slavery into freedom, who guards and protects you in body and soul, and who shall bring you into the Glory that He shares with the Father.  He has baptized you for this divine, eternal Life, in and with Himself, by anointing you with His Holy Spirit through the washing of the water with His Word.

Come and see where He is staying.  How so?  He is to be found where His Holy Cross is preached and lifted up as a standard for the nations, as the Tree of Life for the salvation of the world.

Because He is the very Lamb of God — the true Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for you and for the many — He is found and He remains where His flesh is given for Communion with God, and where His blood is poured out to cover you and seal you for Life instead of death.

You “see” Him with your ears and with the “eyes” of faith, and you stay with Him, where His messengers preach and point to Him: From the preaching of John the Baptist and John the Apostle, to and from St. Andrew and St. Cephas, even to the present day, and so now also in this place.

By and with the preaching of His Word, He rules in the midst of His enemies.  Which means that you also, if you are His disciple, are surrounded by His enemies.  It is a hostile and difficult world.  And His Cross puts sin to death within you: in your mortal flesh, in your heart, mind, and spirit.

But for all of that, you are not His enemy.  No, beloved.  He crucifies and puts you to death with Himself in order to offer you to His Father in the holy garments of His own Royal Priesthood.

For He is the great High Priest of God Most High forever and ever.  His Sacrifice for you upon the Cross has been received and accepted.  His Body is the pleasing Aroma and acceptable Offering by which the Father draws you to Himself in Peace.  As the Son is seated at the Right Hand of the Father in His own glorified Body of human flesh and blood, so are you seated there with Him.

That is where He is staying, even as He abides with you here in His Church on earth.  Heaven and earth, God and Man are united in His Body and His Spirit forever and ever.  Indeed, His crucified and risen Body is the New Jerusalem, the New Heavens and the New Earth, wherein you live and abide in righteousness.  You stay with Him there by faith in His Word, as you receive Him here in the Ministry of His Sacrament.  You rest and remain in the Body of Christ, and you belong to the Body of Christ, because you eat the Body of Christ and drink His Blood, just as He has spoken.

So is your life like that of His Tree.  Despised and ridiculed by the world, and yet, for us who are being saved, it is the Wisdom of God and the Power of His indestructible Life.  You are called to bear His Cross and follow Christ Jesus in your own place.  I do not know what that may require of you, but it will serve the purposes of God for you and for your neighbor, to the glory of the Name in which you are baptized.  Sacrifice and suffering are the Way of the Cross in this fallen world of sin and death, but none of this hardship, heartache, or hurt shall be given the last word.

Christ, the Lamb of God who bore your sins and the sins of the world in His Body, who died your death upon the Cross, is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  He stays with you, and He rules in love for you in the midst of all these enemies, so that you are not defeated but strengthened by what you suffer under His Cross.

In His Body, Jerusalem rejoices and His people are glad.  And you also are among them, as those who are blessed by the Lord, who are born again of water and the Spirit for the Life everlasting.  Your labors are not in vain.  Your marriage and family are not in vain.  Your work and studies are not in vain.  You and your life are not in vain.  For Christ Jesus, the Messiah, has found you and abides with you.  Come and see.  Receive His Body, given for you, and rest and remain in Him.

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

04 January 2015

For He Is Your Childhood's Pattern

It’s not just that Twelve-year-olds are much harder to keep track of than newborn infants, who are easy to hold, and who stay put when you lay them down.  It has much more to do with giving up your children to God, first of all by taking them to His House and teaching them His Word.

That is the chief goal and purpose of parenting, in order that your children may have life with God.  You know that, and you want that for them, but even so, it is still hard to let them go, to let them grow up into the purposes that God has for them.

You’d much rather have them stay with you, to follow your advice and your lead, and to stick with the familiar ways of life that you have known.  And yet, there are all sorts of ways by which God may call them from you, whether it be school or work, or military service, or marriage, or death.

Truthfully, it is not only your children with whom you are frustrated and disappointed then, but the Lord Himself.  Why has He treated you this way?  For you have been so anxious to find the Lord Jesus — in and with and for your children — while hoping that you will be able to stay on top of the situation, to remain in control.  But that is not yet to give up your children to their true God and Father.  You’ve been looking for the Lord Jesus in all the wrong ways and places.

It is time to remember the ways and means by which the Lord is with you, and with your children, in mercy and in love.  It is time to give attention to His Word, to listen and to learn from Him.

For the Angel of His Presence — that is, the Messenger and Face of God — He goes with you, and His Holy Spirit abides in your midst, as you make your way through the wilderness to and from Jerusalem.  He is with you in the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and then likewise in the Temple in His holy city, where He causes His Name and His Glory to dwell with you in Peace.

That glorious presence of the Lord God, Yahweh, has now shifted decisively to the flesh and blood of Jesus, the Child born of St. Mary.  For He is the Incarnate Son, who is Immanuel, God-with-us.

But you dare not separate His becoming flesh (His Incarnation) from the work that He has come to do, nor from the sacrifice that He has come to offer.  For He has come in the flesh to fulfill the Law by His active and passive obedience, even unto death upon the Cross.

Now then, in this case of the Twelve-year-old Boy Jesus, you are given insight into His own journey through the wilderness, from His holy Nativity to His holy Cross and Passion.  Here you also perceive the intersection of His humanity as your Brother with His divinity as your Savior: Not by way of “addition,” as though the one nature were mixed with the other; nor as some sort of side-by-side arrangement.  But, precisely as the one true God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus lives as the true and perfect Man, which is to say, by faith in His Father, and in love for God and Man.

Because He is your childhood’s pattern, and He has come to redeem all of human life, He begins as a Baby, and then He really does grow up in every way, just like you, save only without sin.

To that end, He has the ears of a disciple.  He listens, and He learns.  He delights in the Word and the works of His Father in heaven.  Oh, that you would be such a catechumen of Christ Jesus!

He is in the Temple, therefore, because that is where He lives in the presence of God; and, so also, because He is the presence of God in flesh and blood, whose Body becomes the true Temple by way of His Cross and Resurrection.  Destroy this Temple, and in three days He will raise it up.

He asks questions; He grows in knowledge and gains understanding; and He answers His teachers from the Word of God, the very Word which He Himself fulfills.  He does not keep it without knowing it, and He does not know it as true Man without hearing it and learning it from the Bible.  He gains wisdom, in the fear of the Lord, from the Word that He is taught and which He keeps.

Consequently, in the same way that He keeps and fulfills the Fourth Commandment by honoring His human parents, Mary and Joseph, and submitting to their authority, so does He go to the Cross “according the Scriptures,” in the confidence of the Word and promise of His God and Father.

It is also in accordance with the Scriptures that His Father raises Him up on the Third Day.  Which is why you find Him, not in the tomb where you feared that your search might end, but in the Feast of this true Passover, in the Temple of His Church on earth: wherever His Word is taught rightly in its truth and purity, and the Holy Sacraments are administered in the Name of this Lord Jesus.

Here in His preaching of the Gospel, in His spoken Word of forgiveness for all your many sins — and in His own holy flesh and precious blood, given and poured out for you — right here is where His Name and His Glory abide with you, and where you abide with Him by faith in His promises.

You will not find Him and His Life in your own works, nor by your own anxious and exhaustive searches.  Neither will you find Him in your family and friends, though you do love them in Him.

But Jesus remembers you, and He comes to you, and He finds you here in His Father’s House — to which He calls you by His Gospel-Word and Sacrament.  So does He also go with you from this place, to your home and family, and to your work and play.  He has made your life His own, in order to make His Life yours.  And as He has increased in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man, so do you also grow and learn, by His grace, in faith and love, unto the life everlasting.

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

03 January 2015

Baptized for Life Instead of Death

Jesus has come in the flesh, and He comes to you now in the same flesh and blood that He received from St. Mary and sacrificed upon the Cross, in order to give you His Life in place of your death.

He comes and He accomplishes this great Salvation, for you and for the many, by the waters of Holy Baptism: By His Baptism for you in the Jordan River, and by your Baptism into Him.

It is in Holy Baptism that He is manifested to His Church; that He first reveals Himself to and gives Himself for His people as the Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

And it is by your Holy Baptism, according to His Word and promise, that you also belong to His people, His Israel, His Church; that you recognize and receive Him as your own Savior.

If you have forgotten or neglected your Baptism, therefore, Repent!  Remember and return to it, and so return to Him by faith.  For you are not able to recognize or know the Lord Jesus Christ apart from that washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit.

It is by Holy Baptism that He has taken your sins, and the sins of the whole world, upon Himself, in order to bear them in His Body to the Cross.  So it is that He has put them to death in His own flesh and atoned for them by the shedding of His holy and precious blood.  Indeed, His Baptism and His Cross are inseparably united.  Together they are one Baptism which He undergoes for you.

It is thus by your Holy Baptism into Him that He has cleansed you and forgiven you all your sins, and that He has poured out His Holy Spirit upon you, and sanctified you by that same Spirit.

The surety of the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism is the fact that Christ Jesus has received the Spirit from His God and Father in His Baptism.  He has done so for your benefit, for your salvation, so that, by your Baptism into Him, the Lord’s Anointed, the Spirit now rests and remains upon you.

And it is by and with His Spirit that God breathes Himself into you and gives you His own Life.

That which you are apart from the Holy Spirit is perishable mortal flesh, dust and dirt, subject to death and decay.  But as you receive the Spirit of God — with the waters and the Word of Holy Baptism, and in the ongoing significance of your Baptism through repentance and forgiveness — you are recreated as a living being in the Image and Likeness of God.  You are raised from the dust of the earth with Christ Jesus, and your mortal flesh and blood are renewed for immortality in Him.

You are able to receive this Holy Spirit, and to receive the Life everlasting in both body and soul, because Christ, who has taken His place with you and all sinners in the waters of Holy Baptism, has removed all your sins from you, along with the curse of sin and the sting of death, by His sacrificial death upon the Cross in your stead.  Remember that His Cross and Passion are the fulfillment of His own Baptism, and they are the heart and substance of your Baptism into Him.

As He has bound Himself to you in body and soul — and has bound you to Him in your Baptism — you share His death to sin, and you share also in His Resurrection unto Life.  In the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, you are reconciled and restored to God the Father in heaven.

That gift of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in whose Name you are baptized, that is your Life and your Salvation, both now and forever.  Not simply a means to an end, but your very Life.

Believe and trust that your dear Lord Jesus Christ, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of God, has truly revealed and given Himself to you in Holy Baptism: to which you are daily returned, and in which you remain, by His preaching of the Holy Gospel, by His Word of Holy Absolution.  Don’t look for Him or try to find Him anywhere else, but know and rejoice that He is in your Baptism, because the Father has put Him there, and put the Spirit upon Him there, for your eternal benefit.

Resting in that Word and Spirit of God, know that your Life is here for you in Christ Jesus, in this place where His “one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins” is preached and administered in His Name and stead.  Your Life is here, because the Lord Jesus Christ is here, the Lamb of God who was crucified for you.  He is here to bring you through the waters, out of the desert into Paradise, and to feed you with His own flesh and blood, both here and now and hereafter for eternity.  For He has borne your sins away forever, and in His Resurrection He gives you Life in place of death.

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

02 January 2015

Like a Bride Made Ready for Her Husband

I baptize you with water in the Name of the Lord, in order to bring you out of slavery in Egypt, safely through the desert wilderness, and, at the last, through the River Jordan into Canaan.

For now, in this wilderness between the Red Sea and the Jordan, I preach to you with the Lord’s Voice, so that you may know the One who stands among you, the Christ, the Lord’s Anointed; and that, knowing Him, you would repent and believe in Him, and thus have Life in Him forever.

He is your Redeemer, the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and the sins of the whole world.  And, strange though it may seem, He calls you by my voice, by my preaching and teaching of His Word.  By this Ministry of the Gospel He woos you and betrothes you to Himself, to be His Bride.

By my baptizing with water and His Word, He has poured out His Spirit generously upon you, and has washed you inside and out with His forgiveness of your sins.  He has cleansed your conscience of all guilt and shame, and has purified your body and soul, so that you are pure, as He is pure.  He has adorned you with His own royal beauty, with His own perfect righteousness.

For His sake, and for yours, therefore, I shall not keep silent, but I shall preach, as I have been sent to preach, until your righteousness in Christ Jesus shines forth in the sight of all the peoples.

For the present time, as we are wandering our way through the desert, it often appears that you have been forsaken, that you are left alone, desolate and desperate.  But you are not.  You are in fact the Lord’s beloved, and He delights in you.

Even now, the Lord Jesus rejoices over you in love, as the Bridegroom rejoices over His Bride; and the Father rejoices over you in Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, as over His own dear, dear child.

Whatever you may suffer, bearing the Name of your Bridegroom, serves to confess the very Cross by which He has won your hand and received you to Himself.  And He shall not permit you to be lost or destroyed.  He guards and keeps you zealously and will not suffer anyone to snatch you out of His hand.  Your own sins, though they are many, are daily forgiven by His grace and washed away by the waters of His Holy Baptism.  And the sins of others against you can finally do nothing but serve the blessed purposes of God in calling you to repentance and strengthening your faith.

But how, then, shall you live?  How shall you speak?  What shall the nations see and hear in you?

Beloved of the Lord: Clear the way.  Make your path straight.  Build up the highway, and lift high the standard of Christ, your Lord, in all that you do and say.

Walk in such a way as befits the Bride of Christ.  Carry and comport yourself with the royal dignity of Christ, as belonging to His Queen, that is to say, His Holy Christian Church.  Live every day unto the righteousness and holiness with which He has clothed you by His grace and in His glory.

For by His Cross He has redeemed you from sin and death and every evil.  In your Holy Baptism He has called you by a new name, indeed, by His own Name, since He is your Husband and Head.  And in His preaching of the Gospel to you, in His Holy Absolution of your sins, He reaffirms His faithfulness to you and your relationship to Him.  He pledges you Himself, His Body and Soul, and all that He has.  He plights thee His troth: His House and Home, His Father and His Spirit, and all of His heavenly possessions are yours to share with Him.  Even death shall not part you from Him.

He does not hold your sins against you.  He does not count them or consider them.  Nor does He punish or divorce you, as you deserve for your unfaithfulness.  But He is always calling you back to Himself, and reconciling you to Himself through His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

With such forgiveness, you have Peace, and Sabbath Rest, and a place of your own in His House; not only hereafter in eternity, but already here and now in His Church, at His banqueting Table, where He prepares and sets before you the Great Wedding Feast of His own Body and His Blood.  Here and forever He gives Himself to you, to have and to hold, unto the Life Everlasting in Him.

Eat, drink, and be merry in this ChristMass, for you are made ready by your Lord who loves you.

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