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.

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