19 July 2015

To Eat the Food the Lord Provides

It happens again that there is a large crowd which is hungry and has no food to eat.  And they have no money to purchase what they need.  But they are gathered by and for the Word of Jesus, and they are taught to rely upon His Word and to live in body and soul by the food that He provides.

Previously it was the crowd of five thousand men in Jewish territory, along with their women and children, whom the Lord Jesus fed and satisfied from the five loaves of bread and a few fishes.  All four of the Holy Gospels include that story, the miraculous “Feeding of the Five Thousand.”

Now it is another feeding, this time of four thousand Gentiles in Gentile territory.  And though it may seem odd to our way of thinking, the Evangelist St. Mark has made of point of providing the statistics, that is, the numbers of things involved, and to make a comparison of the two stories on that basis.  In the Bible, such numbers are often significant of theological concerns.

The five loaves of bread that fed the five thousand call to mind the five books of Moses, which Jesus fulfills in Himself as the promised Messiah of Israel.  But the seven loaves of bread with which He now feeds the four thousand — and the seven baskets of the broken bread remaining — signify the seven days of the creation story, and therefore the whole world, brought into being by the Word and Spirit of God, and given Sabbath Rest in the completion of His good work.

So, too, the sevens of this feeding story point to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ Jesus pours out upon His Church on Pentecost Day, and by whom He renews His good creation.

The number seven also has Gentile connotations.  For example, there are the seven deacons in the Acts of the Apostles, appointed to serve the tables of the Gentile Christians; and seven letters in the Book of the Revelation, which St. John addresses to the seven congregations of Asia Minor.

Likewise, the number four thousand suggests the four corners of the globe — East and West, North and South — multiplied by the number of completeness, that is, by 1000, which is 10 three times over (like the Ten Commandments of the Holy Trinity).  It embraces all the nations of the world.

There were in the previous case twelve baskets remaining from the feeding of the five thousand, signifying the twelve tribes of old Israel and the twelve Apostles of the New Israel of Christ.  And now the seven baskets remaining from this feeding of the four thousand signify that Jesus feeds His entire Church on earth, both Jews and Gentiles, and disciples from all nations, including you.

Jesus is the Lord, the great Good Shepherd of His sheep, who leads His flock by His Word, even through the wilderness, into the green pastures of His Church.  Even in the midst of sin and death, He feeds His lambs and sheep with food from His Table, as He does for you in His Holy Supper.  He provides the living Bread and life-giving Meat and Drink for both your body and your soul.

The Lord Jesus is not limited by the limited resources of this fallen and perishing world.  You have heard, for example, how He fed those who were with Him for three days in the desert wilderness.  And you have also been called to live with Him under the Cross — to be crucified, dead, and buried with the Lord Jesus, by your Baptism into His death, as you heard from St. Paul last week — in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection from the dead.  Already now, by faith in His crucified and risen body, you do begin to live with Him and to walk with Him in newness of life.

You live with Him, and the desert actually becomes a kind of paradise, because Christ Jesus provides an overabundance of all that you need, with room to spare and always more left over.  Indeed, His Cup of Salvation is poured out for you and overflows with His forgiveness of sins and His gift of life.  He supplies more than enough for all the nations; for the people of all times and places; for all the men, women, and children; for His one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Along with this gracious general Providence of God in Christ, the feeding of the four thousand  also teaches you concerning the Lord’s Supper.  In both cases, both then and now, He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks the bread, and He gives it to His disciples.  As He fed the bodies of that hungry crowd, so does He feed His people with His own holy Body and precious Blood.

By His grace and power, there is never any lack.  The Food that He provides never runs out.  What is more, that divine Food with which He feeds you is more than sufficient to feed your body and soul, to nourish your Christian faith and life, and to carry you home to life everlasting in heaven.

Notice that Jesus makes a point of giving the food that He provides to His disciples — that is, to His holy Apostles, the Ministers of His Gospel — that they should give this food to the people.

Even though His own disciples often do not understand what He is saying and doing — and they may forget the feeding that He has previously done (such as when He fed the five thousand) — nevertheless, He calls them into His service, and He sends them to His people to act in His Name.

In the same way, think about how the Lord Jesus has always fed and clothed and cared for you in every way, for your body and life on earth, and for your life and salvation in the Kingdom of God.  And yet, how often do you also wonder and worry, and doubt, and question where and how your needs will be met tomorrow and the next day?  You are as slow to catch on as those disciples were.

In each and every case, it is the one Lord Jesus Christ who feeds His flock.  But He continues to do so through His called and ordained servants of His Word, also to this day and in this place.

In the words and actions of His servants, in their preaching and ministry by His Word, Christ the Lord is speaking and acting to feed you with His gifts of life: forgiveness and life and salvation.

All of this Jesus does out of His divine compassion for you and for all people, who are lost and helpless without Him, like lambs and sheep without a shepherd to feed, protect, and care for them.

Such “compassion” is a divine attribute.  For the Lord, the one true God, is moved with such compassion in the very depths of His Being, in the depths of the Father’s Love for His Son, and in the Son’s Love for His Father in the Holy Spirit.

This word compassion indicates that His guts (His intestines) churned within Him on account of His tender grace and mercy toward the helpless, the hopeless, and the hurting.

The same root word for guts (or intestines) has sacrificial implications on the basis of the Old Testament animal sacrifices.  But here it is pointing to the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Himself.  To be sure, the Lord’s deep compassion for you and for all people took Him to the Cross on your behalf, to sacrifice Himself, His body and life, His guts and intestines, for your salvation.

It is from His Cross, with the fruits of His own Sacrifice there, that He now and always feeds you here within His Church on earth through the ministry of His called and ordained servants, who are your shepherds in His Name.  He feeds you on the green pastures of His Word in their preaching of His Holy Gospel, and He feeds you with His own Body and Blood in the Holy Communion.

As I have said, the Lord Jesus does all of this out of His deep divine compassion for you, so that you are not condemned to death and damnation, but you have life and salvation in Him forever.

With such tender compassion for you, Jesus has suffered and died in your stead for the forgiveness of all your sins.  And He is risen from the dead for you, in order to open up heaven as your home.

To this day, and even to the close of the age, in His steadfast love and mercy for you, He feeds you with the Bread of Life, which is His sacrificial Body given for you, and He pours out for you the overflowing Cup of His Salvation, which is the New Testament in His own sacrificial Blood.

Eat well, therefore.  Be nourished, satisfied, and sustained in body and soul by this Food and Drink that Jesus provides for you from His own hand, which your pastors give to you by His authority.

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

12 July 2015

Your Righteousness Before God and Man

It is because of who you are in Christ that you now live in the way that God has called you to live.  That is the way of righteousness for which you have been created, redeemed, and sanctified by His Word and Holy Spirit.  For the salvation that Christ your Savior has accomplished for you and for all people is not the abolishment of the Law but its true and perfect fulfillment.  Not only does He keep all of the commandments of God, but, in His doing so, He also teaches you to do the same.

His teaching and His righteousness are not like those of the scribes and Pharisees.  But He does not dismisses the Law, which is the Word of God and the revelation of His good and acceptable Will.  Jesus does not trade legalism for a liberal permission to indulge in wickedness, as though sin and disobedience were okay.  He has not come to set you free from the righteousness of God, but to bring you into the glorious liberty and genuine righteousness of God’s beloved children.

The righteousness of which your dear Lord Jesus speaks, and for which He has set you free by His Gospel, is not some amount of stuff to be purchased or sold, earned, or traded in the market.  And it is not a self-contained idea or feeling inside your head or your heart.  There is no righteousness in isolation from God and your neighbor.

The righteousness of Christ is the right relationship of a beloved son to His true God and Father in heaven.  It is a relationship of faith and love: to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, for His sake, to love your neighbor as yourself.  This living and loving proceed from within the relationship of sonship.  As you are a son of God by grace, by your Baptism into Christ, so do you now live as a son of God, sanctifying His Name in your words and actions by faith in Christ.

This is the righteousness that Christ has accomplished and fulfilled from His own Baptism in the Jordan River unto His Cross and Passion, and established for you in His Resurrection from the dead, unto the life everlasting.  It is by His dying and rising that you enter the Kingdom of heaven, and by which you live with Him in His Kingdom in own His righteousness and holiness forever.

That means dying to yourself and to your own self-righteousness, and rising to newness of life in Christ Jesus.  It is thus a matter of repentance and of faith in His forgiveness of your sins.  It is not imaginary, nor is it by your own reason and strength.  It happens by His Word as you receive and use His means of grace; as you remember and return to your Holy Baptism by confessing your sins and receiving Holy Absolution from your pastor; and as you receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.  By His mercy, it is the daily new beginning of a brand new way of life.

To point out that your righteousness before God is by faith in Christ Jesus, by faith in His Gospel, is not to say that it may be kept hidden away within your heart, as though it were a private matter.  In fact, it cannot be that way.  No, the righteousness of faith before God is demonstrated in love before people.  It is foolish to suppose that a Christian disciple of Jesus could be or live otherwise.

To refrain from loving your neighbor, to neglect your duties and responsibilities, to ignore or disobey the commandments of God, is to deny your very identity as a child of God: like salt that is not salty, or water that is not wet.  It is to disown the family of God, to run away from His home, and to set yourself outside of His Kingdom and His righteousness.  It is to lose everything.

So, wherever you have disregarded the commandments of God, as though they had no authority over you; wherever you have hidden yourself away from your neighbor and his needs; wherever you have been concerned with lighting only your own path and progress, instead of shining a light for your neighbor and glorifying your God and Father in Christ Jesus — I say to you now: Repent.  Return to the Lord your God, and live unto your Father in Christ to the glory of His Holy Name.

If you are a Christian, live as a Christian.  For you are baptized into Christ.  You are crucified, dead, and buried with Him through your Baptism into His death, and you are raised with Him in His Resurrection from the dead.  Therefore, die to yourself and to your sins, to your old ways of life, and rise with Christ each day to live unto righteousness as a child of God.  And if you are not yet a Christian, become one, so that you may live: Repent and be baptized, and believe the Holy Gospel, that for Christ’s sake all your sins are forgiven and you are justified by His grace.

It is by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus that you are His own child, named with His own Name.  You are a beloved member of His household and family, a royal citizen and heir of His Kingdom.  That is who and what you are by the grace of God the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son.  And who you are and how you live belong together, like your hand in a glove.  The righteousness of your life is an exercise of the righteousness that is your relationship with God in Christ by faith.

So it is that both your repentance and your righteousness result in new behaviors, in keeping with the commandments of God.  In Christ you are a new creation, a new person, a new man, woman, or child.  You do not live all by yourself in isolation, independent of others, but you live and act within your relationship to God, and so also in a new relationship with all your neighbors in the world.  You think and speak and act differently, because, by the Word and Spirit of your God and Father, you have the heart and mind of Christ.  It is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.

This is truly an amazing new reality, a new way of life, which you could never accomplish or achieve for yourself.  It is given to you by the gracious adoption of God.  You do not storm the gates of heaven with your good works, but you do good works of faith and love because God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has called you to be His very own, He has brought you into His home as a member of His family, and He has established you forever and ever within His Kingdom of grace.  Not only do you live with Him, but you live in Him; and He now lives and moves in you.

The commandments of God, from the greatest to the least, describe this Life of God as it is lived in human flesh and blood.  It is the Life of His children, of His people, of His family, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is the Life of Christ, the incarnate Son, for you and for all.  It is the Life that is lived in His Kingdom, where you now live by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  It is a life that can be seen, which fills the whole house with the Light of Christ to the glory of His Father.

What, then, shall your life in Christ look like?  Instead of using and manipulating your neighbor, set him free and serve him.  Instead of clinging to what you have and striving to get more and more at your neighbor’s expense, share what you have been given, and use whatever means the Lord has provided to care for the people around you.  Instead of entertainment and personal pleasure, invest yourself in your relationships and in your actual vocations.  Befriend and benefit your neighbor instead of trying to avoid him.  Care for both his body and his soul, giving tangible gifts of money, food, and clothing, and forgiving the sins of those who trespass against you, rather than holding grudges and harboring bitterness against them.  Be at peace with all people.  Let your gentleness and kindness be obvious to all.  In the confidence of Christ, sacrifice yourself to serve others.

The great Mystery of His own Cross and Sacrifice is the culmination of His divine righteousness, the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  It is the righteousness of the one true God, the Holy Trinity, who acts entirely in Love, in accordance with His own divine nature, which is Love.  It is the righteousness of perfect faith and perfect love on the part of the Son for His Father — not hidden away within the inner Life of the Godhead, but on display upon the Cross before all men.

It is by His Cross and Passion that Jesus keeps the commandments of God to their completion, and He catechizes you to live the same way.  You are not the Savior of the world, but you are crucified and raised with Him, so that you now live in righteousness and purity in Him, in faith toward God, and in love for your neighbor.  He teaches you by His instruction and example, to be sure, but, more than that, His living and active Word of the Cross puts you to death and brings you to life in His own crucified and risen Body.  His Cross, therefore, is not only your crucifixion, death, and burial.  It is also your Atonement and Redemption, your Reconciliation with God and man, and your Righteousness forever in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  You live because He lives.

The same Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for your sins and risen from the dead, is your Righteousness and Sanctification.  He has gone before you through death into life, and He also now journeys with you all the way.  He has opened up the way for you to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Indeed, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, by which, even now, you have access to the Holy of Holies, to the Mercy Seat, and to God the Father in heaven.  So do you live as a child of God by faith in His forgiveness, by His Word and Spirit.  And this Lord Jesus, who goes before you into Glory, guards and keeps you on your right and on your left and all around you, to preserve you steadfast in His Righteousness and Peace, unto the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting in Him.

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