24 January 2016

Today This Scripture Is Fulfilled in Your Ears

It is an audacious claim that Jesus makes, not only for the people of Nazareth way back then, but also for you, right here and now.  It is a claim concerning Himself, His Person and His work as the Messiah, and a bold assertion concerning the preaching of His Word, that is, the Voice of the Lord which proceeds from His gracious lips and from the mouth of His servants.

By this Word of Christ — not simply a Word about Him, but the Word that He continues to speak to and for His Church — by this Word the most amazing things are done for you and given to you.  But apart from this Word, there is neither life nor light, nor any hope or help for you.

Consider, for example, what great things and what tremendous benefits the washing of water with the Word of Christ does for you and gives to you and to your children in Holy Baptism.  It works the forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this — all of this by the power and authority of His Word.  Without His Word, it would be water only and not the life-giving Baptism that it is.  But by and with the Word of Christ, your Holy Baptism makes of you a living member of His Body, the Church, as the same Holy Sacrament shall do for Genevieve, Robert, and Beks in these coming weeks.

It is a pleasant and agreeable thing to hear and receive such lovely Gospel Words and promises, which are most certainly true.  But there is a problem.  Your sinful heart does not believe and trust this Holy Gospel, for one thing.  And in any case, you are not satisfied by these gracious Words that enter your ears and fall upon your body and life from the lips of Christ Jesus.

His promises sound too good to be true as He speaks of deliverance, freedom, safety, and security in the Land of God.  So you are skeptical and cynical to begin with.  But patient you are not.  For you covet and crave more tangible benefits than you have yet seen or held in your hands, and you would much prefer to have the promises of the Lord in your body and life right now, instead of waiting for the Resurrection of your body to the life everlasting on the other side of death.

Meanwhile, your fallen flesh, your sinful heart and mind delude you to suppose that, in contrast to others, you actually deserve to have what you want by some right or rationality of “fairness,” despite the fact that for your sins you deserve nothing but punishment.  The Lord does not owe you anything.  But in defensiveness and desperation, you get angry, and build up a big old head of steam, and become hostile toward the Lord and everyone around you when others appear to be receiving what you want for yourself.  Such covetous desire is the root of all temptation and sin.

Certainly the same thing happens when it comes to the Church on earth.  How common it is to hear comments and complaints about what the Church ought to be like, what it should be and do, and how it should make you feel.  Comparison and competition with the world are the ruling standard.

How many other such questions and criticisms go unspoken, perhaps within your own thoughts and feelings when you’re not hearing what you want to hear or getting what you want to get?  It’s not for me to get inside your head or your heart, but ask yourself whether you are content with the Word of Christ and the gift and promise of His Gospel.  Or do you covet what He does not give and resent the neighbor who appears to have what you do not?  Are you jealous of Capernaum?  Or of the congregation with more people, more money, more of this, or maybe less of that?  Such envy and jealousy will poison your heart and mind against the Lord Jesus and His gracious Gospel.

The truth of the matter is, there are as many differing opinions as to how the Church on earth should be as there are people in the world shopping around for the savior and the sort of salvation that suits them.  No real safety or security in that.  No divine Wisdom or divine Life in it, either.

But the dear Lord Jesus bestows what only He can give, according to His good and gracious will, where and when and how it pleases Him, solely by the way and the means of His Word and the preaching of it.  He does His mighty works and establishes the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, not by any might or cleverness of man — far less by any greed or grasping of man — but by the Cross that He first of all bears and then lays upon His disciples, and by the promise of His Resurrection, the surety of your own resurrection, which you cannot see but can only believe.

So, how shall you respond to this preaching of Jesus?  Will you receive Him and embrace Him as your Savior on His terms, and rejoice in His divine Life and eternal salvation, although He comes to you and deals with you by and with the Cross?  Or will you insist on your own way, on your own expectations, on your own pride and selfishness and greed, and drive the Lord Jesus away?

Oh, to be sure — and make no mistake about it — your unbelief, your sinful rejection, and your rebellion against Jesus will not thwart Him or prevent Him from accomplishing His great salvation.  As surely as He has become Man, has sacrificed Himself once for all upon the Cross, has risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father, so surely will His Name be hallowed, His Kingdom come, and His Will be done.  The only real question is, what will become of you?

How often shall you throw Him out — if not bodily, then by your attitude, and by your words and actions — before He simply passes through your midst like water through your hands and moves on to others, leaving you with nothing but your bitter resentment, to languish and die in your sins?

Take care, then, how you hear and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as He comes to you and speaks to you.  Repent of your sinful unbelief, your covetous lust, and your angry rejection of His Word.  Do not insist on your own wants and your own way, but rejoice in His gracious Voice and give thanks that He comes to you in Peace to atone for your sins and to reconcile you to God forever.  Repent of all your sins, and find your help and hope and life in the preaching of His Gospel.

It is instructive to contrast the response of Nazareth to the preaching of Jesus with the response of the people in Nehemiah’s day when Ezra the priest read and preached the Law of God to them.

Take your cues from those who heard and repented, who were comforted with the mercies of the Lord and given to feast upon the gifts of His grace.  Instead of hardening your heart and mind against the Lord and adding sin upon sin by rejecting and refusing to hear and heed His Word, humble yourself before Him, live by faith in His Word under His Cross, and worship Him with reverence and awe in your body, soul, and spirit.  Fear, love, and trust in Him above all else.

It is the great irony and paradox of the Christian faith, that when the Law of God exposes you and condemns you as a sinner, just so does He open you up to His grace and mercy and declare you to be the object of His Gospel of forgiveness.  For if you are a sinner, the Lord Jesus is your Savior.  But if you refuse to be a sinner, then you refuse and reject the One who is the Savior of sinners.

It is indeed for this very purpose that He has come to you, and for which He has been anointed by the Spirit of God in His Baptism.  He is here in the flesh to bear and carry the Cross, in order to save you from your sins, to redeem you from death and the devil, and to bring you to God as a member of His own crucified and risen Body.  He comes to cleanse and heal you; to set you free from the bondage of guilt and fear; to fill up your poverty with His heavenly riches; and to feed your desperate hunger and deepest thirst with nothing less than Himself, His Body and His Blood.

None of this according to any merit or worthiness in you, nor by any pedigree or power in you.  That is precisely the point!  It is all by His grace, by His divine charity, to meet your real need.

If He does not relieve you of your loneliness and isolation; if He does not provide you with the spouse, the family, or the friends that you would so much like to have; if He does not cure all your aches and pains and hurts and anxieties, nor heal all your temporal, bodily ailments; if He does not make you rich and famous or give you whatever else it is that you have demanded and expected in your sinful thoughts and desires — it is not because He has not come to be your Savior.

To the contrary, the Lord Jesus would have you recognize your real need for Him and so receive Him as your Savior from sin, death, the devil, and hell.  And He would have you live by faith in His preaching, rather than living for earthly comforts and worldly achievements, which can be so delightful but are deceptive in their appearances, because they do not last and cannot save you.

Indeed, if you are blessed by the Lord your God with many and great things here on earth, pray all the more fervently that He would “lead you not into temptation,” but that He would guide you by His Word and Spirit to use whatever He has put into your hands in godly faith and in holy love for Him and for your neighbor.  Do not put your trust in such things which whither and fade like grass.

The harsh reality is that, whether you have much or little, your covetous and sinful heart will lead you astray to the left or the right, sometimes into sinful pride, and elsewise into faithless despair.

In your idolatrous fear, love, and trust in yourself and in other false gods, you will get frustrated, angry, and rebellious with Jesus, and you would just as soon cast Him out of your life altogether.

But for all of that, He has come to be the Savior of sinners.  He comes to be your Savior, to speak to you the gracious Word of His Gospel; to absolve you of all your sins; to release you from the oppression of your old Adam; and to set you free from false belief, from pride, and from despair.

It is all right here for you — in this preaching of His Word — sounding in your ears, even now — this Word of Christ that lifts you up and gives you His Life in place of your death and damnation.

Do not let it go right by you, in one ear and out the other.  But give careful attention to His Word.  Consider it, and cling to it, and take it to heart, irrespective of your fickle feelings and emotions.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here preached to you, which makes of your Holy Baptism a cleansing from transgression, from the vile leprosy of sin, and from the stink of death.

It is the Word of the Word-made-Flesh that is here spoken to you with such tenderness and peace, which feeds you from the never empty Bread Box and the overflowing Chalice of His everlasting Marriage Feast; for He is your immortal Bridegroom, who lives and does not die forevermore.

As you now hear His voice in your ears, so eat of the Fat Portions which He gives into your mouth, and drink of the Sweet Wine which He pours out upon your lips and tongue for the forgiveness of all your sins.  As He has spoken, so does He freely distribute these sacred Portions to you, and to the many who have nothing, because He has prepared this great Feast for His own Name’s sake.

Neither mourn nor weep, but rejoice in the Lord your God.  For He rejoices over you in holy Love.  As He forgives you all your sins and justifies you in His sight by the preaching of His Gospel, so by His Word does He delight in you with great joy, and by His Word you are strengthened in Him.

It is His Word of the Gospel which sanctifies this day and makes of it the day of salvation for you, and His Word of the New Testament which makes of this building His own House and Home, His dwelling place of peace, that you might live with Him in His Kingdom both now and for eternity.

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

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