29 May 2016

The Beautiful Authority of Christ

The Lord our God is not a god of disorder but the God of Peace.  He has created, arranged, and ordered all things in heaven and on earth to live and move in harmony, with great beauty, and in concert with His divine Wisdom and holy Will, which is to say, according to His Word.

By His Word and Spirit, He has determined and established this good order throughout the world and especially within His Holy Christian Church.  The Gospel does not bring an end to the good order of creation, but brings it to perfect fulfillment in the Body of Christ and all His members.

So, too, in your body and life, in your own place within the world, the Lord has stationed you in relation to Himself and others, and by His Word He orders your days and your deeds in His Peace.  As He is the Author and Giver of Life — not only the Creator of all things, but the Master Artist and the Master Storyteller — do not suppose that your place and your part are without purpose.  You are not a stray mark or a smudge on the page.  Nor is your life one of random chance.  You, too, are His work of art, wonderfully made and beautifully crafted within His great Masterpiece.

Like a soldier within a well ordered military, you are under the authorities whom God has placed over you, and you are responsible for those whom the Lord your God has placed under your care and oversight.  And both you and all of them together are under the authority of God Himself.  For He is the Maker and Builder of all things, and He has so designed that you should live in Peace.

If it seems odd to use the military chain of command as an image of harmony and peace, seeing as soldiers not only drill and train but fight and die, it is because sin has intruded upon God’s good creation.  It is sin that bucks against the beauty and order of God’s Word and Wisdom.  And it is sin that wreaks havoc and chaos throughout His world and even within His holy Church on earth.

It is on account of your sin — and it is a leading part of your sin — that you resent and resist the good order of creation and life and your place and purpose within that order.  It is easy enough, for most of you at least, to insist that boys are boys and girls are girls.  But those folks who are crassly tempted to deny their own created natures and the evidence of their own bodies are not the only ones in a state of rebellion and open warfare against God’s Word and Wisdom.

You also seek to throw off the lines that God has drawn for you; to cross those lines wherever you can; and to color outside of the lines, so to speak, even boasting of your independence and your bold creativity.  But now I am not talking about your coloring books or your crafty art projects, but about your way of living in the world in relation to the neighbors God has stationed around you.

Do you not envy the big dogs?  Do you not resent and resist those people whom God has placed above you, pushing the limits and seeking to undermine their authority?  And how often do you circumvent the rules, in order to do what you want instead of what you have been given to do?

On the other hand, consider all the ways in which you neglect or take advantage of those people whom the Lord has stationed below you.  How often do you abuse your office and position to hurt and harm those neighbors, and to advance your own agenda at their expense?  As though this body and life in your God and Father’s world were some kind of cutthroat contest or competition.

Actually, your body and life on earth are the arena in which you are given, not to compete and wage wars to win the day, but to live by the grace of God, by faith in His Word, in love for Him and for your neighbors — above, below, and alongside of you — to the glory of His holy Name.

What you find, instead, in your body, in your heart, mind, and spirit, and in your behavior, is not peace and love, but chaos and disorder.  Not beauty and good order, but brokenness and ugliness.  Your life spins and spirals out of control, and it crashes in catastrophes of varying degrees.  Your body grows weary, it fails and falls apart.  And those you care about and rely upon in the world, they also suffer and face death, while you stand by helpless and powerless to save them.  Nothing else puts you in your place so squarely and decisively as death does.  Six feet under everything.

In order to find peace and rest, health and wholeness, contentment and satisfaction — not only in this body and life, but in the Resurrection of all flesh, and forever and ever; in order to live now and forever in the Way of Wisdom, in the fear and faith of God, in the knowledge and to the honor of His Name — to live the life for which you have been created — you need the Lord Jesus to forgive your sins, to save you from death and the grave, and to pour out His Holy Spirit upon you.

You need Him.  And you need to recognize your need for Him.  You need His forgiveness, first of all, for it is not life but death to remain in your sins at odds with God and His Word.  And in place of your unbelief and sin, you need the new Way of Life, the Way of faith and love, which is only in Christ Jesus.  You need Him to come and teach you His Way and knit your heart to Him.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ has done all of this for you, and for the people of all nations, for all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  Not only once upon a time, but even here, and even now, He draws nears to save you by His grace, by the charity and compassion of the Holy Triune God.

The almighty and eternal Son of God has been sent by His Father to become flesh, to bear your sin, and to be your Savior.  He has fulfilled the Word and Will of God in His own Body, from the womb of His Mother Mary to His crucifixion under Pontius Pilate.  For He was born and lived under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law.  By His innocent suffering and death, and by His holy and precious Blood, He has atoned for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He has redeemed His good Creation from the curse of death, in order to make all things new and restore them to life with God in the beauty of His holiness.

The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for you and for all upon the Cross, and His own God and Father raised Him from the dead for your justification.  He was the Man under Authority, who submitted Himself and His Will to His Father in heaven; who lived and died in perfect faith and holy love; who took up His Life again by faith in God, and received the Holy Spirit on your behalf.

Not only is He your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, and the once-for-all Sacrifice to end all sacrifice for sin, but His own crucified and risen Body is the Temple of God in heaven and on earth.  Which is to say that, wherever His Word is preached, wherever His Cross and Resurrection are proclaimed unto repentance and forgiveness, wherever His Baptism, His Body, and His Blood are administered, there do the Name and the Glory of God abide with His people.  In His Body, your prayer is heard, your sins are forgiven, and your needs are provided.

As the Author of Salvation in His own Body of flesh and blood, He has been given all Authority in heaven and on earth.  And He exercises this Authority of His by the Ministry of His Word.  That is to say, as God the Father sent His Son in the Flesh to accomplish His purposes by His Cross and Resurrection, so does the incarnate Son send others with the special Authority of His Gospel to forgive sins and save sinners in His Name.  For He loves the nations, and by His Word and Spirit He establishes and builds the Synagogue of His Church on earth to gather all people to Himself.

So it is that He calls you to Himself, and He forgives your sins by the preaching of His Gospel.  And so it is that you receive His Life, and you live, by faith in His Word, that is, by faith in Him.  You fear, love, and trust in Him.  You call upon His Name.  You look to Him and expect good things from Him, not relying on any merit or worthiness in yourself, but solely upon His mercy.

You are given an example of such faith and life in the case of the Centurion in this Holy Gospel.  He knows and confesses his own unworthiness, but he also knows and confesses the need at hand and the Authority of the Lord Jesus to help and heal his servant.  He seeks the very thing that you are freely given, that is, the Word of Jesus.  Faith clings to His Word and receives what He gives.  And that reliance on Christ and His Word is the only worthiness that avails for you before God.

As you thus live under God by faith in Christ, so does He also set you in relation to neighbors on all sides, some of them in authority over you, others under your authority, and many more besides.  And here, too, the Centurion is set before you as an example of the life that is lived by faith.  For as you recognize and rely upon the Authority of Christ the Lord, so do you exercise the authority that He has given you to serve the place and the people where He has stationed you in the world.  The fruits and evidence of your faith are thus manifested in your works of love and gifts of charity.

You confess the Name of the Lord.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  Such words are the first fruits of your faith in Christ, which then also become flesh in your actions and sacrifices of mercy.

As the Centurion loved the nation of Israel, so do you love and serve the people of God because they bear His Name, and because they are your own family in Christ Jesus.  And you love and care for the neighbors God has given you to love, as He Himself never ceases to love and care for you.

As the Centurion built the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum, in reverence for the Word of the Lord, so do you serve and support the Church and Ministry, the Household and Family of God: With your tithe (your regular offerings, a regular and significant percentage of your income), and with your almsgiving (your additional gifts of charity for the benefit of those in need).

Beyond your gifts of silver and gold, you serve and support the Church on earth, beginning with your own congregation, with your time and energy, and with your talents and abilities.  Not to buy the Lord’s favor, as though you ever could — for neither you nor your works are worthy of Him — but because you love and trust in Him, you fear His Name, and you rely upon His Gospel–Word and Sacraments for yourself, for your neighbors in the world, and for your own immediate family.

And as the Centurion understood and found contentment in his calling, so do you find joy and satisfaction in your job, in doing your duties and fulfilling your responsibilities in your own place, wherever the Lord has stationed you.  Not to please people or impress the world, not for applause or thanks, not for praise or profit, but to honor God and to live by faith within His good order.

In much the same way, the Lord Jesus Himself continues to love and serve and care for you within His Church by the Ministry of His Gospel.  Especially with that point in mind, it is significant that the Centurion compares his calling and his place in life to that of Christ Jesus; for so do all the works of faith and love follow after His — and if they are the fruits of faith they will be like His.

Consider, then, the case at hand.  By the words and works of those whom He has called, ordained, and sent in His Name and stead to speak and act with His Authority, the Lord Jesus Himself is at work to accomplish His own purposes in fulfillment of the Will of God.  To heal and give life.

As He has called you to Himself to be His disciple, so has He called His servants to come to Him, and they come.  He says to them, “Go,” and they go where He has sent them, wherever it may be, to make disciples of all nations by preaching, baptizing, and catechizing with His Word and in His Name.  He takes the bread, He gives thanks, He breaks and distributes His Body and His Blood, and He says to His servants, “Do This in remembrance of Me.”  And so they do with His Authority.  They enter in and gird themselves with His Word, in order to feed and nourish you at His Table.

And when the called Ministers of Christ deal with you in this way, by His divine command, it is the Lord Himself who draws near to you and cares for you with His powerful Word of the Gospel.

It is true that, at the end of every day, and at the end of all your days, you are an unworthy servant, for even at your best you have done no more than your duty.  Yet, you live for now by the mercies of the Lord, and you live forever by faith in His mercy, who provides for all your needs of body and soul and gladdens your heart with His great joy.  For His servants are dear to Him, and they are valued by Him.  They are children of His own God and Father.  Pastors and parishioners alike are precious to the Lord, each of them within his or her own calling.  And so are you precious, in your own place, to the Lord who has called you by His Name to be His own dear child and heir.

He invites you into His Home, to abide in safety under His roof, to recline here at His own Table — for He has given you this place of honor — to rest in His Peace, and to partake of His Feast.  Only hear and heed the Word that He speaks for you here, and by His grace you shall be healed.

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

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