29 June 2016

Safe and Sound in the House That Jesus Built

It’s all about Jesus, the Christ, the incarnate Son of God, crucified and risen in His own Body of flesh and blood.  Everything in heaven and on earth — whatever was, and is, and is to be — it all depends on Him: on Who He is, and on what He has done and continues to do for you and for all.

The Church, which is His own Body as well as His Holy Bride, is established — and she lives, on earth even now, as in heaven forever — because He has conquered death, defeated the devil, atoned for the sins of the whole world, reconciled all mankind to God, and ascended to the right hand of the Father as the true Man, the perfect Second Adam, for the salvation of all people.

So, now, the question is, Where is this Lord Jesus Christ?  Where and how does He do His thing?  Which is really also to ask, Where is the Church?  How and where does she live by the grace of God in Christ, her Savior?  And, to get downright personal about it, How is it that you live in and with Christ Jesus, within His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church?  For, if you would be saved, and if you are to live, it will be within the Body of Christ, within the House that Jesus built.

But, truth be told, you are no more able than Simon Peter and the other disciples (to say nothing of the rest of the people in their day) to recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is.  You neither know nor do you understand what it means that He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man.  Nor are you able to come to Him.  Nor can you fear, love, and trust in Him as your Savior and your God in the flesh — not at all by any wisdom, reason, strength, or savvy of your own.

And yet, you are here, and you do know Him and love Him, precisely because, and only because, the God and Father of this dear Lord Jesus Christ has given His Son both for you and now to you.  And by the gracious blessing of His Word and Holy Spirit, He reveals Him to you, and He opens your ears, your heart, and your mind to receive Him, to believe in Him, and to confess Him.

It is by this grace of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that you recognize Jesus for who He is, and know Him rightly, and find your life in Him, though you could never do this for yourself.

It is for this reason and purpose that the Lord Jesus Christ, in the utterly foolish Wisdom of God,  has built His House upon the Rock.

A most unlikely Rock it is, to be sure, as one might expect from this most unlikely of Saviors!  So much so, that theologians and scholars throughout the Church’s history have managed to wrangle and fight over it, though the simple and straightforward Word of Jesus is not so hard if it is taken at face value and heard within its context in the light of His own explanation.

The Rock foundation of the Lord’s Church is surely not St. Peter’s personal faith, nor his person, both of which were more than a little wobbly and misguided at times, as we all know.

But it is, after all, the Lord Jesus who calls this man and names him “Peter,” the Rock, so let us not suppose that he has no part in the foundation that Christ lays for His Church on earth.  The Rock, as our Confessions explain, is the ministry of the confession that St. Peter makes, according to his office and vocation as an Apostle.  For this man is called, ordained, and commissioned to speak the Word of Christ the Crucified, and to bind and release sins in His Name and stead.

This is how the one Lord Jesus Christ chooses to be present with and for His people.  This is how He works and does His thing, according to the good and gracious will of God, in order to rescue sinners from death and to give them eternal life in body and soul by His Cross and Resurrection.

It is upon this apostolic Ministry of the Gospel — the preaching of the Word of Christ unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins — that He establishes and builds His Church on earth, and that He protects her from the storms of life, from all the winds and waves of this world, both real and metaphorical, and from sin, death, the devil, and hell, even to the close of the age.

Although it is by now very familiar to you, and therefore seems quite normal and ordinary, let us admit again that the Ministry of the Gospel is a most unlikely foundation, even as it is formed and shaped on a most unlikely Cornerstone — that Stone which the builders rejected, although He is chosen by God and precious to Him.  His Apostles and Prophets, His pastors and teachers, His whole Church, and all His members are likewise despised by the devil, the world, and fallen flesh.

Consider, for example, those two foremost Apostles whom we remember with thanksgiving on this day: One of them a hotheaded fisherman, and the other a persecuting Pharisee of Pharisees.  But neither of these men, fallible and flawed though they were, is any more scandalous than the Cross they were called and sent to proclaim as the power of God unto salvation.  In fact, His power is made perfect in such weakness, beginning with His own voluntary weakness on the Cross.

Be encouraged, then, in your own office and stations in life, in your own calling as a Christian in this fallen world.  And take heart that, as the Lord has established and built up His Church, as He has planted, watered, and grown His Kingdom, even to the ends of the earth, by the way and means of men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, so does He work through you and accomplish His purposes in you, in spite of your faults and failings.  Do your job and carry out your duties with joy and confidence that your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  And do not be ashamed to confess the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, in all that you say and do.

For it is by the Cross that this incarnate God, conceived and born of Mary, has defeated death and the grave, such that even those gates of Hades have no power over anyone who belongs to Him, who lives by His grace, through faith in His Word, within His Church, His House upon the Rock.

For this Church of Christ — the very Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven — is established and sustained by His Ministry of the Gospel, which is fundamentally the Ministry of forgiveness, of Holy Absolution in His Name and stead.  The Office of the Keys and the Office of the Ministry go together, hand in glove, so that everything is said and done, finally, for the sake of forgiveness.

It is for the forgiveness of sins, by and from the Cross of Christ, that the entire Church on earth has been structured and arranged.  Forgiveness is the foundation and the front door of God’s House in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  It is the very air that we breathe in the living room of His House and Home, where the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the children of God by and with and for the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.  And it is found in abundance at the Father’s Table, around which His Household and Family are gathered for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, given and poured out for you and for the many.

It is by and with this forgiveness of all your sins — both given and received in such bodily ways and means for both your body and your soul — that death and damnation, the devil, and hell are rendered powerless against you.  Such wicked foes may rage and roar, but they cannot harm you.

Though your body grows weak and perishes — whether through infirmity or illness, accident or active violence, even as St. Peter and St. Paul were put to death for their faithful confession of the Lord Jesus Christ — yet shall your body be raised immortal and imperishable, like unto the risen and glorious Body of Christ, since you are forgiven in body and soul by His Gospel Ministry.

So also tonight, as the same Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, crucified for your transgressions and risen from the dead for your justification, gives to you His own holy Body and precious Blood for the free and full forgiveness of all your sins, so are your life and salvation secured for you in heaven forever with Him.

Here is a strong foundation beneath your feet, four solid walls around you, and a secure roof above your head, which no enemy or army in all of creation shall be able to penetrate.  Here within the House that Jesus built, you are safe and sound, unto the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

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

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