The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, your incarnate Savior, crucified and risen — He comes to you here. And in Him the Kingdom of God is among you. For He comes to bring you into that Kingdom by the way and means of His Word and Sacraments. Which is to say, more concretely and specifically, that He does for you as He did for the people of those cities and villages He visited when He walked this earth on His Way to the Cross.
He catechizes you with His Word, with His Law and His Gospel, His commands and promises. He calls you to repent, and He forgives your every sin.
He prepares a Table before you, to feed you with His Body and His Blood. He invites you tenderly to recline with Him at that Table, to eat and drink with Him in His presence, in His Peace.
And what is more, along with all of this, He has opened the way of life to you by His own death on the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead. For He has, on your behalf, perfectly fulfilled and satisfied the entire Law of God, every jot and tittle of it. He has done it all for you and your salvation. So has He also offered Himself, His Body and Life, as the perfect atoning Sacrifice for all of your sins and failings. He has taken on Himself the wrath of God against all of your sins, in order to reconcile you to His God and Father in heaven, and to give you Peace by His Spirit.
It is by and through the Cross of Christ, and by His righteousness alone, that you are called to enter the Kingdom of God in Him, and to live forever with Him in the presence of the Living God.
Now, truth be told, as glorious as all of this is, it is a precarious and terrifying prospect for poor, miserable sinners like yourself. It is a sobering invitation, indeed, to be called into the presence of the true and only God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth.
Do not suppose for one instant that you can enter His Kingdom, make yourself at home in His House, or stand before Him by any merit or worthiness of your own. Do not presume upon your Host, and do not take His gracious hospitality for granted. For if you examine yourself in the Light and Truth of God’s Word, then you shall find nothing there in yourself but sin and death, for which you would rightly be punished both here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Do not fool yourself that any work or effort or striving or sincerity or any righteousness of your own self will save you here. It will not.
If you remain in yourself, you cannot win. You cannot come into the presence of God by your own righteousness; but neither can you escape Him, His Law, or His judgment. He will find you. There will be a day of reckoning. There will be a judgment of the living and the dead. And while you cannot live with Him in your sin, far less can you live at all without Him! You cannot cling to your sin and survive. You cannot run from God and remain safe and whole and comfortable.
In and of yourself, your sin separates you from God and makes it impossible for you to approach Him. But not only that. It means that you are unable to abide or survive His coming to you. And He is coming. Coming to judge the world in righteousness. But so also coming to you here and now, by and with His Word, to call you from your sin to repentance, to faith and life in Him.
It is not enough simply to bemoan your bad behavior and correct your outward faults. Your actions are not yet the heart of the matter. Nor your words. Nor even your sinful ideas. Your sin is not found primarily in your habits and vices and naughtiness. It does not begin, nor does it end, with your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The problem is far bigger and deeper than that.
Your sin is deeply rooted in your heart and in your will. It resides in your ego. — your “I,” “Me,” “Mine.” It lives and it thrives in your self-identity, whereby you regard yourself as your own god.
Your sin characterizes, not only what you do, but who and what you are apart from Christ.
It is out of that sinful fountain and source of your unbelieving heart, your stubborn will, your unclean spirit, your beclouded mind, and your perverse strength, that all of your sinful living, and all of your sinful thinking, speaking, and acting proceeds.
Cleaning up your act does not solve the problem; though your sinful actions are not thereby excused or any less damnable in their own right. Behind and beneath the surface you are still sick to the core. And left to yourself and your own devices, you shall die.
The Lord your God is a consuming fire. He is the almighty and immortal God, the holy and righteous God. And what are you? O man, O woman. What are you but a sinful and rebellious creature, taken from the dust of the earth, to which you shall return?
How shall you stand in the judgment? How shall you not be condemned?
Repent! Despair of yourself and your own filthy righteousness. Mourn and lament your sins, and stop pursuing them. Be broken of your self-reliance, self-centeredness, and selfish desire.
Strive, instead, to enter through the narrow door, by which alone you will enter the Kingdom of God and live with Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
But what is this narrow door? Where do you find it? And how shall you enter through it?
Your only help, and your only hope, is Christ, the Son of God, who has been crucified for you. There is salvation in no one else, but only in Him. Seek His face always, and trust Him. Cling to Him. Believe in Him. Live in Him. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him
He is the Door by which you enter. He and His Cross and Passion are the narrow way, by which you come into the presence of His God and Father, cleansed and forgiven by His Blood, righteous in His bodily Resurrection.
Dying with Christ by repentance, you live before God in Him, in righteousness and purity forever.
It is the righteousness and holiness of Christ alone that cover you and avail for you before God in heaven. And this righteousness and holiness of Christ are yours by no other way or means than by His grace, His charity toward you. They are yours through faith in His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins. He is your Advocate and Defender, and He declares that you are righteous for His sake, because He has taken His stand for you, though you are sinful and unclean in yourself.
Be where that Word of the Gospel is spoken. Not simply to hear it, and to let it pass through your ears, in one and out the other. But hear it and heed it. Believe and trust in it. Know that it is true. His forgiveness is true. When He says that your sins are forgiven, they are forgiven. When He declares you righteous, you are righteous in Him. And when He has thus spoken, then do not let anyone in heaven or on earth tell you otherwise.
Hear His Word. Believe His Word. Look for Christ, and listen to Him, where He may be found — where He speaks His Word of Holy Absolution; where He forgives you all your sins.
Be in Church for the Divine Service, where His Word is proclaimed. But do not boast of your attendance. Boast only of Christ, who is here with you. He is here for you, in order to serve you.
Read His Word. Recite His Word. Repeat His Word. Rehearse it in your heart and mind and on your lips. Memorize His Word, and teach it to your children. Confess His Word. Pray, praise, and give thanks, as His Word opens your lips to speak. Not only here, but in your home and in your family. Not only once a week, not only twice a month, not only once or twice a year, but every day, all week long, all year long, until you die. Your life is not your own. You are the Lord’s.
Here is your salvation in His very Word to you. Do not neglect it. You dare not despise it, for you cannot live for even one day without His Word; not really. But here your gracious Lord comes to speak to you; not to judge and condemn you, as you deserve, but to judge and declare you righteous, to heal you, to forgive you, to raise you up and exalt you. He comes to save you. Open your ears to what He says, and do not close your heart to Him who is your Savior and your God.
But even doing all of this, do not boast of your piety and faithfulness. It is no more than your duty.
Do not presume to tell the Lord your God how often you have prayed. Do not keep a record of how often you have come to church. You are not saved by these works of yours. You are not righteous by your stats. You are rescued and redeemed by Christ and His mercy.
Even when you have been recalcitrant and absent, He remains your Redeemer. He is still for you. He is still your Savior. He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Father in heaven, even as He continues to call you to repentance here on earth. He loves you. He is your Champion.
To Him alone belongs all glory, honor, and praise. Give thanks to God for Him above all else.
Give thanks to God for Him. And in thanksgiving, hear and receive His teaching and catechesis. But do not boast of your hearing and receiving. Likewise, eat and drink the Holy Supper to which He invites you. But do not boast of your eating and drinking. Shall you brag about receiving gifts of utter charity? Should you not rather be grateful to God, and charitable to others in turn?
Live in love for your neighbor — for your family, your friends, and your enemies. Forgive them, and love them, and serve them. But do it for God’s sake. Do it for your neighbor’s sake — for Christ’s sake — and not for your own sake, as though to merit some credit with God.
Your only credit before God is Christ Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of your sins and for your righteousness in Him. He has come for you, the Son of God in the flesh, to save you. He has given His Life for you. He has shed His holy and precious Blood for you.
Will you add to this? Will you gain some greater righteousness than this? Will you make yourself more holy than He makes you by His precious Blood, by His Word and Holy Spirit?
The Lord Jesus has opened the way for you, through His death into Life everlasting with God. He has already satisfied the Law’s demands, and He has done so on your behalf, to your credit. He has made atonement for you, for your every sin of heart and mind, body and soul, including those you know and those you have not even been aware of.
He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to you in His own Resurrection and Ascension, and He has brought you to the Father in and with Himself, in His Body, with His Blood. For He has washed you with the water and His Word, and given you the new birth of His Spirit, and bound you to Himself as a son of God in Him. By His Word and Spirit in the water and the blood, you are clean, you are His very own, and you are pleasing to His God and Father.
In all these ways and means, according to His tender grace and mercy, He has called you to Himself through His Gospel of forgiveness. And even now, He comes to you here, in order to be with you where you are, so that you may be with Him where He is forever. Here He preaches, and He teaches, and He feeds you with Himself.
Listen to Him. Eat and drink at His Table; feast upon Him who feeds you. Trust Christ, and live.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.