14 August 2016

To Fear, Love, and Trust in the Lord

What you really want, deep down in your sinful heart, is to be left alone.  To live the life that you have chosen for yourself.  To do what you want, whatever you like, whenever you like.

So you’d really prefer to have God waiting in the wings, like a backstage prop man, ready to help you, to support you, to provide you with what you need — and then quietly to go away again.

It is amazing how those outside of the Church suppose that, by pretending God doesn’t exist, or by ignoring Him, He will just leave them alone to do their own thing.  It is even more amazing how many church-going people suppose that, if they log their time on Sunday morning, then the rest of that day, and the rest of the week, will be theirs to do with as they choose.  As though your life, your body and soul and all things, were not entirely from Him and completely dependent on Him.

But you can’t get away with sticking your head in the sand, like some sort of perverse, sinful human ostrich.  The fact that you do not look to God but seek to flee and hide from Him, does not mean that He fails to see you.  He holds you accountable for your words and actions.

And God will not simply leave you alone to go your own way.  He will not leave you to live in the idolatry of your own self-righteousness and selfishness.  He will not permit you that kind of peace and quietness and complacency, which are fleeting and short-lived, in any case.  He will not allow you to live and die forever in your sins — not without calling you back to Himself in repentance.

He comes and speaks His Word to you.  And His Word, to begin with, is a fierce Word.  It is the Word of His Law, first of all, which shatters the rock and consumes the stubble in your life.

The Lord God with His Word does not avoid confrontation and controversy, but brings division.  He divides families, where necessary for the sake of His Holy Name.  Even more, He divides you within yourself, slicing and dicing even between your bones and marrow.  He cuts you to the quick.  He stabs you through the heart to the depths of your sinful unbelief and false worship.

His Law requires the sacrifice of all the false gods and idols that reign in your life.  Even those false gods and idols that you have made of your family (or the family you covet).

Whoever loves father and mother, husband or wife, son or daughter more than Christ, is not worthy of Christ and cannot be His disciple.  Even those who are closest to you, who are God’s blessed gifts to you, are not permitted to remain as idols in your life.  They, too, must be dethroned and divided from your heart, in deference to Christ.

More than even that, the Lord requires the sacrifice of your own heart and life.  His Law crucifies you, and it puts you to death.  You shall not be allowed any longer to live for yourself, to live in your sin, to live in your pursuit of this world’s treasures and pleasures and kingdoms.  God demands your all, although not for His benefit but yours, that you would have your life in Him.

And it all seems rather shocking, because you don’t expect God to act like this.  But so He does.

There is, for example, that terrible command that He gave to Abraham, that he should take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved — the one whom God had promised, for whom Abraham had waited, not just years, but decades — that he should take him and sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering on the Mountain.  And Abraham’s faith was sorely tested and tried by that command, as you also are tested and tried by the demands of His holy and righteous Law.

You would really much prefer to believe in the “nice” “friendly” god of dreams and Hollywood imagination.  The god who greets your every sin, your unbelief, your selfishness and lust with a grin; and, no matter what your vices, no matter what you do or fail to do, he says, “peace,” and “all is well.”  “Do what you like.”  “No worries, no pressure.”  “It’s all good.”

But the Lion of the tribe of Judah is not a tame lion.  He’s not a playful kitty cat.  He is a ferocious and powerful Hunter.  And He is a Warrior, a Man of War.  His Word is a fire and a hammer, and He is relentless in pursuing you and putting you to death to yourself, to your sin, and to the world.

His anger against sin, and His righteous wrath against the idolatry of the world, were not arbitrary to begin with, and they are not simply set aside with a wink and a nod.  His anger and His wrath are not abated until they have accomplished the purpose for which He vents them, and for which He pours them out upon the sons of disobedience in His judgment.

His purpose is not vindictive or petty, but, as hard as it may be to believe, His wrath also stems from His heart of love, and from His good and gracious will for your salvation.  He refuses to let you go your own way, and to stumble into eternal perdition.  So He thunders with His Law what is good and true and right, and what is the consequence of unbelief and sinful disobedience.  He rages against your sins, because He does not want you to perish eternally, separated from Him.

The Lord threatens to punish all who break His Commandments, because they are the way of life, the way of faith and love; whereas to live contrary to His Law is to pursue the path of death and damnation.  Therefore, you should fear His wrath and not disobey Him.  Repent.  Rend your heart.  Change your mind.  Cease and desist your wicked ways.  Become altogether other than you are.

But, what?  You cannot do it.  You cannot bear the weight of the Law.  You cannot endure the wrath of God and live.  You are broken from the inside out, and you cannot fix yourself.

The judgment of God, His holy Law, His perfect and righteous Law, His fire and His hammer, crush and destroy you with a terrifying finality.

It is precisely this crushing judgment of God which the Cross appears to be, in all the many and various ways that it is laid upon you.  In short, it does what the Cross is intended to do.  It crucifies you.  It puts you to death and buries you.

But this same crushing judgment is precisely what the Cross has also been and done for Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, your Savior and Redeemer.  And it is into this Crucifixion of His, even unto death and burial, that He was baptized by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River, once and for all.  So was He kindled and finally consumed by the fire and brimstone of God’s Law, though He alone lived according to it, kept and fulfilled it, and did not fail at any point.

He submitted to all of the Law’s demands and expectations — in perfect faith and holy love — and yet, He also submitted Himself to its judgment and punishments for all the sins of the entire world.

Thus, it is Christ Jesus who is crushed and put to grief, bruised for your iniquities, chastised for your sins, punished for your every evil thought and wicked word, for your persistent lack of love for God and your neighbor, and for all of your selfish, self-serving actions.

It is this firstborn, only-begotten, beloved Son who is put to death, in order to establish and seal God’s Covenant of peace and love with you.  By His Life of faith and love, and by His atoning sacrificial death, He reconciles God and man in Himself.

It is this Passover Lamb of God who is put to death in your stead, whose blood covers and protects you from sin, death, and the devil, and whose flesh feeds you and sustains you on the way.

And the death of Christ has opened up the way for you.  His sacrifice upon the Cross has liberated you from your slavery to sin and death, and brought you through the deadly waters of your Baptism into the Life everlasting of His own bodily Resurrection from the dead.

In this way, His Cross has turned all of your own suffering and your death inside-out and upside-down.  So the Cross you share with Him, by your Baptism into His death, does not simply crucify and kill you.  It does that, to be sure.  But it also redeems you, and it lifts you up in and with Christ, and it saves you by His holy, precious Blood, by His free and full forgiveness of all your sins.

Here, then, in His House, in His Body and His Blood, there is peace and reconciliation with God, which far and away surpasses every human understanding and wildest imagination.

Here there is the glorious freedom of the sons of God in Christ, that true and lasting freedom of the Gospel, in which and by which you live.

No longer driven by your sinful lusts and desires; no longer enslaved by your tyrannical idols, which consume your time and energy, attention and affections, yet give you nothing real in return; no longer imprisoned by the fear of death; and no longer abused by the assaults and accusations of the devil — you are set free to love the Lord your God in the holiness and righteousness of Christ, to live and love according to His Word by the grace and power of His Spirit, and to walk in the way of peace, in faith, hope, and love.  For you follow Christ Jesus, bearing His Cross, even through death and the grave, into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

His Word of the Cross is the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, by which He leads you through the waters of Baptism, through the wilderness of repentance, unto the holy and majestic Mountain of God.  He gathers you to Himself, the Lamb who has been slain, to eat and drink His Flesh and Blood in the presence of Almighty God.  And yet, not to die, but to live.

For it is by the Cross of Christ that God’s wrath and righteous anger have been spent and satisfied on behalf of the whole world, and quieted for all those who dwell in Him by faith in His Gospel.

So it is, that, in being called to fear the Lord your God, you are called to repentance.  Which does mean that you die, yes, but also that you live.  It is to fear, love, and trust in Him who has given you the new birth of water with His Word; who has poured out His Spirit upon you and clothed you in His own Righteousness; who daily and richly forgives you all your sins, and feeds you as a child of God at His own Table in His own House, both now and forever and ever.

For the time being, in this mortal life of yours on earth, you are being crucified, put to death, and buried with Christ Jesus, in order to be raised from the death of sin to the life of faith, in order to live before God in the righteousness of Christ, which is by His grace alone through faith in Him.

But already and always in Him, who died for you and rose again, your Baptism and your life are perfectly complete.  Indeed, you and your life are safely and securely hidden with Christ in God.

It is in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the face of this crucified and risen Lord Jesus, that you see and experience the wide open arms, and the tender loving heart, and, yes, the smiling face of God, your dear Father in heaven.  He is pleased with you for the sake of His beloved Son.

It is in His Name and for His sake that I say to you:  Repent, and sin no more.  Do not die, but live.  Believe the Gospel.  Your sins are forgiven.  The Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you always.

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

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