30 October 2016

Christ Jesus Comes Down to Raise You Up by the Tree of His Cross

The new and greater Joshua has come.  He has crossed the Jordan at the head of God’s people; He has entered the Land to make a place for them there, to establish peace and Sabbath Rest forever.

He comes to ascend the tree of His Cross, and by His death to atone for the sins of the world.  He comes to reconcile the world to God, to establish peace between God and man within His own Body of flesh and blood, crucified and risen from the dead.  So does He make a place for you with Himself in His Kingdom, as He has done for those who have gone before us in His Name.

As He once came to Jericho on His way to the Cross in Jerusalem, so does the Lord Jesus come to you here and now, to seek you out and find you and to give you His good gifts.  He comes in His Ministry and Means of the Gospel to bring salvation to this House, to you and to all whom He calls to Himself through His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But how shall you be able to see Him, and how shall you receive Him to yourself?

That was Zaccheus’ dilemma, as it is yours.  He wanted to see Jesus, and rightly so.  Somehow he had heard the Word of Jesus.  Perhaps he heard tell about what happened with Blind Bartimaeus as Jesus first entered Jericho, or maybe the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, such as we heard last week.  Whatever the reason, he wanted to see Jesus.  But he was not able to do so.

He was the boss, and he was rich, and who knows what else he had going for him.  But he was too small a man to see Jesus.  He was, as you know, a wee little man, short of stature.  And yet, that was not the only way, nor even the main way, in which he was too small to see Jesus.  His position and his wealth were simply not sufficient; neither were they the right way or means, in any case.  What is more, beyond all of his own limitations, the crowd was also getting in his way, milling and thronging about, and with its confusion and distractions preventing him from seeing the Lord.

How is it for you?  By what ways and means do you attempt to see Jesus, to get close to Him?  By what wealth, by what power or prestige, by what position, would you presume to see Him and receive Him, all to no avail?  None of your own works and efforts will get you there.  Of yourself, you are too short, and you come up short, no matter how big and tall, powerful, or wealthy you may be.  And there is the crowd for you, as well.  The world is all around you, getting in your way and in your face, pressing against you, pushing and pulling you this way and that.  Too often you are tempted and persuaded by its passions and pursuits of the flesh, its desires and distractions.

You cannot climb up high enough to behold your Lord Jesus Christ.  You will not raise yourself up to Him.  It is by no tree that you may climb that you find Him.  But you must come down from your tree, from your ladder, from your high horse, in order to see Him and receive Him, who has come down from heaven in order to gather you up and raise you up in Himself to the Father.

He comes to ascend a Tree on your behalf.  And it is by and with that Tree of His Cross that Jesus comes to you, and sees you, hiding though you are behind fig leaves.  He sees you, not with wrath and judgment, but with divine compassion and tender mercy.  For He knows all your sins and your poor, poor, pitiful stature, but He has come to set you free.  He comes to give you salvation.

Hurry and come down from wherever it is that you have tried to climb yourself up.  See and receive the One who is coming to you by the Way of His Cross.  Repent and believe His Gospel.  For left to your own devices you will not make it.  You will not be able to find Jesus, but you will lose yourself in your own sin and death, in the abundance of your greed and lust and appetites and consumption, and in your stockpile of perishing possessions and your futile, irrelevant pursuits.

Understand that it was not tax collecting per se that was a problem for Zaccheus.  For that position, too, is a station in life that can be carried out to the glory of God and for the benfit of others.

The problem was that it so easily entangled Zaccheus in the ways of the world and its chasing after wealth.  It is likely that Zaccheus had cheated the people by overcharging them.  That was typical of how the tax collectors made their income and lined their pockets.  Zaccheus was a wealthy man, and much of his wealth had probably come at the expense of God’s people.  And in his cooperation with Rome, he participated in Rome’s oppression of the Lord’s Church.  So, in various ways like these, Zaccheus’ sin was manifested and played itself out within his occupation and station in life.

In what ways does your sin affect your work and manifest itself in your profession?  How does it emerge and bear fruit in your cares and occupations of life, whether you are still a child at home, a student in school, or working out in the world?  Whether you are a boss or an employee, in what ways does your sin rear its ugly head in what you do as you go about your days?

How have you become entangled and ensnared by the pursuits of this world?  By the driving lust for wealth, or power and prestige, or personal pleasure and satisfaction at the expense of others?

And in what ways have you burdened, neglected, cheated, short changed, or overcharged your employer or your customers, or whomever God has set in relationship to you on earth?

Where have you done less than what is required of you?  Where have you taken more than God has given to you?  And in what ways have you gone chasing after the false gods and idols of this world to the neglect and detriment of Christ’s Holy Church?

The point is not that you should quit your job and find something “holier” to do.  Your job, if it is legal and honest labor, is sanctified and holy by the Word and Spirit of Christ, even as your sins are forgiven by His Gospel.  And the point is not that you should try to raise yourself up by your own bootstraps or by any other righteousness of yours.  There is nothing in you that can save you.

The point, rather, is this: Repent of your sins.  That is to say, not simply that you feel badly about them, but that you acknowledge and confess them, turn away from them, and seek the grace and mercies of the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins and for a newness of your life in Christ Jesus.

There is no way for you to atone for your sins or to justify yourself.  But neither does repentance persist in pursuing your sins or continue complacent in your sins against God and your neighbor.  To go home with Jesus, justified by faith in His forgiveness, and at peace in His righteousness, will not mean a return to the same ol’ same ol’ transgressions, but the pursuit of a brand new life in which you bear the fruits of repentance in thanksgiving to God and in love for your neighbor.

Where you have done wrong, cease and desist.  And where you are able to make amends, do what you can.  Pay back what you have taken.  Fix what you have broken.  Apologize and be reconciled to those whom you have hurt or failed in any way.  Do not harm but give help to your neighbor.

Use your vocation, your stations in life, your talents and gifts to serve and support your neighbor.  Look about to see whom you may help; there is no lack of need, even within our congregation.

Consider Zaccheus.  He sets a wonderful example.  When the people decried his sins and grumbled against Jesus for going to the home of such a sinner, Zaccheus did not argue or get defensive.  He didn’t say, Wait a minute, they don’t know what it’s like to be me!  He did not make excuses or rationalize his behavior.  He simply repented of his past, and he pledged to do better.

No doubt there were ups and downs in Zaccheus’ life, and where he cleaned up his act in one area, his sin was still there in others.  His salvation was not to be found in his better behavior.  But, for all of that, his better behavior was a fruit of his repentance.

He gives thanks to God and pays his vows to the Lord by sacrificing his wealth to make amends for his past and to care for his neighbors in love.  He begins to live by faith, as did father Abraham when he was willing to sacrifice even his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved.  So Zaccheus does not cling to his wealth, nor does he presume to propitiate God with his wealth, but he uses it to confess his faith, to give thanks for his salvation, and to serve those around him in their need.

In this newness of life, Zaccheus has become an example and encouragement to you and others, like all those who have lived and departed from this body and life in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus.  Thus do we remember and give thanks for the faithful departed and all the saints.

Zaccheus the tax collector is numbered among the faithful departed, and he belongs to the holy communion of all saints, because Jesus came and made His home with that wee little man.  He came and saw Zaccheus in love, and He called him to Himself.

The same Lord Jesus Christ comes to you, as well.  He comes with salvation.  He comes to save you from yourself and your sin, from death and the devil, and from every evil of body and soul.

He calls you to Himself in lowliness, in meekness, and in gentle mercy.  He calls you to Himself, not to reprimand or punish you, but to heal you, to give you life, to set you free from the bondage of your sin and death, and to bring you into the house and home that He has prepared for you.  He has called you by name, and He has named you with His own Holy Name in your Holy Baptism.

And now He comes to be the Guest in your home, as He did with Zaccheus, and as He did with those first two disciples at the original Emmaus.  He comes in to be the Guest, but look at that:  It is Christ Jesus the Savior who becomes the Host of the Meal.  He bids you to recline here at His Table, where He feeds you with His own Body and Blood, with His Life and His Salvation.

He does it here and now today.  Salvation has come to this house.  For it is in His loving service, it is by His forgiveness of your sins, it is by all that He showers upon you in love, that He raises you up by the Tree of His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  So it is that you go home and go about your work justified, and by faith in Christ Jesus you live righteously in holy love.

You offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Lord.  You love and serve your neighbor in peace; you do what is good and right; you make amends for past wrongs; and you care for those people whom the Lord in His wisdom has placed alongside you in this world.

In Him, by His grace, you also are a son or daughter of Abraham.  That is first of all to believe and confess the same faith in the same God as father Abraham.  It is also to live, to bear the Cross in patience and trust, and to sacrifice the gods of this world, as father Abraham did when he was called by God, the Lord.  Not by your own reason and strength, nor by your own wisdom or wealth, nor by climbing any tree of your own choosing, but ever and always by God’s grace alone.  For the Son of Abraham, by whom all the nations of the world are blessed, has come to you with salvation in Himself, in His Body given and His Blood poured out for you.

He withholds no good thing from you.  Not half of His riches, but all of them, He gives to you, who were so poor and needy in your sin and your mortality.  All that belongs to Him, He gives to you.  His House is your house, because His God and Father is your God and Father.

And here today, in His House, at His Table, is your Peace and Sabbath Rest — as those who have gone before us in Christ Jesus already enjoy forever before the face of His Father in heaven.  So does He call you and carry you in His own crucified and risen Body, even through death and the grave, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul in Him.

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

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