13 November 2016

Lift Up Your Heads unto Christ

Heads up.  Keep your wits about you.  Wake, awake, for night is flying.  Your Lord Jesus Christ has commanded you to be on the alert, to be on your guard, to be ever vigilant.

Fix your heart and mind on Christ, and do not be distracted or dismayed by the fast-fleeting world around you.  It will not last.  It is coming to a crashing end.  The heavens and the earth are passing away.  Only Christ and His Word endure forever.  He is steadfast and true.  Trust Him, and live.

Consider the example of the second-century bishop, St. Polycarp of Smyrna (who, as a little boy, may have known and sat at the feet of St. John the Apostle).  As an old man of eighty-plus years, Bishop Polycarp refused to deny his Lord Jesus Christ.  He refused to bow to the false gods of Rome.  He chose instead and preferred martyrdom.  He was burned alive at the stake in the midst of a huge arena of people jeering him and shouting for his death.  But he would not forsake his Lord Jesus.  Whereas the governor threatened him with a fire that would burn only for little while,  St. Polycarp feared the living God and His judgment, a fire that burns both soul and body forever.  More than that, he loved and trusted his true King, Jesus, who had always been faithful to him.

That is how you also ought to think about your temporal life in this world, and about the life everlasting which is yours only in Christ Jesus.  But that outlook and that perspective, that faith in Christ, it does not come to you naturally.  It is not something that you can work up for yourself.  It is not a choice or decision you can make for yourself.  The Lord must call you to repentance.  And He does.  He must bring you to faith through His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins.  And this, too, He does.  He does forgive your sins.  And by His forgiveness, He brings you to faith.

Otherwise, despite the fact that you are not being threatened with bodily martyrdom, consider how easily you bow your heart, and bend your mind (if not your knees), and give your body over to the false gods and idols of this world.

Think about it.  Examine yourself honestly.  Where is it that you fix your hope and confidence?  What is it that you live for?  And what do you trust for your life?  For your happiness?  For your satisfaction?  What do you look forward to each day?  What do you fear, love, and trust?

Remember, again, that everything in all of creation — everything but Christ and His Word — is destined for destruction.  And you along with it, apart from Christ.  Whatever it is that you may put your hope and trust in, if it is anything other than Jesus, it is a false hope, which deceives you and threatens to destroy you, not only here and now, but forever.

Even prior to the final cataclysmic judgment, when the Lord returns in glory and brings all things to a halt, even before then, the things that you rely upon, the things that you invest so much of yourself, your time and energy in, they will all falter and fail, if not sooner, then later.

Your job will not save you.  Your occupation and profession, your hard work and achievements, none of that will last.  Neither your family and your friends, nor your country ‘tis of thee, will be able to preserve your life beyond death and the grave.  And your proud fortress of a home is not the mighty fortress to protect you, either.  Thieves can rob it.  Fire and water can destroy it.

Even nature itself, which seems so solid, which can be so beautiful and magnificent, and which seems so sure and certain, it too is coming to an end.  The sun and moon and stars will fall out of the sky.  Earthquakes, and tsunami, and tornados, and hurricanes, all show us how rent apart creation itself is by sin.  Every shooting star and every eclipse is a reminder that even the heavens will be shaken and fall apart.  The heavenly bodies are not gods.  They are creatures.  And they suffer along with you and all mankind the curse and consequences of sin.

Consequently, you will not discover or find the God of your salvation in the natural world of His good creation; not apart from the revelation and preaching of His Word.  Rather, what you find in nature, apart from the Gospel, is the God of power and might who judges the living and the dead.  And if you are out from under Christ, you will not stand in that judgment.

There is nothing that man can do to forestall it, much less to prevent it.  Man can only hasten the coming of that great and terrible day with his wars and his bloodshed, his anarchy and murder.  From playground squabbles to world wars, this is what we people are like.  We go at each other.  We hurt each other.  You hurt even those who are closest and dearest to you.

Even the Church on earth — though it is the place of Christ’s abode, the home where the Lord comes to make His dwelling with you, where He causes His Name and His Glory to abide — yes, even the Church on earth must finally give way to the Kingdom of heaven, to the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells in the risen Body of Christ Jesus.

Impressive architecture, well-crafted furnishings, and beautiful artwork, all of these things are fine and good.  But the day will come when all of them will perish.  They are temporary.  They will not help or save you on Judgment Day.  Their place and purpose for now is rather to confess Christ, to catechize you in His Gospel, and to honor His Name, His Body, and His Blood in this place.

Do not take comfort in knowing that your name is on the books.  Do not take comfort in your confirmation, however many years ago that was.  Do not pride yourself in the faithfulness of your church attendance or in your piety.  Even these good things can become distractions, as the Temple in Jerusalem became a distraction to God’s people of old.

Anything other than Christ, who speaks to you in His Word and gives to you Himself in His Sacraments — anything else that you fear, love, and trust, other than Him, is a false god and idol.

So, what do you think or suppose?  By what do you presume to be saved?  Your life in this world is precarious, and that is at its best.  It is on a crash course with oblivion.  How, then, will you keep your bearings and survive?  Where shall you find any hope or any help?

Some people go looking for it in alcohol.  But that is not the answer.  And some people go looking for it in debauchery and licentiousness, in loose living and fast times.  But that won’t save you, either.  That will only hasten your own demise.

You are tempted and inclined to look for life and salvation, protection and safety in all the wrong places.  But you will not find any of this anywhere else than the Gospel of Christ the Crucified.

Now, many of the temptations that present themselves to you masquerade as angels of light, as does Satan himself, with his lying and murdering day and night under the guise of righteousness, wisdom, and the best of intentions.  There are many temptations that come to you claiming to be the very Christ Himself.  But do not be deceived by them!  Do not follow after any other lord.

Hear and heed the Word of Christ, your Savior and your God.  For His Word alone lights your way and reveals the truth, and leads you and guides you in the righteousness of faith and love.

Confess His Word.  Speak what is true, as the Lord has spoken to you.  Say it out loud, and thereby honor the Lord your God, and spite the devil, and strengthen your own faith and confidence in the Gospel of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  For His Word, even on your lips, is not powerless but living and life-giving.  His Word is true, though all men be liars.

His Word is truer than your own heart and mind, which are fallen and lie to you and deceive you and distract you with a pretense of certainty and wisdom.  In the midst of all the chaos and confusion, His Word is the Truth, which not only informs you of facts but actually does what He says and gives what He promises.  For His Word is Spirit and Life.

The signs of the end — signs of the end in the world around you, and signs of the end in your own mortal body and life, as it is all wearing out and dying — all of these signs of the end call you to repent.  And that is a good and necessary thing.  It is the good and gracious work of God.  For the Lord does not allow you to go skating or sailing through this mortal life on earth unhindered, lest your heart and your mind be turned away from Him to the cares and occupations of this world.

Repent, therefore, of your misplaced faith and worship.  Turn away from your false belief, despair, and shameful vice, and lift up your head and your heart unto Christ Jesus in faith.  Fear, love, and trust in Him, for He is faithful.  All that He has promised, He will do.  He cannot deny Himself.

Hear and heed His Word of the Law.  Realize and recognize your sins.  Despair of all of your false gods and your false hopes.  But do not remain in despair.  Rather, hear and heed the Word of the Gospel, the Word of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, who forgives you all your sins, strengthens your faith, and gives to you His own divine life in body and soul for now and forever.

The Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed you from sin, death, and hell by His holy and precious Blood, and even now He comes to save you with all the benefits of His Cross and Resurrection.

The great Christian author, C. S. Lewis, married a woman late in life; fell in love with her; and was devastated when she died from cancer early on.  He was stricken with grief.  And he was angry, angry with God.  And he had questions.  He could not understand how God, who is supposed to be loving and caring and merciful, would allow such a tragedy to happen in his life.  Why, oh, why does God allow sickness at all?  Why does there have to be this suffering, this pain, and this death?

C. S. Lewis wondered out loud about all of those things, and he wrote them down in a little book, A Grief Observed.  I recommend it to you.  For he did not remain with his doubts and fears and questions.  The Word and Spirit of God brought him through all of that to look at life in the light of the Cross.  That is where he was given his answers.  How could he call God into question, who allows us to suffer, since God Himself has also suffered for us?

Consider that.  The great and terrible judgment of God, His righteous wrath against the sins of the world, all of His punishment, the death and damnation that you and the entire world deserve — all of that has been suffered by God, the Son of God, in His own flesh and blood like yours.  All the signs of the end have been fulfilled in Him, in His Body on the Cross.

So it is that you are not abandoned under the Cross.  You are not alone there.  And you need not be destroyed by the Cross, leastwise not forever.  For it not only puts you to death but also raises you up with Christ.  In and with the Cross, Christ Himself is with you to save you.

He has suffered all, even the death and destruction of the Cross.  He has endured the judgment of God, and He has satisfied it.  There is, therefore, no condemnation for you in Him.  All of your sins are forgiven.  Every last one of them, they are all forgiven.  The Lord your God does not count or consider them against you, nor does He permit you to suffer the eternal consequences of your sins.  For the Son of God has made Atonement for them all.  Therefore, not death but life reigns over you in His love for you, in the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.

And because He has voluntarily gone down that road for you, He is also now with you, a very present help in trouble, precisely in the midst of suffering, persecution, hardship, and adversity.  He is not far away from you as you bear and carry the Cross.  He is with you especially there!  Not to remain in sorrow forever, but to raise you up with Himself unto His God and Father in heaven.

See here, the green leaves and the good fruit of the true Fig Tree, the planting of the Lord.  His Body and His Blood, these are the sacred and the salutary Produce of His Cross.  And these tell you that the everlasting summer and the sunshine of His Love and of His Kingdom are at hand.

You cannot see it with your eyes.  Not yet.  For now it is by faith that you know the Truth, because His Word and Spirit have told you that He comes to you, here and now, in the humility and weakness of the means of grace, which are the first fruits of creation’s redemption, and of your redemption, in order to bring you with Himself through suffering and death into the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.  This is most certainly true!  Amen, Amen, it shall be so!

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

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