23 November 2016

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving in Christ

It truly is meet, right, and salutary that you should at all times, and in all places, and for all things, give thanks to your God and Father in heaven through your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to Him, first of all, for His most precious gift, that is, for the Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins, and then also for every other good thing that you have.  For all of the blessings in your life are bestowed upon you for the sake of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.

In love for you, He has gone out of His way to seek you out and save you.  In making His way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world, He deliberately goes out of His way to tread upon the ground of Gentiles, pagans, Samaritans, strangers and aliens.  He goes out of His way to seek and to save the lost.  He goes looking for you, who once were nobody at all, but now, because He has found you and called you to Himself, you are a child of God and one of His dear people.

He has come for this purpose, in order to have mercy upon you.  When you pray, “Lord, have mercy,” you discover that He is already answering that petition.  For He is Mercy in the Flesh, in Person.  He has come to have mercy upon you, and in His mercy to save you from sin and from death, and from all that troubles and attacks you, from your great enemy, the devil, from your own old Adam, and from the sinful world around you.  He has come to set you free.

He’s come to do it by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death in the flesh, bearing your sins in His Body.  And all good things He has granted to you in His bodily Resurrection from the dead.  His salvation is not a disembodied “spiritual” existence, but a resurrection of your body and life in Him, that you should live forever in both body and soul with your God and Father in heaven.

Everything that you need for both body and soul, for this life and for the life everlasting, all of it is from Jesus, and through Jesus, and in Jesus, in His crucified and risen Body.  And it all depends on His forgiveness of sins.  You are worthy of none of those things that you need and for which you pray.  He gives them to you solely by His grace, or you do not receive them at all.  His grace must necessarily forgive your sins, if you are to have life at all instead of the death you deserve.

Upon that forgiveness of God, which is in Christ Jesus your Lord, everything else depends.

It is for this reason that Christ has come, and by His death He has achieved the forgiveness of all your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He’s reconciled the world to God.  And so it is that, even though the world does not know Him or recognize Him or want anything to do with Him, it carries on for now by His grace, eating and drinking, living and breathing, all on account of His Cross, because of the atoning sacrifice of His death in the place of sinners everywhere.  It is likewise for the sake of His Cross that all things are yours in Him.

Whatever it is you need, look to God in Christ to receive it.  Pray to your Father in Jesus’ Name, that is to say, trusting Him who is your Savior, who has given Himself for you.  Do not suppose that any aspect of your life is removed from His gracious care.  Do not suppose that any petition is too small or too great.  For you are precious to the Lord your God through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Are you afraid for your job or for your income?  For your savings or your pension?  Pray that God would be merciful to you and provide for all of your needs.  Are you worried about your health, or about the health of your family?  Pray to your Father in heaven in Jesus’ Name, and trust that He will give healing according to His good and gracious will for your salvation.

Are you worried about your children, as to what they will do and what will become of them?  Are you worried about your friends, whether they love you, or whether they will turn their backs on you and leave?  Are you worried about the government or the country and where it’s all headed?

Whatever your worries and concerns, Pray.  That is what Christians do.  That is what faith does.  It cries out, “Lord, have mercy! Kyrie, eleison!”  That is the prayer of the lepers.  And hear how Jesus responds.  He looks upon them.  He sees them in mercy.  And He answers their prayer.  He sends them on their way, and as they go, according to His Word, they are cleansed.

So also for you.  By the Word of Christ you are cleansed, inside and out, for now and forever.  For He is the Good Physician of both soul and body.  Therefore, trust in Him.  Pray to Him in the hope of His mercy, and wait upon Him in peace.  Rely upon Him for all that you need.

It is unto that fear, love, and trust in Christ Jesus that your Father in heaven disciplines you in love.  Not to discourage or destroy you, nor to cause you pain, but rather to increase your faith and trust in Christ.  He would thus teach you how to live, because He would not have you die.

He teaches you to call upon His Name, to petition Him for mercy.  And so also to intercede for others.  For your own family and your friends.  For your neighbors, even for your enemies and those who hurt you.  And especially for your fellow Christians, your brothers and sisters in Christ.

You pray and intercede for the world and for all people in the confidence that God desires every one of them to be saved.  And you do so in the certainty of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

And with that prayer and petition, because His grace and mercy are so certain, and because God gave His Son to save the world and raised Him from the dead, it is indeed meet, right, and salutary that you should also give Him thanks and praise.  Not only when times are good, but at all times, both good and bad.  At the end of every day, no matter what calamity has struck, Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.  He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  And He will not desert you.  He is faithful, and His Word and promises are true.  Your prayers are surely heard and answered in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, the answer to all that you ask of Him has already been granted by the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection from the dead.

You hear and receive God’s resounding “Yes!” and “Amen!” to your every need and your every petition in the crucified and risen Body of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God.  By His Cross all is finished.  In His Resurrection from the dead, all is fulfilled.

His Body of flesh and blood like yours, crucified for your transgressions and raised for your justification, is the First Fruits of the New Creation.  It is in His Body that we look forward to a New Heavens and New Earth, the Home where righteousness dwells.  For in His Resurrection from the dead, all of creation has been redeemed and sanctified and is set free from the bondage of sin and death.  Everything is made brand new, beautiful, gracious, and lovely in the Body of Christ.

It is in His Body and with His holy and precious Blood that He lives and reigns forever as your merciful and great High Priest according to the power of His indestructible Life.  There’s nothing that can destroy Him.  And as you are in Him by His grace, there is nothing that can destroy you.

You receive everything that you need in your dear Lord, Jesus Christ.  In His Word to you.  And in His Body and His Blood, which are your sure and certain Anchor behind the Veil, within the true Holy of Holies, eternal in the heavens, yet also given and poured out for you here at His Altar in His Church on earth, that you might eat and drink and abide in Him, as He thus abides in you.

And though you may wonder how this may help, or if it even matters, it helps in every way.  For God has taken a body like your own.  He has allowed Himself to be subjected to suffering and death and every evil, and to the righteous judgment of His own Law.  He has been tempted in every way that you are.  He has endured the infirmities of mortal flesh and blood.  He has gotten tired.  He knows what a hard day’s work is like, and then some!  He knows what it feels like to hunger and to thirst, and to have nowhere to lay His head.  He knows what it is like to be abandoned by His friends, to be rejected by His own, to be spit upon and mocked and ridiculed and scorned.  He has taken all of this sorrow and has borne it in His flesh, and He has dealt with it all by His death.

And from death He has been vindicated.  He has overcome.  He has risen from the dead, just as He said.  And with that very flesh and blood by which He has overcome sin, death, the devil, and hell, He feeds you in your own flesh.  How could He love you more clearly and dearly than that?  And how could He grant you His Salvation more profoundly and intimately than that?  For your body He has died and risen, and to your body He gives His own Life.

Get you then to that good Priest in His Sacrament of the Altar!  For His Holy Supper is the heart and center of God’s Kingdom among you.  Do you want to know where to find God?  He is here.  Do you want to know where and how to worship Him and give Him thanks?  It is especially here.

That is, in many ways, the main point to this beautiful story that St. Luke has recorded.  And the Samaritan gets it.  But note that all ten men went at the Word of Jesus, and they were all healed.  Do not suppose the other nine were faithless and unbelieving.  They did what Jesus said and went to the priest.  They were cleansed by the rites and ceremonies that God had given through Moses.

The Samaritan, however, by the grace of God, recognized and understood something deeper, something even more profound.  By the Word and Spirit of the Lord, He perceived that the Temple of God was now to be found in the Body of Christ Jesus; that he would praise and glorify God by prostrating himself at the feet of Jesus; and that, in giving thanks to Jesus, he was thanking God.  For God is in the Flesh of Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, dwelling among you bodily.

He is not far away and far removed from you.  He has drawn near.  In His Holy Supper is where God is in your midst as your merciful High Priest, as the true Temple, and as the Sacrifice once offered for the sins of the world, now distributed to His people as their real Food and real Drink.

Here is where He gives you salvation.  Here is where He gives you His indestructible Life.  So that, even if cancer eats away at your flesh, and even if Alzheimer’s takes your mind, and whatever other ailments may destroy your body, they still cannot win.  For you shall rise, since God has put His own Flesh into yours.  The One who has risen from the dead shall raise you up with Himself.

The Altar from which Christ gives you His Body and Blood is thus also the place of thanksgiving.  That is why the Church from the earliest days has described the Holy Communion as the Eucharist, which is simply the Greek word for thanksgiving, the very thing that Samaritan offered to Jesus.

In receiving His good gifts, you give Him thanks especially in this place.  But not only here.  You live your whole life to and from this Altar, to and from the Body and Blood of Jesus.  As He feeds you, give Him thanks, and then also go your way — stand up and go — in thanksgiving to Him.

Nothing really characterizes the entire Christian life better than to give thanks to God in Christ for all His gifts and benefits.  To give thanks under all circumstances, at all times, and in all places.  To give thanks even when everything is falling apart.  To give thanks, even in the face of sin and death, is to confess and rejoice that Christ is risen indeed, and that you shall not die but live.

Go about your life in that thanksgiving, in that confidence of faith, in that hope of Christ which shall not disappoint you.  Do what you are given to do.  Do it not to receive thanks from God or man, but do it in thanksgiving to Him who is your Savior and your God by His grace alone.  Do it in thanksgiving to Him who forgives you all your sins and heals all of your diseases and gives you life everlasting.  For He is with you, and He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Your whole life can be one of thanksgiving because of Him.  And take heart that He remains sure and steadfast for you, even when your gratitude falters and your lips and tongue grow silent.  He remains faithful.  He remains forever the One who has been sacrificed to God on your behalf, so that, by His grace, you might be raised up with Him in His Resurrection and live forever in Him.

Here, then, receive His good gifts.  Be cleansed and healed by His Word and Holy Spirit, by His Body and His Blood.  For He is your all-merciful Savior, and to Him belongs all glory, honor, thanks, and praise, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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