20 November 2016

Today You Shall Be with Me in Paradise

Do you not fear God?  For you also will die, whether today, or tomorrow, or later.  And then will come the final judgment when you should rightly be condemned and punished for all of your sins of thought, word, and deed.

Of course it is true, by the grace of God, that you do not despise and mock your dear Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, you love Him, and you follow Him, and you pray to Him who is your Savior.  But is your devotion to Him ordered by His Word and Holy Spirit in repentant faith?  Or do you weep over Him in all the wrong ways, for all the wrong reasons?

It is entirely possible, and altogether too common, to be all worked up and emotional about Jesus, and yet to be all mixed up and wrong headed about Him.  In fact, notwithstanding your prideful self-confidence, getting it right is beyond your ability.  What you imagine or feel about Jesus in your head or in your heart will mislead you and deceive you apart from His Word.

True religion is neither esoteric nor impractical.  It’s not about mushy good feelings, nor is it an opiate for the masses.  Rather, it informs and gives significant meaning to your entire life, to who you are and what you do, like nothing else can.  But true religion depends upon the one true God, on knowing Him rightly and living before Him in faith and love.  And none of this is within your power, wisdom, reason, or strength.  You can neither do it, nor can you even understand it.

The one true God is entirely present and fully revealed in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus.  In this humble and humiliated Man on His way to die.  In this convicted Criminal being executed by the governing authorities.  You do not have the Lord your God anywhere else than Him.  Nor can you find Him anywhere else, but only by way of His Cross and Passion.

It is by and from His Cross that the true and only God reigns over you in love as your King.

But look around you.  Look at the world around you.  Look at your home and family.  Examine your own heart and life.  And consider how often it is, that there is no king in Israel!  Not that He’s not around.  He’s there alright, the true King, hanging on the Tree in shame and bitter woe.  But who recognizes Him or reverences Him there?  Who acknowledges the King upon His Throne?

See what they do to Him.  See what you and your sins do to this King, and to His Tree, so green and full of life with His Body upon it.  What then shall become of a tree that is dry and lifeless?

And what sort of tree are you?  Are you living and fruitful?  Or are you dried up and dead?

When you recognize that it is God who hangs naked on the Tree of the Cross for you; that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Him, as He is nailed through His hands and feet, crowned with thorns, pierced and wounded, beaten, bruised, and bleeding.  That He dies in love for you.  That God is there, hungering and thirsty.  That God is despised and afflicted, mocked and scorned.  That God is accursed by and because of your sins, for your idolatry and unbelief.  That God suffers the judgment and condemnation that you rightly deserve. . . .

When you realize and consider that, not only is God here crucified for you, but it is only by His Cross, by His innocent suffering and death, that He reveals Himself and gives Himself to you — and you have God nowhere else than there — then you will also see Him and serve Him in His poor and lowly and despised children and disciples.  You will recognize that God your Savior has identified Himself with the homeless and the hungry, with the persecuted and the imprisoned, with the bedraggled and beleaguered, and with those who are thirsty and in need of all kinds of help.

Do not weep for Jesus, nor presume to shed any tears for Him, while you turn a cold shoulder and a deaf ear to your neighbors, even to the least of them who are your Lord’s brothers and sisters.

Weep rather for yourself, and for your sins, and for your unbelief.  Weep also for your neighbor in loving compassion, and then, what is more, do what you can to be of help and service to him.

Repent of your sins, and so bear the fruits of true repentance, which are the fruits of the Cross.

Invest yourself, your time, your treasures, and your talents, your wisdom, reason, and strength — invest all of it, everything that you are and all that you have, in bearing and confessing the Cross of your Lord Jesus Christ.  Speak the Word of His Cross as the very Truth of God, which puts to shame the supposed truth and wisdom of the world, and which also crucifies and puts to shame your own supposed wisdom, cleverness, and skills.  And as you speak, so also take up the Cross and carry it in love for your Lord and for those He has placed around you in this body and life.

By faith in Christ, by your Baptism into Him, you are a daughter of Jerusalem, a son of Abraham, indeed, a child of God.  And you are called to live a holy life according to His Word, which is to say, by the divine wisdom of His Cross and Passion.  What that is going to mean, and what that is going to look like in your life, will differ from the Cross that your neighbor is given to carry.  But each and every Christian is governed and guided by the Cross of Christ.  You are called to follow Him on the Way of the Cross within your own context and in all of your relationships, using whatever talents the Lord has provided to fulfill your duties to the glory of His holy Name.

The real meaning and the true purpose of your life are found in Christ the Crucified.  Not in what you do and accomplish for yourself, as though to advance your own agenda, but in what you receive from Him by the Ministry of His grace and so hand over to your neighbor in love.  In this way you honor Christ and His Sacrifice.  You love as He loves.  As His Kingdom comes to you in the mercy of His Gospel, so does His Kingdom come in mercy to your neighbor through you.

Do not dream that it is up to you to pick and choose where and how, or even if and when, you will live by such faith and serve your neighbor in love.  You are called to do so wherever the Lord has placed you, by whatever ways and means He has entrusted to your stewardship.

You are a servant of the King and a citizen of His Kingdom.  You are not a free agent, a neutral country, an independent nation, or an island unto yourself.  His Word is your Law, no less so than His Word is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation.  Hear it and heed it, believe it, and obey it.

Live in the confidence that He is the true King who reigns over you in love, with mercy upon you, and with forgiveness for all your sins.  By His Cross, He has redeemed you, purchased and won you for His very own, that you should live with Him in His Kingdom forever and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  He has become your King, not to enslave or burden you, but to set you free from sin, death, and the devil, and to give you peace and rest.

Unlike the rulers of this world, He is the Lord and King whose glory it is to give you life and to bestow His generous gifts upon you.  His almighty power is manifest in showing mercy and pity — perfected in His own voluntary weakness, in His innocent suffering and death on your behalf.

You rightly call Him your Master, and you reverence Him as your Sovereign.  But consider and take to heart that He is here among you according to His good and gracious will, according to His mercy, and has become your Servant.  He has not come to be served, but to serve you with His own Body and Life: in His death upon the Cross, once for all, and now in the Ministry of His Gospel, for the forgiveness of your sins, for your righteousness and salvation.  And the fact that He chooses freely to do so in love for you, that is His greatness, that is His glory.  It is the manifestation of His divinity as the one true God in His own true Flesh and Blood, and of His divine Royalty.

The great green Tree of Christ the King, which sinful man has presumed to destroy, has borne all the more abundant fruit in His death.  The leaves of His Tree are forgiveness for the healing of the nations, and the Body and Blood that it bears are given and poured out for you and for the many for life and salvation with Him, both now and forever.

It is by this Tree of the Cross — planted among you by the Lord Himself, by the preaching of His Gospel — it is by this Tree from which He reigns over you and over His New Israel, the Church — it is by this Tree of the Cross that Paradise has truly been restored and fulfilled forevermore.

Today, He is with you, and you are with Him in that Paradise, in the Kingdom of His grace, on earth as it is in heaven.  Take, eat.  Drink.  Your King here feeds you at His royal Table and pours out for you His royal Cup.  Do not weep, daughter of Jerusalem.  Do not weep, son of Abraham.  Rather, rejoice, give thanks, and sing!  For Christ your King remembers you, and He saves you.

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

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