24 February 2017

His Works Do Follow After Him

The Lord Jesus has not called you to be lazy.  He has not called you to be idle.  He has called you to rest in Him, and to find peace and comfort in Him, even as you work and do your job.  Learning from Him, and following Him, you bear the Cross in love for your neighbor within your own proper vocation, your own proper office and station in life, to which God Himself has called you.

Being a Christian is not an early retirement or a permanent vacation.  Being a Christian does not involve abandoning your occupations and responsibilities.  It does not relieve you of your duties and obligations in relation to your family, to your job, to your schoolwork or your chores.  You rather do all of these things with a new heart, mind, and spirit, which rest in Christ by faith in His Gospel, while you work and serve and labor with your hands and body in the world.

You know how there are jobs which would normally be routine and easy for you, but, depending on your mood, they may seem especially tedious and burdensome.  Whereas other days a quite challenging and difficult task may be invigorating and joyful, and you may find great satisfaction in working hard and doing it well.  In a similar way, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not so much in the works they do, but rather in the attitude of heart, mind, and spirit.

A Christian may at times work much harder than someone who does not love the Lord Jesus or know the Father in Christ, and yet the Christian is at peace and finds joy and satisfaction in the gifts of God.   He may give thanks for his blood, sweat, and tears, because he knows where he stands before God, that his life is in Christ Jesus.  Whereas the non-Christian may go about his job half-heartedly, or he may work at it very hard, but, either way, his heart does not rest, and his mind has no peace, because he does not know God rightly; he does not trust the grace of God in Christ.

Again, the Lord has not called you to laziness or idleness, but to rest in Him by faith, and to work in love, to bear the Cross, not as though to save yourself, but rather to serve your neighbor.  As a mother feeds and cares for her children, not to save herself, but for her children’s sake, so do you work to love and serve your neighbor.  And in this way, God gives good gifts to your neighbor.

In the end, none of your works can save you, no matter how many or impressive they may be.  Not by working smarter, and not by working harder.  Your works cannot save you.  Not just because you are too weak, or because you are not trying hard enough, but because the Lord your God has never intended that you (or anyone else) should save yourself by your own works.

What, then, is the point?  Why do you work at all?  Why must you strive and labor and work, and punch a clock, and do your homework, if none of these efforts can save you?  That is the thinking of your sinful flesh, and of your sinful, selfish heart, mind, and spirit, by which you think only of yourself and your own benefit.  With every challenge and opportunity, you calculate the cost, the risk, and the potential “return on your investment,” with no regard for the Lord or your neighbor.

But this is not the point or purpose of your life or your labor.  The point is simply to love, as the Lord your God loves you.  For He has created you in love for life with Himself.  He has created you for love: To be loved, and to love in return, both the Lord and the neighbor He has given you.

You know your Father in heaven and come to Him through Jesus Christ, His Son.  Not by your own ingenuity or cleverness.  Not by your own strength.  Not by any effort or accomplishment of yours.  But by the Love of God, by the grace of His Gospel, His forgiveness of all of your sins.

God is your Father, and He gives you His good gifts, not because you deserve them, but because He loves you for Christ Jesus’ sake.  Not because you are so strong, but even though you are so small and so weak.  Not because you are so grown up and mature, but as you truly are, an infant or toddler, a babe or young child in the presence of the Lord.  He cares for you, feeds you and provides for you, forgives you all your sins, and saves you for eternal life, because He loves you.  And so it is for the sake of His love, in Christ Jesus, that you also work to serve your neighbor.

You do not work to save yourself, because, again, your works cannot save you, and you cannot save yourself.  You are not God, you are His creature.  He has called you into being out of nothing.  Your very existence depends upon His love for you, His utter charity.  There is nothing you can do to master or control Him.  There is nothing you can do even to know Him, to find Him or come to Him, except as He in love makes Himself known to you and gives Himself to you in Christ.

But you are His creature, and as such, the Lord does not despise the good gifts He has given you, not even His temporal gifts of this body and life.  Your intellect and reason, your strength and skill, your talents and abilities of heart, mind, and body are not for nothing.  The Lord your God, who gave them to you, does not despise or disregard them.  Nor should you.  It is only that you are not supposed to use these things to find Him, or to save yourself.  That would not work.  But you are to use the gifts of God to find your neighbor and to serve your neighbor in love.

That is what Christ has done for you.  He has labored in perfect faith toward His God and Father, and in perfect love toward you, His neighbor.  He has nothing to gain for Himself, but He does it for you and your salvation.  He loves you and He works for you because He knows and loves the Father in heaven.  And for that reason, He bears the burden of your sin and death in His own Body to the Cross.  In Him you behold what gentleness, humility, and kindness truly are, and you learn that such grace and mercy are the glory of God.  And they are the glory of His children, as well.

The Cross and Passion of Christ Jesus are His yoke and burden, which He bears for you and for all in faith and love.  But how on earth is that by any means a “light” and “easy” thing?

It is not a light and easy yoke or burden for your mortal body of flesh and blood.  His suffering was painful and real, even unto death, and so also for you and all His disciples, who are called to take up His Cross and follow Him.  But it is a light and easy yoke to bear within your heart, mind, and spirit before God, by faith in His Gospel, when you know and trust His forgiveness of sins, His Resurrection and His Righteousness, and His promise of eternal life with Him in body and soul.

The Lord Jesus bore the Cross and suffered death in the confidence that His Father would raise Him from the dead, vindicate Him, and glorify Him forever at His Right Hand — and that by His Cross and Resurrection He would atone for your sins, reconcile you and all the world to His God and Father, and open the Kingdom of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him.  That was the joy that was set before Him, for which His yoke was “easy” and His burden was “light.”  And so also for those who follow Him, who live and love and work and suffer by faith in Him.

Think of the holy martyrs, among whom St. Matthias has been counted, along with most of the Apostles and countless other Christians.  Even the pagans marveled at the way these faithful men, women, and children went bravely to suffering and death.  They forgave those who hurt them.  They were at peace.  They suffered great cruelty against themselves rather than forsake the Lord.

Their peace and rest, their light and easy yoke and burden, was not that which their bodies bore and suffered.  It was the peace in their heart, and the rest that Jesus gave to their souls through the forgiveness of their sins, the gift of free and full salvation by His grace, and the sure and certain hope and promise of the Resurrection in His own crucified and risen Body.

That is your peace and rest also.  For you also are a Christian.  You are baptized into Christ.  You take up the Cross and follow Him as a disciple.  And you are able to labor and work, to hurt, and to suffer, as though it were a light and easy burden, because you are in Christ, and He abides in you with His Spirit.  Thus are you uplifted by His Gospel, and so shall you not die but live in Him.

Are you weary?  Are you burdened?  Are you hard pressed and sorrowful?  Come to Christ and rest in His Peace.  Not by your own reason or strength, but by His Word and Spirit, as He and all His gifts are here poured out for you and given into your hands by the Ministry of His Gospel.

How do you come to Him?  He is already here.  He has ascended on high, to the Right Hand of His Father, not to leave you, but to give good gifts to His Church on earth.  And first among those gifts are the holy Apostles, including St. Matthias.  Men who preached the Gospel.  Men who baptized in the Name of Jesus.  Men who fed His disciples with His own Body and Blood.  And the promise is for you and for your children.  For babies in the womb, and infants at the breast, and toddlers, and teenagers, and for all of the children of God in every age and season of life.

He gives good gifts to His Church.  He gives good gifts to you.  He cares for you.  He cares for His own.  In the same way that you are called and given to take care of your family, to work hard for the sake of love so that others may be served through your efforts, so has Christ given His Church, and your pastors, and your neighbors to love and serve you.  As a mother feeds her child, and as a father cares for his children, so does Christ care for you, and so does His Church also feed you.

See how His Church, His Body, is poured out in love.  And then consider the contrast to be found in the tragic example of Judas.  Called to be a disciple.  Ordained as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But he turned aside from the House that Jesus built, to go to his own place, to take his own life, to be buried in the dirt.  It would have been better for that man if he had never been born.

St. Luke records that his intestines or his bowels gushed out, this one who betrayed the Lord Jesus and handed Him over for cash.  Yet, the same Lord Jesus Christ has handed Himself over in love.  His own bowels or intestines have churned with divine compassion for you and all people, even for His enemies, so that He sacrificed Himself and poured Himself out for the redemption of the world.  With His innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, He has purchased you, and won you for Himself, and made a place for you with His God and Father in heaven.

That is why, even though you die, yet shall you live.  That is why those who live in the Lord rest from their labors.  So shall it be at the last in their bodies, especially in the resurrection of the dead, but already do they have peace and rest in heart, mind, and spirit, by faith in the Gospel.

You also have that peace and rest.  It is yours both now and forever.  Your body shall rest at last, as your soul already rests in Christ.  And so do we remember and give thanks for St. Matthias and all the faithful departed, who now rest from all their labors.  They are not forgotten, neither by the Lord nor by His Church, for the Holy Spirit testifies that their works do follow after them.  Their works do not precede them or lead them into heaven, but their good works of faith and love do follow after them in Christ.  And so do your works follow after you by faith in Christ Jesus.

Indeed, you are Christ’s workmanship — you are His good work, a new creation by His Word and Holy Spirit — recreated in His Image for such good works as glorify your Father in heaven.  So do you now follow after Him, through death and the grave, into the Resurrection and eternal Life.

You shall be with Him where He is, forever and ever, because He is here for you, even now.  He has come to give you peace and rest with His Body and His Blood, which are given and poured out for your body and your soul, for the forgiveness of all your sins, and for the Life everlasting.

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

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