16 April 2017

Forgiveness of Sins, Life and Salvation

It is the Lord Jesus Christ who has risen indeed on this Day, this Jesus who was crucified.  And because He is the One who was crucified for you, the One who suffered and died in your place, His Resurrection is also your resurrection, that you should live with Him in His place.

And these good things that we celebrate today, which you have heard and know concerning Jesus of Nazareth, are all rooted in Baptism.  There was St. John’s preaching and Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, to which the Lord Jesus submitted Himself.  And there is the Baptism that you have received in His Name.  That is where the strange and dreadful strife of death and life is engaged, unto the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus.  And the victory remains with life.

It was in His Baptism that Jesus took your sins, and therefore your death, upon Himself.  It is in your Baptism that you receive His Resurrection and His Life through His forgiveness of your sins.  The very forgiveness that Christ Jesus has obtained for you and all by His Cross, He gives to you in Holy Baptism.  And as the consequence of sin is death, so the consequence of forgiveness is life.

It was sin that brought death into the world.  It was sin that brought Christ Jesus to death and the grave.  And His Resurrection is thus an open declaration that sin has been dealt with and forgiven.

In the meantime, the world has decided that death is just another stage in life; that death is natural.  The world preaches that death comes to all, so you just have to accept it and face it when it comes.  Live it up while you can.  Take care of yourself, or don’t; either way, you’re going to die.

That is true to a point.  But it is a lie that death is any part of life.  Not so.  Nor is death natural.  It is rather the curse and consequence of sin.  Sin has invaded and infected God’s good gift of life.  Sin has corrupted and twisted God’s good creation in this natural world.

But the violator has been violated by the voluntary sacrifice of Christ.  Sin has been atoned for, sinners redeemed, and death defeated by His death.  The world is reconciled to God and all things are made new in His Resurrection from the dead, in His crucified and risen Body.  It was a strange and dreadful strife, which went to the core of creation.  But it was finally no contest.  Death bit off more than it could chew and found its teeth and jaws broken and smashed into pieces by Christ.

So the stone is rolled away with a shuddering of the earth, because Christ cannot be held within the tomb.  And neither can you.

You cannot and will not be held in the tomb, because you belong to this Jesus who was crucified, who has risen, just as He said.  You are His disciple.  You are His brother.  You are His friend.  And all that He has done, he has done it for you.  So death doesn’t get to keep you either.

But that’s not yet what you experience in your life on this earth, is it?  The contending of death with life continues within your body and in the world all around you.  There is still the shaking and quaking of the earth beneath your feet, and of your heart and mind within you.

Your family and friends are dying, sometimes in old age, sometimes in youth, and sometimes even in the womb.  And you mourn with those who still remain, even as you are confronted with the fact of your own mortality — which is, at rock bottom, the daily accusation of your sin.  Suffering, sickness, sorrow, and death are all reminders that your life, your thoughts, your words, and your deeds are not what they should be.  You do not live as the faithful disciple, the beloved brother, or the faithful friend of Jesus that you are called to be, and that you ought to be.

You don’t love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with all your mind and all your strength.  You don’t hunger for His Word every day.  You don’t call upon His Name in every circumstance with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  You do not worship Him as you ought.

And you do not love your neighbor as yourself.  You carry grudges, chips on your shoulder.  You allow bitterness and resentment to eat away at you, sometimes for years on end.  You turn a cold shoulder to those who need you.  You turn your back on those you could and should befriend.

You live in fear because, by and with your sins, you still live to that extent in unbelief.  You resort to your idols instead of your Lord.  For though Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, you act as though He has not.  Or as though it made no difference.

But His Cross and Resurrection do make all the difference in the world.  So does the way that you think and speak and act.  I won’t tell you that it finally doesn’t matter, because actually it does.

When you live in the fear of unbelief, then, just like those guards, you’re as good as dead.  And isn’t that ironic?  The dead Man they were supposed to be guarding gets up and walks away, while those guards become like dead men.  Yet, that is how it really is for those who persist in sin and unbelief.  You’re as good as dead, even while you’re walking around doing your thing.  You’re afraid.  You have no peace, within or without.  And you do not love your neighbor as you should.

Christ Jesus be praised that He has not left you without help or recourse.  Indeed, He Himself has become your Strength and your Song, because He has become your Salvation.  Although He has risen from the dead and ascended to the Right Hand of His Father, and though for now you cannot see Him, take heart that He has not forgotten you.  He has not abandoned you.

He has gone on ahead of you, that is true, but He has not left you behind in the dust to languish on your own, to make it on your own.  Though you cannot see Him with your eyes, He’s really not far away from you.  In fact, He is not absent from you at all.  Lo, He is with you always.  He is a very present help in trouble — especially within His holy Christian Church.

Have you heard how the women took hold of His feet?  Maybe that seems odd to you.  That’s not how you would normally greet someone.  But the precious feet of Jesus are beautiful feet.  It is with those feet that He has trod death and the devil into the dirt; that He has crushed the serpent’s head once and for all.  And it is with those feet that Jesus comes to preach the Gospel to you.

Wherever in the world He causes that Gospel to be preached, there He plants His feet.  There He is with you, and there you can lay hold of Him.  As God once promised to Joshua, that wherever he put his feet, the Lord would give that Land to Israel, so wherever in the world Jesus plants His feet, there the Lord establishes His Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

He plants His feet wherever His Gospel is preached.  Where disciples are made through Baptism and catechesis in His Name.  Where sins are forgiven in His stead.  Where His Body and Blood are given and received in remembrance of Him.  That is the Mountain where Jesus meets you, where you lay hold of Him and worship Him by laying hold of His means of grace in His Church.

And everything depends upon His Word.  Just as everything has happened according to His Word, just as He said, so do His Word and promises remain sure and certain here and now for you.

It is by His Word that Jesus befriends you, even though you haven’t been so friendly.  It is by His Word of the Gospel that Jesus makes of you His disciple, and by His Word that He makes of you His brother, a son of God in Him.  It is by His Word that He keeps you steadfast in the true faith, in spite of your doubts and fears.  So that, even in the midst of death, you live and abide in Him.

It is by His Word, therefore, and not by your own experience, insight, or ingenuity, that you find Jesus — right where He has promised to be with you.  And it is by His Word that you take hold of Him in faith.  And it is by His Word that you worship Him.  For as He preaches to you and calls you to faith, so do you speak.  You confess His Name.  You pray, praise, and give thanks.  And it is by His Word that you speak the Gospel of His Resurrection to your neighbors in the world.

You testify that Christ has forgiven your sins; that He has given you life by His Ministry of the Gospel; and that He has made for you a home and family within His Church.  And you call your neighbor to come and receive all of this, as well, by inviting him or her to come along with you.

Not only with your words, but with your life, in all of your actions, and in all of your relationships, you confess the Gospel of the Resurrection, which is the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation.  You forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, just as you are forgiven by Christ Jesus.

Friends, there is no place in Easter for any refusal to forgive any of your neighbors.  There is no place in Easter for any refusal to be reconciled to one another.  It simply won’t fit.  It won’t work.  For where there is life and salvation in Christ Jesus, there is also the forgiveness of sins.

Christ was crucified for the sins of the world.  They’ve already been put to death and buried with Him, and in His Resurrection all of those sins are forgiven.  Your neighbor’s trespasses, along with your own, have all been put to death and buried with Jesus, and all are forgiven by His holy and precious blood.  This Jesus is risen indeed, and He lives.  Therefore, sin is forgiven, both yours and your neighbor’s.  And that forgiveness is the safe place in which you now live by God’s grace.

Little children have their hidey-holes and treasure troves, their little boxes and special places, where they keep their precious possessions.  Grown-ups do the same thing, too, whether it be in a bank vault, or in lock boxes impervious to fire and flood.  But now consider that Christ Jesus — by His own Cross and Resurrection, in flesh and blood like yours, and by your Baptism into Him — He has hidden your life with Himself in God.  That is where He keeps you safe and sound, now and forever.  Death and the devil can’t touch you there.  They certainly can touch your body, harass your body and life in this world, and even bring you down to the grave — as we have had plenty of examples even in the past couple of weeks.  But they cannot touch your life with Christ in God, nor can they keep your body from rising with Him to the life everlasting in Paradise.

You and your life are safe with Jesus.  You are hidden with Christ in God.  Which means that you are free and clear to love and serve and to forgive your neighbor, no matter what he does to you.

And so shall your crucified and risen Lord Jesus keep you steadfast and secure in His Word and faith, in His Love and His forgiveness, until that day when He calls up your body from this mortal life, from this vale of tears, from the dust of the earth, to live with Him in His Kingdom, both body and soul, forever and ever.  And then your eyes will be able to see Him, your great Redeemer, who died for you and rose again and lives forever.  Your eyes can’t see Him now, but that yet more glorious Day will come when they do.  Then you shall see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him.

Already now you have your Jesus through your ears, in your heart, mind, and body, by His Word.  Hear then what He says to you, and know that His Word to you is true.  As true as He Himself is true — as true as His Cross and Resurrection are true — so are these Words true and for real:

“This Is My Body.  It is given for you.  This Is My Blood.  It is poured out for you.  Take and eat.  Drink.”  These gifts I freely give for the forgiveness of all your sins, so that you should not perish but be saved.  For as I live, so shall you also live, in body and soul, both now and forevermore.

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

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