26 December 2017

The Costly Gift of Forgiveness

You have not let God’s Love have its way with you, and so your love for others has failed.  There are those whom you have hurt, and those whom you have failed to help.  If you have not been the one throwing stones, you have quietly stood by and watched while others have been harmed.

You are certainly not so complacent about your own body and life; nor are you so patient with those who are throwing things at you.  You are rather quick to defend yourself and to retaliate.  You are more ready to call down vengeance than forgiveness on those who trespass against you.

Yet, to withhold forgiveness from your brother or sister; to view your neighbor as your enemy; to hurt instead of help; to speak words of accusation, and to refrain from speaking words of defense, is to call down the wrath and judgment of God.  Not only on your neighbor, but on yourself.  For by the measure and criteria with which you judge your neighbor, you also are measured and weighed.  And by the judgment of the Law, you are found wanting and condemned.

The Lord thus sends His messengers to call you to repentance, to bring you back to Himself in love.  For His heart’s desire is to gather you into His arms, to nestle you under His wings in peace.

It is a gentle life to which He calls you, though His preaching of repentance is not a gentle word to get you there.  On account of your sin, your unbelief, and your idolatry, it is kill or be killed.  You cannot be detached from your false gods without suffering violence at the deepest level.

So you are put to death by the preaching of repentance, or else you put the preacher to death, either with hostility or apathy, with active persecution or passive rejection.  There is no middle ground.

There is a terrible irony in all of this: Unless you die, you cannot live.  But if you live as you want, you bring death upon yourself twice over.  You die either way, but without God you do not live.

The Lord desires to gather you to Himself and to give you life with Himself forever.  But in your native unbelief, you are neither willing nor able to believe in Him or come to Him.  You’re afraid of His Word, because it threatens to undo you — to rip your deep seated idols right out of your heart and life.  So you resort to fight or flight.  You retaliate, or you retreat, but you do not repent.

Deeper and deeper you fall into death and self-destruction, into dark despair and all manner of vice and shame — until the Lord calls you to life and light and salvation by His Word of the Gospel.

Now, His Gospel is the Word of His Cross.  For you come into Life in the presence of God only by the way and the means of His Crucifixion; and in so far as you are His, you also share His Cross and suffering!  So you are not wrong to suppose that He is out to kill you.  You must die to live.

Where, then, is there any safety or protection for you anywhere?  When you feel safe and secure in the world — when you nest yourself in its comforts — you are lost in your own perdition and in grave danger of eternal death.  But there is no other house in which you can live, and no place to lay your head, except in the desolate Temple of the Lord and on the hard wood of His Cross.  Which makes it seem as though everything were utterly lost and hopeless!

The Lord has given exceedingly great and precious promises to those who trust in Him, yet He brings those very things to pass through the narrow passage of suffering and death.  There simply is no life or hope or peace for you here on earth, except that which is under the Cross of Christ.

You love the Lord, and people hate you for it.  You serve the Lord, and the world around you either does not care or pay any attention, or else it despises and ridicules your faithful service.  You serve and care for your neighbor, and he takes it for granted, or he may even spit in your face.

You are a child of God.  You believe and trust in Him.  And you belong to Him.  And yet, for that you are hounded day and night by the lying and murdering devil who hates you.  Then there is this warfare raging in your mortal flesh, a daily battle of temptation.  You are prone to sin and vice, on the one hand, and to hopeless despair on the other hand.  In desperation, you may even lash out at your neighbor, whether he is friend or foe, gnashing your teeth in fear and anger and frustration.

The most dangerous trial and temptation would have you attempt to take and seize for yourself what can only be received by grace through faith in the Gospel.  But only the Lord is able to save you, and He gives you His life only by and with that very Cross which threatens to destroy you!

You cannot escape this crisis.  Repent of your attempts to fight or to flee.  By your own wisdom, reason, and strength, you cannot endure the battle or survive it.  One way or another, you will die.

But now, beloved of the Lord, lift up your head and behold your Redeemer, the crucified One, who is with you.  He is by your side, no less than He is at the right hand of God.  He is here to help and defend you — to die and rise with you — and to bring you with Himself to the Father in heaven.

It is true that He is here with His Cross, which is both death and life for you.  But so it is that you die, not alone, but with Him, and that you also rise and live with Him in body and soul forever.

Everything is determined and defined for you by His Cross.  Listen carefully: It is His Cross.  You cannot understand or celebrate the ChristMass, nor any other aspect of the Christian faith and life, if you do not perceive the heart and center of it all in the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus.

Every stone that you have thrown, He has borne it in His own flesh and bone, in His own Body.  Every sin that you have committed or aided and abetted, He has taken it upon Himself.  So also every stone that is thrown at you; every bruise and unkind word; every trespass against you, He has suffered it all and borne it for you.  And over all that He has prevailed with steadfast love.

He has not faltered.  He has not failed.  He has done it all willingly, for you and for your neighbor, for your loved ones and your nemeses, for the pious and the faithful, and for the lazy and the impious bum.  For one and all who suffer the curse of sin and death, He has suffered the Cross.

He has suffered the Cross, and by His death He has broken death, because He has paid for every sin with His own life.  The sentence has been fully served.  The death penalty has been carried out.

Here, then, is the vengeance of the Lord!  Here is His revenge for every wrong!  Not against you, but for you, in the voluntary Sacrifice of the Son of God, in His innocent suffering and death.

The Judge has thereby spoken.  And the Executioner is fully satisfied.  His work here is done, and every other punishment has been resolved.  You are reprieved, for the Resurrection of Christ is your emancipation proclamation; it is the Lord’s own Word of Absolution for you and all people.

The Lord does not hold your sins against you.  Therefore, you are free to live, and free to love.

Which means that you are also free to forgive those who sin against you, who hate you and hurt you.  The Cross of Christ has borne their hate and hurt.  It is not only against you, but He has taken it against Himself — and yet He does not hold it against them.  He has obtained forgiveness for them and their wrongs by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood.  You, then, forgive them.

Do not despise the costly gift of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, by refusing to forgive.  Pray instead for repentance and faith, for yourself and for your enemies, for your family, friends, and foes alike.

Instead of seeking vengeance — do not hurt or harm your neighbor, neither his body, his home and family, his property and honor, nor anything that is your neighbor’s — but you be put to death by contrition and repentance for your sins.  Remember and return to the significance of your Baptism, in which you die to yourself and live unto God in Christ.  Emerging from those waters, the heavens are opened to you, and you behold the grace and glory of your Savior, the dear Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeing Him in His Gospel, who is at the right hand of the Father, who always lives to intercede for you with His own Blood, know that even death cannot harm you.  Where Jesus is, there you are, and there you shall be.  The sting and death of your sin have been undone and shall be lifted at the last.  So those who hurt your body cannot destroy you forever; they cannot rob you of your life.

Not only do you have that sure and certain promise of the Resurrection, but look here: This Altar is the throne of God, it is the very gate of heaven on earth.  For here Christ Jesus feeds you with the blessed Fruits of His Holy Cross and Passion.  Take and eat His Body.  Drink from His Cup.  Taste and see that He is good, that His mercy endures forever.  Ponder His glory: It is forgiveness.  It is the gift of life: for you.  He does not hold your sins against you, but receives you to Himself in love, in peace and joy, in gentleness and kindness, and so does He pour out His Spirit upon you.

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

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