14 January 2018

The Body of Christ Is the Gate of Heaven

You have heard from this Holy Gospel the initiative of our Lord Jesus in coming to call disciples to Himself.  He sees Philip and Nathanael before they have ever seen or heard of Him.  He purposes to go to them.  He seeks them out.  He calls them to Himself.

In the case of Nathanael, Philip is the instrument of God’s grace by which Nathanael is called to come and see Jesus.  But Jesus has already seen Nathanael ahead of time.  He knows Nathanael, and He loves him, and He desires that he follow after Him as a disciple, unto life.

All of that is true, not only for Philip and Nathanael, but for each one of you, as well.  The Lord knows you, and He loves you, and before you ever heard of Him, He saw you, and He desired that you should be His own.  Indeed, from before the foundation of the world, He has known you in love, and He has brought you into existence in order to give you life with Himself by His grace.

So has He called you by His Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in His Word and faith within His holy Christian Church, by the work of the Spirit in the means of grace.

And He has opened heaven to you.  You heard it last Sunday in the Baptism of our Lord, how the heavens were opened at His Baptism, because His Baptism already anticipated and participated in His Cross and His Resurrection.  By His sacrifice upon the Cross He has crushed Satan, sin, and death beneath His feet.  And in His Resurrection from the dead He has opened, not only the grave, but also heaven itself to you and to all who believe and are baptized into Him.

In doing all of this for you, and in giving all of this to you by the Gospel, He reveals God the Father to you, whom no man has seen, but who is manifested in the Body of Christ Jesus.  It is in the flesh and blood of Jesus, the incarnate Son, that you behold His God and Father as He is.  And it is by the preaching of the Word of Christ that you know and love the Father by faith.

Later in the Gospel, Philip (again) will ask Jesus, “If you simply show us the Father, that will be enough.”  And Jesus says, in love, “O Philip! Have I been with you so long, and yet, you still do not understand or believe in Me?  If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  And so is it true for you, as well.  His Word declares it to be so.  It is by His Word that you recognize the one true God in the Lord Jesus Christ, even as you recognize Christ in the Ministry of His Gospel.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the whole Law of God.  He is the fulfillment of all that God has spoken in the past by Moses and all the Prophets.  He is indeed the Word made Flesh.

And by His Word of the Gospel, by the preaching and ministry of His sent ones, He reveals even greater things than Moses and Samuel and all the Prophets were able to see or perceive clearly.

He reveals greater things than human hearts or minds could ever imagine or dare to hope, to you and all His disciples, to all whom He calls to Himself in love, to follow Him by faith in His Word.

As He is speaking to you now, listen to Him.  As He calls you to Himself, come and follow Him.  As He reveals the Father to you, and as He opens heaven to you, behold and believe, and so live.

It’s hard, though, isn’t it?  It’s hard to see it.  It’s hard to feel it.  And it’s hardest of all to trust it.  To stake your life on all of this that is spoken to you — and yet, where is it?

Your experience contradicts the Word of God.  It makes it seem as though it were all a big joke or a lie.  Your expectations and experience are so very different than the Lord’s promises to you.

Meanwhile, the desires and the demands of your mortal flesh are much more immediate, much more tangible.  You can hardly escape them or ignore them.  This is the root of your addictions, which are idolatrous.  They press hard upon you, and they exert a powerful influence over you, and all the more strongly as you submit to those hungers of the flesh and pursue those desires.

And yet, at the same time that your flesh can have such a powerful influence and pull on your thoughts and feelings, and on your words and actions, there are still the frailties and failings of your mortal flesh.  Not only in your body, but in your heart and mind.  As you have confessed, your thoughts, words, and actions are all so weak, so frail, so prone to sin, and so easily dissuaded, distracted, and drawn away from the Word of the Lord and from the Way of Life in Christ Jesus.

So, instead of running to Christ in faith, hope, and love, you are sorely tempted to run away from Him, and to hide from Him in terrible fear.  That is where the first Israel, Jacob, was found, when God sought him out.  He was running away in fear from his home and family, because his father was furious with him, and his brother wanted to kill him, on account of his guile and deception.  Right there and then, God found him and called him, and Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending upon the place where he lay: The House of God (Bethel), the Gate of Heaven.

So also for you, instead of following the Lord Jesus as a disciple, instead of walking in the way of grace and truth, you pursue the desires of your mortal flesh.  You chase the appetites of your stomach and the lusts of your heart and your eyes, instead of seeking the Lord where He may be found; even though none of your idols will last, certainly not for ever, and really not even for very long.  Your cravings are quickly satisfied, and afterwards they lose their appeal (if not their hold).  Neither your stomach nor any of your other desires will outlast the final judgment of the Lord.

None of those things that you crave with your flesh can save you or give you life.  And yet, how often do they get their hooks in you, and grip you, and lead you away from the Word of Christ?

So, what you see and feel and experience, as you look at yourself and your life, and at the world around you, is your sins, your failings, your sickness and mortality.

You don’t see Jesus dwelling in your flesh or living around you.  Instead, you see sin all over the place, within and without.  Whether you revel in it or shudder at it, that seems to be all there is.

Where is the heaven that Jesus has opened?  Where is the life that He has gotten for you?  Where is the promise of His coming?  It is all right here.  Come and see.  Listen.  Your Lord is speaking.

Do not become callous or cynical.  Don’t harden your heart to the Word of Christ.  And do not despair, no matter how terrible your life may seem.  Don’t let yourself become bitter.  That is the very opposite of faith in Christ.  But hear His Word, and trust what He says.

Here is the One who knows your heart and mind, who knows your sins, who knows you better than you know yourself.  Here is the One who loves you, who gives you a future and a hope through His forgiveness of all your sins.  All of them, every last one.

For all of your sexual sins in and with your body, and against your neighbor’s body; for all your sins of gluttony and drunkenness; and for all of your idolatrous addictions, the Lord does not turn away from you, but He calls you to repentance and to faith and life in His forgiveness of all your sins.  In His forgiveness, you shall not die.  By faith in His forgiveness, you shall live.

Oh, He does take care of you.  He does provide for the cares and concerns of your body.  He does not leave your stomach empty or your body naked in the cold.  He provides you with food and clothing, He gives you shelter, and He protects you from every harm and danger.  So it is that, as you are His Christian, you are called and taught to do likewise for your neighbors in the world.

But Jesus does all this for your body, because He does far greater things for your body and your soul.  Indeed, your body and life are far more precious to Him than you could possibly imagine.

With food and clothing be content.  But know this, your body and your life are more than food and clothing.  Your body, St. Paul says, is for the Lord, because the Lord is for your body — with all its frailties and weaknesses, with all its hurts and fears and sicknesses and death — the Lord is for your body with His indestructible life and the power of His forgiveness.

Has He not cleansed and washed your body with water and His Word, and clothed your body with His righteousness?  And does He not feed your body with His own Body and Blood?

Now, as Jesus was baptized in His Body, so was He crucified in the same flesh and blood that He gives you from this Altar.  And it is in and with the same Body of flesh and blood that He has risen from the dead for your justification and your righteousness in the presence of God forevermore.

His Body was buried in the dust of the earth, to which all the sons and daughters of Adam are destined; and He has risen again from that dust of the earth in His own glorified Body.  He has thereby opened the grave and opened heaven to you and to all who are baptized into His death.

For His Body is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.  And He, in and with His Body, is the Firstborn of the Resurrection, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstfruits of the New Creation.

Therefore, one and the same Body of Christ — conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead and buried, risen from the dead, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father — this same Body of Christ, given and poured out for you and for the many at His Altar — His Body is the House of God (Bethel), and the very Gate of Heaven on earth.

Here is the Temple of God.  It stands open to you in the preaching of the Gospel.

It is dark round about, but the Lamp is still burning within.  The Word of the Lord is seldom heard and even less heeded.  But it is still spoken to you here.  And those who do hear and believe, by the grace of God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit, also confess and pray His Word and live according to His Word.

The initiative remains entirely with Christ.  He continues to come in love for you, and He is here with you to serve you and to save you.  Here, then, is where the angels of God take their starting point, and to this place they return, week after week, ascending and descending upon the Body of the Son of Man, the crucified and risen Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is given for you.

All the angels in heaven are paying attention to this Body of Jesus, which is put into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sins, and for the life of your body.  Think of that.

This Jesus is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  He is the Prophet, and more than a Prophet — the very Word of God made Flesh for you and your salvation.  And He is your true King, who uses His strength to serve you at His own expense, to feed you with His Body and His Blood.  This Jesus is the Son of God who forgives all of your sins, heals all of your diseases, and gives you His divine, eternal life.  He is the Lord who speaks to you in love.

Open your ears, and be taught.  Open your mouth, and be fed.  Taste and see that the Lord is good, and that His mercy and compassion for you are for the resurrection and the life everlasting.

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

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