21 January 2018

The Kingdom of God Is at Hand

The whole point and purpose to God’s good creation is that Man should live with Him in love forever.  That you also should live with Him in love forever.  And that point and purpose of creation has been fulfilled, for you and for all people, in the Incarnation of God’s Son — His becoming flesh, true Man, conceived and born of St. Mary — and in His Cross and Resurrection.

So it was first of all necessary that God become Man, because you are not God by nature; you are His creature.  You cannot live for yourself or in yourself, but you are created to live in and with God by His grace.  And now, in Christ Jesus, God and Man are perfectly united with one another forever and ever, in such a way that He has become your Place and your Life with God in the flesh.

But there is also the problem of sin, which at its root means that you’re looking for all the wrong gods, that you’re trusting all the wrong gods, and that you’re trying to live by some other way of life than by faith in the one true God, your Creator.  You make gods out of that which is not God but is created by God.  And you make a god out of yourself, as well, though you also are a creature.

That is what sin does, and by it you cut yourself off from the only real life there is.  That situation has to be dealt with and fixed if you’re ever going to have the life with God for which you are created.  And that is what God does by way of the Cross and Resurrection of His incarnate Son.

He is the true Man in every way, perfect in faith, holy in love, and without any sins of His own.  And yet, in His flesh, He has atoned for your sins; and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.  He sacrificed Himself and shed His Blood upon the Cross, for you and for all, so that in His Resurrection you are justified, raised up, and reconciled to God in peace and love.

All of this has been accomplished in the Body of Christ Jesus.  That is what the Gospel declares.  And the Kingdom of God is thus at hand in His flesh and blood, in the Ministry of His Gospel.  That is what St. John the Baptist preached in anticipation of the Christ, and that is what Jesus Himself now preaches to the close of the age.  Indeed, that is what He declares and delivers to you by the preaching of repentance in His Name, unto faith and life in His forgiveness of your sins.

That is good news.  That is the Gospel.  That is your life and salvation.

But there is both threat and promise in this preaching of repentance, in this announcement of the Kingdom of God, in its coming to you in and with Jesus.  For it means the end of the world as you know it.  It brings the judgment of God against all that you fear, love, and trust besides Him.

Everything is made different by the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection from the dead.  All of the false gods that you trust and rely on are destroyed and put to death: In your heart and life, already now, as they shall finally be destroyed forever in themselves in the judgment at the last.

Everything is crucified with Jesus, in order to be raised with Jesus.  Thus are you confronted, as a sinner first of all, with the threat of God’s judgment, and with the painful death of your flesh, that you might be recreated in His Image and granted newness of life through faith in His Gospel.

That is why St. John, and the Lord Jesus, and later St. Peter and all the Apostles, and your pastors now, all preach and declare: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the Gospel.”

But what does that mean for you? What does it look like?  What is it that you are called to do when Jesus proclaims to you: “Repent!”  And what does it look like to believe the Gospel?

It means that you die to the world, to yourself, and to your sins.  You die to everything that is not Jesus.  And you live unto God in Christ.  You are not set free to continue in your sins.  You are set free from sin and death, in order to live, really live, by faith in Christ.  To live unto righteousness in Him.  To live now, in your flesh, the life that God intends for you in and with Himself.

This repentance and this life are rooted in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.   Those works that He has done are not just means to an end.  His Cross and Resurrection are your justification and your righteousness in the presence of God; and His Cross and Resurrection are your repentance.  In being called to repentance, you are called into the dying and rising of Christ Jesus Himself

You are called into His crucified and risen Body, to live in Him by faith.  And that is accomplished for you in the waters of your Baptism, unto the life everlasting.  The washing of those waters with His Word is the means of your justification.  It is the form of your repentance.  For in your Baptism you have died and you are raised with Christ.  Just as Jonah was once thrown into the water and swallowed up by that great fish, and for three days he was in the belly of the fish under the water, until God brought him out of the fish and out of the water to live and work within his vocation.

So it is that, in the waters of your Baptism, you’re thrown into the depths, and you’re swallowed by that great fish, and then you are brought forth to live the life that God intends for you.  That is where and how justification happens for you.  That is the location and the shape of your daily and lifelong repentance.  And that is the shape of your entire Christian faith and life in this world.

How then shall you live in view of your Baptism, your repentance, and your justification?

Well, hold on loosely.  That’s a good way to put it.  Hold on loosely to this life, and to the things of this world.  But don’t let go.  God doesn’t call you to suicide.  And He doesn’t call you to run away and hide from your responsibilities.  He has positioned you to live among people, to do a job, to serve your neighbors.  So hold on to all of that in love.  But don’t cling to it in desperation.

Let your hold on life in this world be loose and light and flexible.  But don’t let go.  You are called to live in this world.  It is in this world that you live out your justification in Christ.  It is in this world that you repent, and bear the fruits of repentance, and live unto God in faith and love, all in the righteousness of Christ.  So do you live in this world, even though you are not of this world.

You can in fact make good use of God’s good creation.  For He has given you to receive and use His good gifts.  All things God has created are given for you to receive and to use in faith and with thanksgiving, and they are sanctified to your use by the Word of God and prayer.

So, make use of His Creation.  Make use of His good gifts.  Only do not live as though your life depended on any of these good things, or on anything else but Him alone.

So, too, be faithful to your husband or wife, and to your children.  Be loyal to your family and friends.  Be steadfast in serving your stations in life.  And love your neighbors in the world, as Christ Jesus loves you.  But do all of this for God’s sake, in Jesus’ name, and not for idolatrous affection.  Don’t love your family because you like them so well, but because God has commanded you to do so.  Likewise all of your neighbors.  Love them for the sake of God’s command.  Not in the way of fickle emotions, with your inward feelings, but in your outward actions, doing what is good and right according to the Word of God and your neighbors’ needs in this body and life.

Love your neighbors because it is the right thing to do.  It is what God the Lord has commanded.  Not to atone for your sins, to justify yourself before God, or to earn His favor — none of which is possible or necessary.  But love your neighbor in faith and love for the Lord your God, because He is your Savior and Redeemer in whom you have eternal life by the grace of His Gospel.

So, love your wife or your husband, as the case may be.  Love your sons and your daughters, however many God has given to you.  Love and honor, serve and obey your father and mother, as God has commanded, in the joy of His promise that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.  Love all of your neighbors for God’s sake, in accordance with His calling and commandments.  But do not love anyone more than (or as much as) you love the Lord your God.

Be concerned chiefly with the things of the Lord, whatever your stations in life may be.  He who has a wife, for example, should live as though he did not.  Not that you abandon or neglect your wife and live like some kind of bachelor.  But that you love and serve your wife without supposing that your life and salvation are found in her.  You love and serve your wife faithfully as one whose life is in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, that is how you are to regard everyone and everything in your life on earth.  You hold on loosely.  You don’t let go, but you live for Christ above all else.

Which means that you are ready, then, to leave your home and family, to leave behind your father and his fishing nets, to leave behind your nearest and dearest kin, to leave behind whatever it is that you otherwise cling to, in order to follow Jesus at His Word.  To go to the Cross and die with Him there.  To give up whatever He would ask of you, because your life is found in Him alone.

But normally the way that He calls you to serve Him, is precisely by loving and serving those people He has placed beside you in your ordinary, everyday life on earth.  And yet, while there is always the temptation to idolize your family and friends, there is also the temptation to despise and neglect your family and friends.  That is how it is with all of us poor sinners.  We do not know how to use God’s good gifts as He intends.  We either idolize or demonize His good creation.

And so you are tempted either to make a god out of created things, or to despise created things.  But neither of those options is right.  Rather, receive and use what God gives in faith, according to His Word.  And fulfill your callings in love for your neighbors, likewise according to His Word.

That is what the Lord calls you to do.  And if you should be ready and willing to leave behind any and all of your own people for the Lord’s sake, how much more should you be ready and willing to love and serve them at His Word, according to His calling and your stations in life.

Just do it.  Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God.  Do what He has commanded you.  Where you have failed to do so, repent, and begin now to do better.  Die to yourself and live unto God.  He shall exalt you in due season.  For the Lord is faithful.  He will not leave you in the belly of the fish under the water forever.  He will raise you up according to His purposes.  He has given you His pledge and promise in your Baptism and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.

Find your real life and your true love in Him above all else.  Not in this world, nor in its kings and its kingdoms, be they big or small, that is not where life is found.  But in the Kingdom of God which is here for you in Christ Jesus, in His holy Body and precious Blood.

The Kingdom of God is here for you in Christ, in His forgiveness of all your sins — your sins of idolatry, and your sins of neglect and despair.  The Gospel forgives them all, because the Gospel is Jesus in action, doing His thing, loving and serving and saving sinners like you by His grace.

That Gospel of Christ is the net in which you have been caught, unto life and salvation with God.

And that same Gospel mends your nets of faith and love within your callings and stations in life, by the daily preaching and catechesis of the Word of Christ; by confession and Absolution, to which the preaching of Christ Jesus calls you.  You die to yourself, by examining yourself and confessing your sins, and you rise up to live unto God in Christ by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

That is how you live.  And here within His Church, in the Ministry of His Gospel, is where you live by His grace.  Especially in the eating of His Flesh and the drinking of His Blood, the very means with which He has accomplished your salvation, and in which all of creation is fulfilled.

Want to know what this world is supposed to be like?  Want to know what creation is supposed to be like?  Want to know what your life is supposed to be like?  It is all right here in the Body of Christ.  You can’t see it, but it’s true.  His Word gives it to you and tells you what it really is.

“Take, eat, this is My Body.  It is for you.  Take, drink, this is My Blood.  It is for you, for the forgiveness of all of your sins.”  Here the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Here creation is perfected and lives in the Flesh of Jesus, God’s Son.  And that promise is for you and for your children.

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

No comments: