20 May 2018

The Spirit of Life in the Valley of Death

Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are nothing but dust and bones, returning to the ground from which you were taken.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, you are dead and dying.  For you have no life in you, neither in your body nor in your soul, except by the Spirit of God, the Breath of the Lord.

You have been created for life with God eternally.  It is for that reason that you exist.  But you do not live without the Spirit.  Apart from the Spirit, you continue to exist, only at odds with God and cut off from Him; which is no life at all but a persistent and eternal death, an eternal damnation.

In the final judgment, in the Resurrection of all flesh at the end of days, you shall be raised from the dust of the earth in and with your body.  But if you have not received the Holy Spirit in your body of flesh and blood within your life on earth, and if you have not remained in the Spirit of Christ Jesus within this body and life, then you shall be raised, not for everlasting life with God in Paradise, but for the neverending death and damnation of hell in both your body and your soul.

In the meantime, your body is dying because of your sin, which is (at its heart) the rejection of the Word and Spirit of God and the worship of yourself instead of the Lord.  You die, as all men die, because of your sin.  You live at all only by the grace of God, who gives life and breath to all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the evil and the good, and who gives daily bread also to all the wicked.  But all of this is temporary.

The Spirit of God does not strive with man forever.  He continues to strive with man for a season, because of God’s love for man, and because of His desire that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.  But that season of grace will come to an end in the hour of death and in the final judgment.  Then everything will depend on whether you have received and borne the Spirit of Christ Jesus in faith, or denied and rejected the Spirit in sinful unbelief and idolatry.

The fact that you are presently dying and wasting away is a daily reminder of your sin, and thus a daily call to repentance.  If you rely on yourself and persist in your sins, you will perish forever.  For you cannot keep yourself from dying, and you cannot save yourself for eternal life with God.

Even if you do not yet see it or feel it in yourself, consider the world around you.  Do you not hear of death and destruction on a daily basis, both near and far?  People get sick and die at every age.  Terrible storms on land and at sea, earthquakes and fires, devastating accidents, deliberate attacks, and wretched violence are commonplace around the globe, constant reminders of sin’s dire curse.

Whether it be strangers in the news, or loved ones on their sick beds, or your own mortal flesh with all its frailties and flaws, you look about and find that you are set within the valley of the shadow of death, surrounded on all sides, within and without, by dried up bones returning to the dust.

In the very midst of all this death, your only hope is in Christ Jesus, who pours out upon you the living and Life-giving Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel.  And yet, you cannot see Him, nor can you perceive or feel His presence.  Despite the promises of the Lord your God, all that you can see and feel in the world is still dust and bones.  So you wonder if there really is any hope, or if you should simply give up in despair.  Sadness fills your heart, and sorrow permeates your spirit.

Can these bones live?  These dead and dying bones of yours?  These brittle and breaking bones?

Can you possibly be rescued in both your body and your soul, rescued from death and damnation, in order to live with the Lord your God in the good Land that He has promised, in the place that Christ has prepared for you, in His House, in the Kingdom of His God and Father?  Can even you be raised from the dust of the earth to everlasting Life, though for now you are subject to death?

By the Word and Spirit of God, the answer is “Yes,” a loud and resounding “Yes” and “Amen.”  By the preaching of Christ Jesus, you are raised up and rescued from death and the grave.  Your sins are all forgiven by the grace of His Gospel, your death is undone.  In the Body of Christ you belong to God the Father, you bear the Holy Spirit, and you live, body and soul, now and forever.

The Lord Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of God, anointed by the Father with the Spirit in His own Body of flesh and blood, conceived and born of St. Mary — the divine Word by whom all things are made — He has fully entered into your Death Valley.  And there, by His Cross and Passion, by His innocent suffering and death, by the voluntary shedding of His holy and precious Blood, He has overcome the curse and consequences of sin, and He has won the victory for you.

He has come, this true God in the Flesh, this true and perfect Man, to bear your sins in His Body to the Cross, to suffer your death and the righteous judgment of the Law against the sins of the whole world, in order to reconcile God and Man forever in Himself, to receive and bear the Spirit in His Body, and to raise the sons and daughters of man from death to life in His Resurrection.

In perfect faith and holy love, He takes the full responsibility for your sins and hands Himself over to your death.  In the confidence of His God and Father, He is crucified, dies, and is buried in the dust of the earth from which you are taken.  He submits Himself to be cut off from the land of the living.  He traverses the dark valley into the far country of death and the grave, even into Sheol.

For all that, appearances notwithstanding, He is not defeated in His death upon the Cross.  The victory remains with Life.  For God the Father does not abandon His Holy One, Christ Jesus, to Sheol.  He does not leave Him to suffer decay, but raises Him and rescues Him from out of death.

Not only that, but in the Resurrection of Christ all the children of Adam are raised.  The New Man is taken from the dust of the ground.  And the Lord breathes His Life-giving Spirit into His Body.  Thus are dead bones given new life, the dirt is remade in the Image of God, and man is saved for life with God in the Spirit.  The whole Christian Church in heaven and on earth has life in Christ.

As St. Peter goes on to say in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, when God raised Jesus from the dead He poured out His Spirit upon Him, just as the Father had done when the same Son, Christ Jesus, was baptized in the Jordan River.  In each case, the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit in His Body, that you might also receive the Spirit of God in Him, as a member of His Body, baptized in His Name.  Thus are you sanctified in body and soul for the Resurrection and everlasting Life.

That is the whole point: What Jesus has received on your behalf, you also now receive in Him by the Ministry of His Gospel, by His Word and Holy Spirit.  The Atonement of the Cross has made it possible, and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead all things are made brand new.  For He pours out the Spirit from the Father upon His Apostles and upon His Church, even to the ends of the earth, through the free and full forgiveness of sins in His Name.  And, as all men die because all men sin, so by the Lord’s forgiveness of sins are all men made alive in Christ Jesus.

His own crucified and risen Body is the Firstfruits of the New Creation, to which you also belong by His grace through faith in His Gospel.  As Christ is anointed by the Spirit of God, so are you anointed by the Spirit as a Christian.  As Christ Jesus ascends to the Right Hand of the Father, in and with His Body of flesh and blood, so are you and all people reconciled to God the Father in Christ, His Son.  You are seated with Him in the heavenly places, even as He is with you here, and pours out the Holy Spirit upon you here within the Household and Family of His Church on earth.

It is here in His Jerusalem, the City of God — in the Upper Room where the disciples of Jesus are gathered in His Name and according to His Word and promise — within the Church, the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all — it is here that the Father pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you through Jesus Christ, His Son, by the preaching of His Word of the Gospel.

God speaks to you by His Son, and in doing so He breathes the Spirit into your body and soul, into your ears, into your heart, and into your mind, unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness of sins.  He calls you away from sin and death, back to Himself in Christ Jesus.  He raises you up from the dust of the earth and calls you back to life in His Spirit by the Resurrection of His incarnate Son.

This preaching of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen — the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name — that preaching is the Voice of the Holy Spirit, the Voice of the Gospel.  That is the “Noise” that Ezekiel heard in the valley of dry bones, the “Noise” of a mighty wind, such as the disciples also heard filling the Upper Room in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.

You cannot know or predict or see with your eyes where the Spirit is coming or going, but you do hear this “Noise,” this Voice of the Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel of Christ, and you are given to behold the work that He does by that preaching of forgiveness.  For those who are dead in their trespasses and sin are raised up in faith to newness of life.  Those who have succumbed to doubts and denials, perhaps even to despair, are delivered from the fear and the power of death and the devil.  They are made to stand in confidence and hope, bold and courageous in the face of evil.  They are sanctified in body and soul for life with God, both here in time and hereafter in eternity.

All of that is given to you, as well, by the preaching of the Gospel.  That is your life with God in Christ, by the free gift of His Spirit, wherever in the world the Lord has stationed you in love.  As Christ is risen from the dead and lives forever, so do you live by faith in Him, by His Spirit, even here and now, regardless of appearances.  Though dust and bones surround you and permeate your experience on earth, your body and life are not fruitless or futile.  Your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  In the work that God has given you to do, Christ bears in you the fruits of His Spirit.  You love and serve your neighbors in peace.  You praise and glorify the Name of the Lord your God.

Thus do you also speak with new tongues by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, your Savior.  That is to say, not only with your words, but also with your life, with your particular abilities and talents, with the work that you do, and with all that is in you, you glorify God and praise the Lord by confessing the Gospel of Jesus.  It is the Holy Spirit who animates your life in this way, as a true doxology, no less so than He caused those 120 disciples to praise the Lord in all those many languages.

The Gospel itself is the “New Tongue,” as it is also the “New Song” that all God’s people sing in heaven and on earth.  It is the Salvation of Christ that you confess, no matter what your language or profession, no matter your talent and skill.  In confessing Christ, you speak as an oracle of God.  Men and women, boys and girls, disciples of all ages, you all declare the glories of Him who called you out of the darkness into His Light, as the Spirit gives you utterance by the Word of Christ.

The confusion of tongues and the dispersal of the nations after the Tower of Babel is now reversed.  Not by the restoration of a single common language, but by the confession of the one Holy Gospel, the forgiveness of the Cross of Christ and the righteousness of His Resurrection from the dead.  For there is one Holy Spirit who has called you by that one Gospel of Christ, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified you in the one true faith — who keeps you steadfast in the Word of one God and Father, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, in one Holy Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and in the Communion of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

It is the Spirit who lives and abides and speaks in you by the Word of Christ, so that you confess His Holy Name in all that you say and do.  And by that confession, the dead are raised up and gathered from the four corners of the world into the Household and Family of God.  Thus do they pray and confess the Name of the Lord, together with you and all the disciples of Christ Jesus, to the glory of God the Father.  They also rejoice, give thanks, and sing with you and all Christians.

Beloved of the Lord, your life and your confession are not meaningless, no matter how mundane they may feel or seem.  Do not despair or give up hope!  The life that you live by faith in Christ, and the work that you do according to your calling and station, are the work of the Spirit of God.  Rejoice that He is manifest in this way, as Christ is confessed and your Father is glorified in you.

Can it be?  Can your dried up, dead, and dying bones live?  Indeed they can.  They do, even now, and so they shall, unto the Life everlasting.  For the risen Lord Jesus pours out His Spirit upon you.

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

13 May 2018

The Sanctification of the Son of God

The Son of God, your Savior Jesus Christ, has come down from the Father in heaven, in order to give you life with God by His Word and Holy Spirit.  Thus has He become true Man, flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And in His own Body He has borne all of your sins, even unto death upon His Cross, that you should be justified and sanctified, enlivened and exalted, in His bodily Resurrection and Ascension to the Father.

He has done as we confess in the Creeds and sing in the hymns of the Church.  He has come down from the Father into the flesh, and He has returned to the Father in flesh and blood like your own.  He is seated at the Right Hand of God as the true Man, that you should be made alive and holy in Him, that you should be glorified in Him, and that you should partake of the divine nature in Him.

It is in His Body that He receives all things from His Father on your behalf.  From His Baptism in the Jordan River, to His Cross and Resurrection from the dead, and in His glorious Ascension, He is anointed with the Holy Spirit, He is given the Name above all names, and He is exalted above all things in heaven and on earth, that all the blessings of God should likewise be given to you.

Thus are you sanctified by the Name and Spirit of God in Christ, and thus do you live with God.

It is often the case that, in speaking of “sanctification,” we have the Christian life in mind, the love that you are to have for your neighbor, the good works that God has commanded you to do.  And certainly all of those things belong to the holiness that God has given you in Christ by His Spirit.

But when the Lord Jesus speaks of sanctification, He is aiming at something more and greater than a colony of good little worker bees, an army of industrious ants, or a collection of nicer people.  He rather speaks of eternal life with God in both body and soul, in heart, mind, and spirit.  It is not a matter of what you do, first of all, but of what you are given, who you are, and where you live.  It is in the holiness of the Lord your God that you now live in faith and love and bear good fruits.

To be holy does not mean that you act the part of a goody two-shoes.  Not that your behavior is of no consequence, but none of your own works are the source or substance of your sanctification.  When you are holy in Christ Jesus you will do good, according to God’s commandments and your God-given station in life, even to those who hate you and hurt you.  But to be sanctified, to be and remain holy, is actually to live in the presence of God, the Holy, Holy, Holy One, by His grace, through faith in His Word, by the working of His Spirit in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

The one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is holy, forever and always, in and of Himself.  Nothing else is holy except as it exists and abides in right relationship to Him.  You are sanctified, therefore, as you are brought into His presence in peace, by repentance and faith in His Gospel.

To be holy is to live with God in Christ Jesus, which is not possible except by the forgiveness of His Cross and the righteousness of His Resurrection.  This, then, is your sanctification, first of all, that Christ Jesus gave His Body into death and shed His holy, precious Blood to atone for all your sins, and that God the Father raised this same Lord Jesus from the dead for your justification.  It is by His passage through death into life that you are raised up to newness of life, that you receive His Holy Spirit, and that you are reconciled to His God and Father as a beloved son or daughter.

Thus does the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, sanctify Himself in His Body of flesh and blood, that you might be sanctified in Him, which is to say, that you might live with God in Him.  He sanctifies Himself, not that He was bad and becomes good, but that He dedicates and consecrates His entire Body and Life to the glory of God, sacrificing Himself in holy faith and in love for His Father and for you and all His neighbors in the world.  He bears and suffers all of your sins and dies your death, in the confidence that His Father will raise Him up and vindicate Him.  Not for His own advantage or benefit, but so that you should thus be saved and glorified in Him.

It is by His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension that Christ Jesus returns to the Father in and with His human nature, in and with His Body of flesh and blood.  And it is impossible to overstate the significance of this Paschal Mystery.  His Ascension to the Right Hand of His God and Father is the culmination of His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you are lifted up and seated with Him in the heavenly places.  As He became like you, so do you become like Him.  You die to yourself, to your sins, and to the world, but you are raised up in the righteousness and holiness of Christ Jesus; you are named with His Name and anointed with His Spirit, and you live with God in Him.

This is what your Baptism has done for you and means for you, now and forever.  Everything that Christ has done and accomplished for you is now yours: His Baptism, His Holy Cross and Passion, His Resurrection from the dead, and His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father.  His Sonship, His Spirit, and His Sanctification.  All that belongs to Him, He bestows upon you by His grace.

The Life of God is yours in Christ.  The Love of God is yours in Christ.  And the unity of the Holy Triune God is also yours in Christ Jesus.  For He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, by the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit.  His God and Father is your God and Father.  And His whole Church in heaven and on earth is your household and family.  For He is the Head of His Body, the Church, the fullness of Him who fills all in all, and you also belong to His Body.

You have heard that Jesus prays for His disciples, that they should be united as one, even as the Father and the Son are one in the Holy Spirit.  That they should live and abide with one another in peace, in the unity of the Holy Trinity.  That they should love one another with the Love of God.

As a Christian, therefore, you are called to live in communion with your brothers and sisters in Christ; for you belong to them, and they belong to you, as surely as both you and they belong to one and the same Lord, Jesus Christ.  Not only those who live and worship alongside you on any given Sunday, but the saints of all times and places, all who believe and are baptized into Christ.

The Church remembers and gives thanks for the faithful departed, for the saints who have gone before us in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus, because they are one with us in His Body.  As death has no mastery over Him and is not able to separate His disciples from Him, neither is death able to separate those who belong to Him from one another.  Not really.  Not forever.  Not in any way that finally matters.  They are saints, both here in time and hereafter in eternity, because they are sanctified, as you are sanctified, by the Love of God in Christ.  And so they live forever.

St. Paul tells us that God the Father did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all, that He might be the Firstborn of many brethren.  And to that end, the Son of God humbled Himself and handed Himself over to the Cross, that you and many others might become the children of God.

Beloved of the Lord, as brothers and sisters of one Lord Jesus Christ, as sons and daughters of one God and Father in Him, as those anointed by one and the same Holy Spirit, love one another.  Give thanks for one another, and live together as one household and family of God.  As surely as it is good and right to remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, so learn from their example to love and serve the Body of Christ with which the Lord has surrounded you here.

Do not neglect to do good to your neighbors.  Do not turn your back on your brothers and sisters, but consider their needs and look for opportunities to help and serve them.  Pray for them in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and be open to the fact that you may also be the Lord’s answer to those prayers.  Use the Lord’s time, energy, and money, whatever He has entrusted to you in this life, to care for His children on earth as an instrument of His grace and mercy.  Sacrifice yourself, and give life to others, as the Lord gives life to you.  For you are holy, as the Lord your God is holy.

Your good works of faith and love are the works of Christ Himself, which He has not only begun but continues to work in you by His Word and Holy Spirit.  As He loves you and has reconciled you to His God and Father in Himself, in His crucified and risen Body, so does He bear good fruits after His own kind in your body and life.  He is the true Vine, as He has told you, and you live and abide in Him, as a healthy and productive branch, by His grace through faith in Him.  By and with His Word of the Gospel, He daily and richly forgives your sins, and He gives to you His Spirit.

The Lord Jesus guards and keeps you while you live here in this world.  He prays to His Father that the evil one would not get his hands on you.  And as He prays, so He acts.  He guards and keeps you by His Word of Truth, lest you perish and go to your own place, like Judas.  He wills that you should not perish, but that you should live and abide with Him in His own place with the Father.

He guards and keeps you by the preaching of His Cross and  Resurrection.  That is the Word of Truth, the testimony of His holy Apostles, who witnessed all His coming in and going out from the waters of His Baptism to His Ascension into heaven.  By that preaching of Christ Jesus, you are brought to repentance and to faith in Him, you are forgiven all your sins, you are raised from death to life by His Holy Spirit, and you are reconciled to His God and Father.  Even when your heart condemns you for your sins, this Word of the Gospel of Christ is greater than your heart.

Christ Jesus guards and keeps you by sending men in His Name, His called and ordained servants, as God the Father sent Him into the world.  From His Apostles to this present day, He has never failed to call and send His ministers of the Gospel.  He is the Preacher who preaches His Word by the means of their mouths — from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, even to the close of the age.

He sends His men to you, also, to preach to you in His Name and stead.  And He thereby preaches Himself into your ears, even as He gives Himself, His Body and Blood, into your hand and mouth and body in the Holy Communion.  He does this now, as always, that you should be sanctified in Him, that you should be preserved by His Name, and that you should not die but live with God.

Jesus is always working, as His Father is always working, to give you peace and rest, to give you life with God in Himself.  So, then, as He preaches to you on the one hand, He is also praying for you on the other hand.  Thus does He unite both God and man, both heaven and earth, in Himself.

He prays the same thing that He preaches, that you should be sanctified, safe, and alive forever.  He prays and intercedes, not in desperation, but in the confidence of His Cross and Resurrection.  As He has sanctified Himself, and as the Father has glorified Him, so surely are you saved in the Body of Christ Jesus — crucified, risen, and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father.

Everything has been accomplished for you, and everything is answered with God’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen,” in the Body of Christ Jesus.  Indeed, His prayer and His Ascension cannot be separated from one another, because the Body of Christ is both the Prayer and the Answer to the prayer.  He is the One who arises like sweet-smelling Incense into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  Not only when He prays and intercedes for you, as He always does, but so also when you pray and intercede in His Name, as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  He lives and prays, not only for you, but in you.  And so do you live and pray in Him.

He has risen and ascended to the Father in and with His Body, that you might live with Him there in the heavenly places.  That you might reside in the bosom of God the Father.  That you might be held in His strong and loving embrace.  That no one should ever snatch you out of His hand, but that you should remain forever safe and sound, in perfect peace, and alive with Christ in God.

Remain, then, here in the Temple of His Church on earth, as the Apostles did after His Ascension.  Return often to this “Upper Room” where the Lord Jesus bids you to recline at His Table, where He feeds you with His Body and His Blood and thereby sanctifies you for divine life in Himself.

He is your Life and your Salvation, your Righteousness and Holiness, in all your coming in and going out, now and forever.  He is not far away but here with you, even as He ever lives to pray and intercede for you before the Throne of God.  He has taken His stand with you here, even as He has prepared a place for you with the Father in heaven.  So does He bind all things together in one, and so do you bear the Name and the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus, unto the Life everlasting.

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

10 May 2018

Boots on the Ground, Your Head in the Cloud

It will probably not surprise many of you that I spent my teen years listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.  Among the things that I enjoyed and still remember about that show was the weekly tag line: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars!”  That sounded so exhilarating and, back then, even doable.  But life as we know it is far more challenging.  To keep your feet firmly planted is easier said than done, and stretching for the stars is pretty futile.

So it has seemed to me, at times, that the Ascension of Our Lord might feel like a bit of a mockery, or even a discouragement, in the midst of sin and death here on earth.  It is one of the five great Feasts of the Church Year, ostensibly a time of joy and celebration.  And you have heard again the Word and promise of your Lord, that He is with you always, even to the close of the age.  Yet, the Ascension seems to demonstrate what you often feel, that He has gone away and left you behind.

That is how it feels.  You can’t see Him.  He and His presence are hidden and elusive.  You confess that He is risen from the dead, but you often don’t experience the Resurrection in this mortal coil, in this poor life of labor.  Although you know and confess that your sins are forgiven by the Gospel of Christ Jesus, you find that you are still plagued by sin and death in yourself and in the world.

Day after day, you do what you should not, and you fail to do what you should.  You speak such poisonous words against your neighbor and behind his back.  You are quicker to hurt than to help.  You struggle with all manner of sins within your heart and mind, and in your words and actions, even where and when you know better.  And your sins, within and without, separate you from the Lord your God, like a great chasm affixed between yourself and heaven, which you cannot cross.

Your sins weigh you down.  The guilt and the shame, the consequences of your wrongdoing, the separation from God who is alone your Life.  Your sins weigh you down, they drag you down into the depths of darkness and despair, until at last they bury you.  For the soul that sins shall die.

You cannot shake it off.  Trying harder does not release you from your sin.  Recommitting yourself to doing better is good and right, even necessary to this body and life, but it will not save you.  It does not make you righteous, even if you do succeed in improving your behavior (for a while).  The very struggle it requires goes to show how deeply ingrained sin is within your heart and soul.

Your flesh is weak.  Your mind cannot stay focused on the things of God.  Your sinful heart is not charitable.  You are not faithful and believing, but faithless and unbelieving.  You keep on sinning.

You cannot return to God, not by your own reason or strength.  Nor by all of your best efforts.  Nor could you abide in the presence of the Lord your God, even if you were somehow able to reach Him on your own.  You can’t do it.  Not apart from Christ.  And not apart from the Holy Spirit.

If you were somehow to burst into the presence of God, to enter the Holy of Holies — apart from Christ and His forgiveness, apart from the sanctification of His Spirit — you would be consumed by a fire more fierce and terrible than anything you can imagine here on earth.

And yet, it is that same Lord God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who raises you up from the dust of the earth, from death and the grave, and stands you firmly in His presence.  He places the stars of heaven in your hand, even as He takes you into His own hand in mercy, love, and peace.  He breathes the Breath of Life into your body and soul through His forgiveness of all your sins.

God the Father opens His mouth and speaks forth His Son, the Lord Jesus, in the Flesh.  And by that Word of Christ Jesus the Father breathes the Holy Spirit upon you in peace.  He thereby closes the gap between you and Him.  He draws you to Himself, clothed in the beauty of His holiness.  You are righteous in His sight, for Jesus’ sake, and He does not cast you away from His presence.

He brings you into His Holy City.  He brings you into His own House, into His Home and Family.  He adopts you to be His own dear child, a beloved son or daughter.  He gives to you His Name.

So it is that the God and Father of your dear Lord Jesus Christ is now your own God and Father in Him.  And He is not too busy for His children.  He does not make promises and fail to keep them.  He does not lose His temper and lash out in reckless anger.  He rather loves you at all times.  He guards and protects you from all danger and delivers you from all evil.  His discipline is not harsh but wise and gentle.  He speaks to you and teaches you with patience and in peace.  He hears and answers your prayers in mercy.  As often as you fail and fall short, He forgives.  And as often as you get yourself lost, He goes out and finds you and brings you back home to Himself in Christ.

Your God and Father in heaven does all good things for you in Christ, His Son.  As He is risen from the dead and has ascended into heaven, so His Body, the Church, is raised from the dead and seated at the Right Hand of God in the heavenly places.  Where your Head is, there you are, also.

The Lord Jesus Christ is not far away.  He has not gone away and left you behind.  He is still closer than a brother, He is more faithful than a mother.  He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, so that everything He has accomplished is yours.  It is given to you in His Body of flesh and blood.  For He became like you, conceived and born of St. Mary, in order that you should be like Him.

It was fitting that God should accomplish salvation in this way, by causing the Savior of all men to become true Man, to bear their sins in His Body on the Cross, and to suffer in their stead; and then raising Him from the dead, giving to Him the Name that is above every name, and exalting Him to the highest heavens.  All of this in His own Body of flesh and blood, so that His Body, the Church, should likewise be exalted in Him, and given that very Name which is God’s own Name.

He has done the same for you, as well, in the waters of your Holy Baptism.  All that He has done for you in His own flesh and blood like yours, He has given to you there by His Word and Spirit.

As Christ has thus drawn near to you, given Himself for you, and given Himself to you, so has He drawn you to Himself, and bound you to Himself in heart, mind, body, and soul.  Thus, by faith, even now, you live and abide with Him.  That is where your life is, hidden with Christ in God.  And on the Day of Judgment, your body also shall be raised and glorified with the Glory of God.

That is the truth.  But I know that it is hard to believe it, because it is impossible to see it for now.  It is hidden from your eyes, and you do not feel it in your experience of life on earth.  It is elusive.

Even so, do not gaze wide-eyed into the heavens.  Do not look for the Lord Jesus in the clouds of the sky, nor in the bright shining stars of outer space.  Rather, find Him, receive Him, lay hold of Him, and worship Him, by faith, in the ways and means by which He has promised to be with you.

“Remain in the City,” He says.  “There you shall be clothed with Power from on high, for there I shall pour out the Promise of My Father upon you.”

That is to say, it is right here that you find Him and receive Him, in the midst of His Jerusalem.  His Church on earth is the holy City in which you are cleansed and clothed and strengthened and sustained by the Word and Spirit of Christ, by the washing of the water with His Word, and by the gift of His Body and His Blood.  Here you receive the Holy Spirit in the Word of Holy Absolution.  Here you are enlivened by the grace of God, unto the resurrection and the life everlasting in Christ.

Not up in the sky, but here within His Church on earth is where the Cloud of God’s Glory abides.  Thus does the Lord Jesus come to you here, in the same way that He was taken up into heaven.

As He once led Israel out of Egypt and through the desert by a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night, and as that same divine Cloud rested on Mount Sinai, as it filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem, so does it fill the Temple of His Church wherever in the world the Word of Christ is preached and His Sacraments are administered in His Name.

As Israel was baptized into Moses in the Cloud and in the Sea, so are you baptized into Christ by the water and His Word.  And as the people ate the Manna in the wilderness and drank the water from the Rock, so are you fed with the Flesh and Blood of Christ in His Sacrament of the Altar.

As the Cloud and the Fire were the visible manifestation of God’s glorious presence with Israel, so are His Word and Sacraments the means of His grace and His glory here with you.  And these means of grace are not elusive.  The water, bread, and wine are not hidden from your sight.  True, the world cannot discern what they are or what they mean, but the Lord has told you by His Word:  “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.”  “This Is My Body.”  “This Is My Blood.”

By and with these tangible means, by the Word of Holy Absolution, and by the whole Ministry of the Gospel, the Cloud of God’s Glory envelopes you, as it filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and as it surrounded Christ Jesus, His Prophets and Apostles, on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

So it is that God the Lord is with you.  Lo, He with you always, even to the close of the age.  And thus are you glorified with the very Glory of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen — a Glory that is hidden from the world, as Christ is now hidden from your eyes — and yet, it is the Glory of God.

And as He is here with you in the divine Glory of His Gospel, so are you seated with Him at the Right Hand of God the Father in heaven.  That is not “up there, somewhere, over the rainbow.”  It is, indeed, wherever Christ is.  And if He were not there, then heaven itself were void and bare.

It is the presence of God.  It is the bosom of the Father.  It is the Holy of Holies where God dwells, and where His people dwell with Him in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son.  For Christ is your Anchor behind the veil.  He is your Head, and you are His Body.  Wherever He is, there you shall be also.  He has prepared a place for you by His Cross and Passion and in His Resurrection and Ascension.  If that were not the case, He would have told you.  But now He has prepared a place for you.

In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were offered so that the incense would be acceptable to God.  Sacrifice was offered for the sins of the people, that the incense of their prayers might ascend into heaven as a pleasing aroma, and that they should likewise be acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.

Now it is the case that Christ Jesus has arisen as your Incense.  He is the Sacrifice of Atonement for your sins, and for the sins of the whole world; and He is the sweet-smelling Incense of your prayers and intercessions.   He has risen and ascended like Incense before His God and Father in heaven, that you and your prayers should likewise be received, accepted, and pleasing before Him.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, He absolved the world and reconciled the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them.  There is no sin that can separate you from God, if you are in Christ, His Son.  There is no condemnation for you in Christ Jesus.  For He has borne your sins and suffered your death — and yet, He has also arisen and ascended to the Right Hand of God.  His crucified and risen Body are the Father’s resounding “Yes” and “Amen” to all of your needs.

That is how sure and certain your forgiveness is.  And that is how sure and certain your life and salvation are.  And that is how sure and certain it is that, right here in this holy City, in this Temple of God — in this Body of Christ, His holy Church — at this Altar from which the very Son of God feeds you with His Flesh and Blood — you dwell with Him in the House of the Lord forever.

His Cup overflows, and His Table is filled with a great Feast, a joyous Feast, for you and for the many.  His Table and His good Gifts are not far away and out of reach, like the stars in the sky, but He has drawn near to you and prepared His Table before you by His Word.  He has planted His feet firmly on this holy ground, the same Lord who dwells with the Father, far above all the stars in the heavens, who ever lives to make intercession for you.  Hear what He says.  Receive what He gives.  Be with Him where He is, right here.  For this truly is the House of God; this is the Gate of heaven.

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

06 May 2018

The One Who Loves You By the Water and the Blood

God’s Love for you is not contingent or conditional on anything in you, nor on anything that you have done.  It is rather because of who He is, the God who is Love, that He created you, and that He has redeemed you from your sin and death for life with Himself in Christ Jesus.

It is for the sake of that divine Love that God the Son from all eternity, God from God and Light from Light, has come in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary as true Man, in order to love you with the same Love that God the Father has for Him.  His Love is no mere feeling or emotion in His heart.  It is what moves Him to act and to save you at the cost of His own life.

The almighty and eternal Son of God has come down from the bosom of His Father in heaven, that He might live and abide with you here on earth in flesh and blood like your own.  That He might love and serve you here with His forgiveness of your sins, and with the gift of divine Life in Him.

He is the very Word of God by whom all things are made, and He has come to speak to you in love.  Thus does God the Father speak to you by His Son in the Flesh.  He reveals and gives Himself to you by that Word, that you might live and abide in Him, both body and soul, both now and forever.

The Lord Jesus speaks to you in love, that His Joy may be completed in you, and that you also may find the fullness of joy in Him, and true gladness of heart, and peace with God, and Sabbath Rest.

Everything that Christ Jesus knows and receives from God the Father, He makes known to you and bestows upon you by the Word that He speaks to you.  By and with His Word of forgiveness, by and with the waters of Holy Baptism, and by and with His own Body and Blood, He pours out the Holy Spirit generously upon you.  And by the Holy Spirit He gives you life with God in Himself.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has called you His friend, and has thereby made you a friend of God, no less so than Father Abraham was.  Indeed, He has befriended you in a way that exceeds even His friendship with Abraham, for He has come in the flesh and made Himself like you in every way, save only without sin, that you might be like Him in perfect life and love and holiness.  Thus does He share with you all that He is doing, and all that belongs to Him He gives to you by grace.

He gives to you the Spirit from the Father, and He brings you in the Spirit to the Father in peace.  To that end, He laid down His life for you in love, and He took it up again by the Word and Spirit of His Father, that you might have life in Him forever and ever.  He did not choose the easy part, but He chose to sacrifice Himself for you and your salvation.  As He has said, no one took His life from Him, but He laid it down willingly — in the perfect holiness and freedom of His divine Love — that He should atone for your sins by His Blood, and raise you from death to life by His Spirit, and reconcile you to His God and Father in the righteousness of His crucified and risen Body.

By His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, He has become a new and great Passover, and He has accomplished a new and greater Exodus.  He has shed His Blood for you, and He seals you with His Blood, in order to preserve your body and soul from sin and death.  And He has passed through the waters of His Baptism, even through death and the grave, that He should also bring you through the waters out of Egypt into Canaan, into the Resurrection and the Life everlasting.

So has He come to you, not only by His Word and with His Flesh, but by the water and the blood — just as He was pierced through His side into His great heart of love upon the Cross, and from His Body flowed the water and the blood.  So has St. John testified, and his testimony is true.

By the waters of Creation, of the Flood, and of the Exodus, and by the waters of His own Baptism in the Jordan River, the Lord has come to pour out the waters of Redemption upon you, that you might be cleansed and refreshed within and without, raised up, recreated, and renewed in Him.

And by the Blood of the true Lamb of God, by the New Testament in His Blood, shed upon the Cross and poured out for you and for the many in His Supper, He seals you for life and salvation.  He binds Himself to you, and He binds you to Himself and to His God and Father, by His Blood.

Not only by His Cross but also in His Resurrection, He comes by the water and the blood, by the waters of Holy Baptism (both His and yours), and by the Blood of the Holy Communion.  He comes and gives Himself to you in these ways, as He gives the Spirit to you through His Word of Absolution, the forgiveness of your sins.  And these Three testify, together as one, to the Love of God in Christ, which is the fountain and source of your Life and Salvation with the Holy Trinity.

So does the Lord your God love you and call you to Himself in Christ.  By the Fruits of His Cross and Passion, He comes to you and pours out the Holy Spirit upon you, that He should draw you to Himself and bring you to the Father in love.  It is not that you have chosen Him, but He has chosen you.  Indeed, while you were yet His sinful enemy, when you hated Him and did your best to run away from Him, even then He loved you.  He chose you, and He called you to be His own.

He has befriended you and bound Himself to you forever.  He has anointed you with His Spirit, and He has appointed you to bear good fruits that will remain.  Indeed, He bears good fruits in you, by giving you life in Himself with the Fruits of His Cross, by the Spirit, the water, and the Blood.  The fruits that you now bear do not bring you to life, but your life in Christ does bear good fruit.

It is likewise because He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, that whatever you ask of the Father in His Name, He will do it for you.  The God and Father of Christ is your God and Father in Him, and you are His own dearly beloved child.  You are well-pleasing in His sight, because He beholds His own dear Son in you.  He does not hold your sins against you.  He does not even see them any longer.  They are daily and richly forgiven by the Spirit through the Gospel of Christ, as by the waters of His Font, so by the Blood from His Chalice.  Instead of your sins and the death that you deserve, there is the righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ, which are yours in Him.

Thus do you now live and abide in His Love, as you live and abide by faith in His Word, by faith in the Spirit, the water, and the Blood.  You live and abide in Christ, at peace with God in Him, by living in harmony with the Word that He speaks to you through the Ministry of His Gospel.

Listen, therefore, to the Lord Jesus.  Hear and heed His Word to you.  Remember that He speaks to you in love, in order to give you life.  Even when He speaks to you His Law, it is in love that He speaks, that you might know His good and gracious Will, and that you should repent of your sins and turn away from death to life with God in Christ.  So does He also speak His sweet Word of the Gospel, which takes away your sins, raises you from death, and gives you life by His grace.

Listen to the Lord who loves you, and receive what He gives you by His Word.  Receive the Lord Jesus Himself, who comes to you with forgiveness and life and salvation.  And so live as He lives.

The Life that you have received from the Lord in Holy Baptism is a life that you are given to live, by faith, according to His Commandments, which are not burdensome.  That is not to say that they are easy or painless or without cost, for they do involve the bearing of the Cross and the sacrifice of your body and life to the glory of God.  But the Commandments of Christ are not burdensome, because your life with God does not depend on your performance or success.  It is secure in Christ Jesus, who has given Himself for your salvation.  The things that He commands are nothing else but the faith and love which constitute the life that is already yours in Jesus Christ.  Live that life.

Consider what He does for you and gives to you in the Holy Communion, when He feeds you with His Body and pours out His Blood for you to drink.  Here are the Fruits of His Sacrifice, given and poured out for you, that His Passion might be manifest in you, in your love for Him and others.  As He feeds you and forgives you, as He gives you life in place of death, so love as He loves you.

Your love for the Lord Jesus Christ is not a condition upon His Love; it is rather the embracing of His prior Love for you.  To love the Lord Jesus is an exercise of faith and trust in Him, in His Word of the Gospel, in His free gifts of mercy and grace.  It is the reciprocating of His friendship, but it is more than that.  It is to find your life in Him alone, and to fix your hope on Him alone.

You love Him with your whole heart, because He is your Life and your Salvation.  So also, then, you love your neighbor as yourself, as Christ commands.  Better yet, you love your neighbor as Christ loves you.  Such love is the work and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ has poured out into your heart.  For the Spirit is the personal Bond of Love and Unity between the Father and the Son.  How, then, shall the Spirit of Love dwell in your heart, and you not love your neighbor?

Live as Jesus lives.  Love as Jesus loves you.  And speak as Jesus speaks.  For the first way that you love your neighbor is by speaking the Word that God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  Confess that Word of Christ.  Say what He says.  To be sure, you are to love not only with words, but in deeds and in truth.  But the Word of Christ is Spirit and Truth, and deeds of real love are done by active faith in His Word.  Confess His Word, therefore, and live according to His Word.

To speak the Word of Christ in love is to speak forgiveness to your neighbor, as Christ forgives you.  And again, not only with your words, but gladly doing good to those who sin against you.  Not because they are worthy or deserving of forgiveness, but because the Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven you, and the same Lord has likewise given Himself and shed His Blood in love for them.

So, too, serve your neighbor as you are served by Christ, even at the cost of your body and life.  Spend your life in love for those whom the Lord has placed alongside of you.  Get down on your hands and knees to wash your neighbor’s dirty feet.  Welcome your neighbor to recline at your table, that you might feed your neighbor as the Lord Jesus feeds you here at His Table.  And in the confidence of His Cross and Resurrection, sacrifice yourself for your neighbor, as opportunity suggests.  If you perish, you perish, but not forever.  Even though you die, yet shall you live.

Along with all of these works of love, so also pray.  Speak, not only to your neighbor, but to your Father in heaven, as He has taught you and invited you to pray.  Pray for your family, friends, and neighbors, and for those who continue to sin against you.  Pray and intercede for your church, and for your pastors.  Pray for the president of the United States, and for all the leaders of this world.  Pray that God would bring people from all nations to repentance and faith in His Word.  Pray in the confidence that God hears your prayer, and that He answers your prayer with a resounding “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus.  Pray because you love the Lord your God, and pray in love for your neighbor.  Above all, pray because your Father in heaven loves you for Jesus’ sake.

As you pray and confess the Word of God, and as you work and sacrifice in love for God and your neighbor, know that all of these good fruits which Christ the Lord bears in you, they shall remain.  Your fruits shall remain, according to His Word and promise.  The works that He has given you to do in faith and love are not meaningless, and your labors in the Lord are not in vain.  For He will accomplish His purposes in you, and the fruits that He bears in your body and life by His Word and Spirit shall remain and resound to the glory of His holy Name.

That which you attempt to accomplish and achieve apart from His Word, apart from faith and love, all of that will perish along with the world and everything in it.  But the fruits of faith and love that Christ bears in your body and life shall remain, purified by His forgiveness and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, as surely as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever, never to die again.  His Resurrection and His Life are the surety and permanence of your own body and life in Him.

His Life and His Love do not depend upon you or your works, but you depend on Him, and your life and your love depend on Him.  You live and you love because He loves you and lives for you, now and forever.  You abide in Him, because He has come to abide with you here, and by and with His Word and Spirit He lives and abides in you.  He continues to come by the water and the blood, as your Baptism continues to avail for you, day after day throughout your life, and as you take up the Cup of Salvation which He pours out at His Altar for the forgiveness of all your sins.

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