The Almighty and Eternal Son of the Living God has come down from the Father in heaven, into human flesh and blood, in order to lay down His Body and offer up His Life as a Ransom for the many, for the salvation of the world. He has entered our pagan territory of sin and death, in order to slay and defeat our ancient enemy, that old dragon, who is called the devil or Satan, the accuser.
By His sacrificial death upon the Cross, this one Lord, Jesus Christ, has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled all of us to His God and Father. He has thereby destroyed death, removed its sting, and robbed the devil of all his powers, which are sin and guilt and accusation. The Lord has thus plundered the grave and Hades of their dead. And in His Resurrection He has opened the gates of heaven to all who believe and are baptized into Him, the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus.
It is by the preaching of this precious Gospel, by this Word of forgiveness, and by the giving of life and salvation through the ways and means of His Cross and Resurrection, that Christ Jesus establishes, builds, and protects His Church on earth, even as it is in the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever lives and abides within His Church on earth is safe and secure from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and shall live and abide with Christ in Paradise, together with His Father and the Holy Spirit. For Christ Jesus is the Wise Man who has built His House upon the Rock. The winds rage, the rains pour down, and the floods rise against that House, pummeling it. But it shall not fall.
Why, then, would you even consider living outside of His House, where you would surely perish?
The dilemma that confronts the flesh of your old Adam, the paradox that puts off the sinful world in which you live, is that the Wise Man appears to be, not wise, but utterly foolish and weak. And the Rock Foundation of His Church on earth appears to be, not solid and secure, but shifting sand.
As far as human sight and sense can tell, the Lord Jesus Christ appears to be no more than a man. A great Prophet, perhaps. A good and righteous man. And a powerful preacher, no doubt. But surely not the Son of God, the Savior of all people. No one is able to see that by flesh and blood.
And when He is crucified, put to death, and buried — condemned as a criminal, hung up on the Cross in naked shame and humiliation, and then laid to rest within a borrowed tomb — where is there any victory in that? Where is the power and might of His great Glory? Where is the promise of His coming? Where do you ever see or feel or experience His Resurrection and His Life?
He declares that even the gates of Hades shall never prevail against His Church. But what, then, of the fact that you, and your loved ones, your family and friends and fellow Christians, are subject to death and finally buried in the ground? Where is your hope, your life, and your salvation?
Where is the Living God who can and will help you, when death still seems to get the last word?
The Church appears to be a pitiful fortress indeed! Little more than a fisherman’s shack upon the seashore. Its so-called Rock Foundation is but the Ministry of the Gospel, that is, the preaching of repentance, the spoken Word of Absolution, the washing of water with the Word, and the administration of bread and wine in the Name and stead of Christ Jesus, the Crucified One.
And what sort of men are called and sent to preach and administer this Gospel? Sinners, the lot of them! Men like Simon Peter and Saul of Tarsus, the one a wavering denier of Christ, and the other a former diehard Pharisee, a persecutor of Jesus and His Christians. Pastors to this day are quarried from the same rockpile: Sinners in need of forgiveness for their own sins. Mortals, subject to death and the grave, just like you. Finite, flawed, and frail creatures of flesh and blood.
And what keys do they bring? With what do they come to set you free from the death grip of sin and to open the gates of heaven to you? By what power and authority are they supposed to keep you safe? Nothing but the Gospel, the Words of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the means of grace. All pitiful and pathetic, it would seem, and impotent in the face of all your needs, all your hurts, and all your suffering. You shall not perceive or believe otherwise by your own reason or strength.
You cannot recognize the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is. Nor could you have done so back in the day. You cannot come to Him, nor can you love and trust in Him, unless the Father reveals Him to you, and gives Him to you, and lays Him on your heart by His Word and Holy Spirit.
But the beautiful truth of the Gospel is, that the Father surely does reveal and give His Son to you, according to His grace, mercy, and love. It’s just that He does it by the Cross of Christ, and by the preaching of His Gospel, which appear to all the world to be so foolish and miserable and weak.
You cannot open your eyes wide enough to see it. But He opens your eyes in faith by the Light of His Word, by His Gospel, by the forgiveness of all your sins in the Name and stead and for the sake of Christ Jesus. You cannot open your heart or your head to accept it. But He opens your ears to hear it. He opens your mind to understand it. And He opens wide your heart to believe it.
And then, not only that, but He also does for you as He did for St. Peter. The Father opens up your lips to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who has come in the flesh to be your Savior, and who, by His Cross and Resurrection, has become your Strength and your Song.
The Word that His servants speak to you is His Word. The Sacraments they administer are His works of life and salvation for you. Their forgiveness of your sins in His Name is His forgiveness of all your sins. And according to His own Word and promise, by that special authority of Christ which He has entrusted to His Church in the Office of the Keys, that Absolution (or forgiveness) is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ your dear Lord dealt with you Himself. Because it is, in fact, your dear Lord Jesus Christ who is dealing with you precisely in this way.
And His forgiveness of your sins, His free and full forgiveness of all your sins by the spoken Word of His Gospel — though it seems a still small voice against the rage and roaring of the devil — it is a most solid foundation of a most impenetrable Mighty Fortress.
Where sin is forgiven, the devil cannot accuse you. Where sin is forgiven, even God’s own Law does not condemn you anymore forever. Where sin is forgiven, death no longer has any claim on you; it must relinquish your body and soul to Christ your Redeemer, who has purchased and won you for Himself with His own holy and precious Blood.
To that end, He gives you a down payment on the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, by feeding you with His Body and Blood right here at His Altar on earth.
Where sin is forgiven — and your sin is forgiven! — there is only life and salvation, come hell or high water against you. It cannot touch you. It shall not reach you. You shall not die, but live.
The gates of Hades shall not prevail against you within the Body of Christ, His Church. For the Word and Flesh of Christ abide and stand fast forever. His death has been the death of death and hell’s destruction. His Resurrection is your Resurrection, and His Life Everlasting is yours.
Taste and see that it is so, and that the goodness, loving-kindness, and tender mercies of your Lord abide forever in the Body and Blood of Christ, your Savior, crucified and risen from the dead.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.