08 July 2018

The Ministry of the Word of Christ for Body and Soul

You have recently heard that Jesus raised a little girl from the dead and healed a woman who had for twelve years suffered an incurable hemorrhage.  You know, as well, from the Holy Gospels, that He opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf; that He enabled the paralyzed and lame to get up and walk; that He cleansed lepers, cast out demons, and calmed the wind and waves.

You’ve been hearing these stories of Jesus for most of your life.  You believe and confess that they are true.  And more often than not, you long for Him to work such miracles in your body and life.  You call upon His Name and pray, and yet, you wonder if and when you will ever be answered.

Beloved of the Lord, do not doubt that you are heard and answered.  But do bear in mind that it is by His Word of the Cross that He responds and deals with you, and that your life with God in Christ Jesus is, for now, by faith and not by sight.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Those who look to Him for health and strength, who listen to His Word and trust in Him, they lack nothing at all.  Everything in heaven and on earth is theirs in Christ Jesus, by the grace of God, by faith in His Word.  All by the way of His Cross.

He comes to give you all good things by the preaching and teaching of His Word.  That is what He does in His hometown, and in those other villages.  And that is what He sends His men to do for you: To preach and teach His Word.  To this day, and in this place, He is thereby in the synagogue, according to His custom, preaching and teaching the Word of God unto repentance and faith.

He preaches the Law — what God commands and forbids — because God’s Law declares to you the way of life.  It is His good and acceptable will, and it is good for you.  He preaches the Law, however, not that you would get your act together, fix yourself, and make everything right, but that you should repent of your sins, rely upon His mercy, and believe in His Gospel of salvation.

He preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And that is what His ministers preach in His Name and stead: Repentance and Forgiveness.  That is the Word of His Cross and Resurrection, whereby you are put to death and die with Him, and by which you are raised with Him to newness of life in body and soul, already here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  For it is by His Word that He forgives your sins, heals your diseases, rescues you from every evil, and gives you eternal life.

And yet, that surely is not what you see and feel and experience in this vale of tears, in this poor life of labor.  Which is why the Word of Jesus seems so utterly absurd.  He keeps preaching these good things, but everything in your life contradicts it.  You and your loved ones still get sick, and you know that you and they are going to die.  You feel it in your body and your bones long before it happens.  Meanwhile, your house and home, your job, and your whole life are all so precarious.

And to all those dangers and fears, Jesus just keeps saying: “Your sins are forgiven!”  Great.

Remember the paralytic they brought to Jesus?  He couldn’t walk, so his friends carried him to the place where Jesus was, and went to the trouble of cutting a hole in the roof and lowering him down to Jesus.  They laid him right there at His feet.  And the man was paralyzed, lying on a stretcher.  It seemed obvious what he needed.  But what did Jesus do?  “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

Okay.  That seems odd, if you stop and think about it.  But you also know how that story continues, when the Pharisees and Scribes question this apparent blasphemy on the part of this Man who presumes to forgive sins.  Yeah, right!  Who can tell if He did it or not?  So Jesus heals the man, who gets up and walks.  Now, be honest.  Does your heart not long for that kind of healing, too?

Of course, you’re very grateful for the forgiveness of your sins.  But you would also like to get up and walk, and to go home rejoicing.  To be set free from your burdens, from all the frailties of your flesh, all the sorrows of your heart, the confusion in your head, and the turmoil in your life.  For all of that, the Word that you hear and receive from the Lord Jesus seems very weak and downright wearisome.  Especially when Jesus keeps on saying it, but nothing ever changes for the better.

So you are tempted to hold Jesus in contempt, because His Word seems so helpless and irritating.  Instead of making your life better, He calls you to repentance, and He speaks of your forgiveness.  Where you perceive yourself to be a poor victim, He addresses you as a poor, miserable sinner.  Which might seem worse than nothing and make you angry.  And yet, it is the Word of His own Cross and Resurrection that He preaches into your ears, which is, in fact, the remedy that you need.

His Word confronts you with a crisis and a crossroads.  It’s not what your flesh wants to hear, and, on the surface, it does not seem to be doing any good.  But to deny and reject the Word of Christ is to reject Christ Jesus Himself; and to reject the Lord Jesus Christ is to reject His God and Father and the Holy Spirit and the only real life there is.  To deny and reject His preaching, therefore, is to consign yourself to death and damnation in body and soul, now and forever.  The same thing is true in the case of the preaching of Christ by those men whom He sends to preach in His Name.

You have heard His Word to those men in this Holy Gospel: “If any place will not receive you, then, as you leave that place. . . .” And that is already a sobering prospect.  It can happen that God removes His Word from you.  And while that may seem like a relief at first, it is the most terrifying discipline of all.  As Dr. Luther has put it, God sends such a famine of His Word, that your heart cries out for even a single syllable of what the Lord would say to you, and yet you hear nothing.

“When you go out from that place,” He says, “shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”  And that is serious business.  It is to give evidence and testimony for the final judgment.  For the fact is that, whether they listen or not, a Prophet has been among them.  And the Word of the Prophet is the Word of the Lord.  To refuse the preaching of the Prophets and Apostles, to deny and reject them, to harden your heart against them, is to refuse and reject the Lord to your peril.

There is a prophet in your midst.  Not a teller of the future, but a preacher of the Word of Christ.  And that Word is your help and your hope in the face of sickness, sorrow, sin, and death.  It’s not just grasping at straws.  It’s not a pious pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.  It is the Truth of Christ Jesus.

You should repent.  Turn away from your sins, and listen to God.  Do not continue to pursue those things which claw at your heart and seize your mind.  Rather, give your ears to what God speaks, and open your mouth to be fed by His Word.  Listen to what He says, and trust what He promises.

The Lord your God comes in the flesh and with His Word to save you.  It is not to burden you that He comes.  It is not to irritate you that He preaches.  He hasn’t come to trick you, either.  It’s not a game that He’s playing.  It is rather from the depths of His great heart of love that He comes to save you from your sins, from death and the devil, and to give you life with God as a member of His own Body and Bride.  His almighty power is made known chiefly in His mercy toward you.

He comes and calls you to repent.  To turn away from unbelief.  To turn away from your idolatry, from your adultery, and from your lust for the things of this world; from fornication and addiction; from your foul mouth and your wicked gossip; from your yearning for money more than Him; from your pride, and from your despair; from your love for the praises of men more than God.  He calls you away from all of that, not to shame you, not to hurt you, not to rob you of life, but to save you.  Because there is life in none of those things, but only in Him.  And He wants to give you His life.

That is why He sends His men to preach His Word, to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name.  That is why, wherever they come in with the preaching of Christ and His Gospel, it is still as it was in your Baptism: “Depart, unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit!”  Because God pours out His Spirit generously upon you, and into your heart, through this Gospel of Christ Jesus.  And He does not hold any of your sins against you.  Even as He calls you to account for them, it is to remove them, as in Christ He has already removed them from His sight.

With His Word of the Cross, He removes your unclean spirit.  He takes away your sin and death.  And in the place of all that, He gives you Himself and all His gifts and benefits, unto eternal Life.  Not only for your soul, but also for your body, even now while it is dying.  That is what He does.

He did it already in your Baptism, when He crucified you with Himself.  For He does not put you to death all by yourself, alone and lonesome, but He has gone ahead of you through the valley of the shadow of death.  He has first of all been crucified for you.  His almighty power is made perfect in His voluntary weakness, all for the sake of your salvation.  So that, now, as you are crucified by His Word, it is with Him, your great Champion.  And not only are you put to death, but you are also raised to life with Him.  For the Lord kills and makes alive.  He wounds, but He also heals.

So also, here at His Altar, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Lord who was crucified and raised for your salvation lays hold of you in love and binds Himself to you most intimately.  And all that He has done and accomplished for you, in His Body, is now given into your body.

Now, He does not force Himself upon you.  He will not violate you in heart, mind, body, or soul.  He does not take liberties with you, but rather uses His liberty as the Son of God to serve you and to save you at His own expense.  He takes nothing from you, except your burdens of sin and death.  And in return He gives to you the treasures of His Kingdom.  He woos you in love with His grace, mercy, and peace.  He pours Himself out for you entirely, and He pours out His Spirit generously upon you, that you might have life with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by the preaching of the Gospel, which is the preaching of His Cross unto repentance and faith in His forgiveness.

That Word of the Cross, which puts you to death and raises you to life with Christ Jesus, that is the true and only wisdom upon which you can rely.  It is utterly foolish to the world, and yet, it is the Wisdom of the Lord your God, who is all mercy and compassion.  Indeed, His Cross is your only boast in heaven and on earth.  The Cross that He bore and suffered for you.  The Cross He laid upon you in your Baptism, which He preaches to you still, and which you bear and carry in His Name within your vocations and stations in life.  That Cross is not your defeat but your true glory.

The same Lord Jesus Christ who has borne the Cross for you, who has been crucified for all your sins and raised for your justification, He is your Sabbath Rest.  In Him you have Peace with God.  In Him there is a real liberty, a true freedom and independence, such as the world cannot give or achieve or even begin to understand.  Whatever cease fire this world ever achieves is temporary, just like your day off, your three-day weekends, and your vacations, all of which come to an end.

Not so with the Peace that surpasses human understanding.  That true Peace is yours with God in Christ.  And that Peace is no mere temporary cease fire.  It is a place of real safety, a permanent home with God who loves you, with whom you have been reconciled by the death of His own Son.

That Peace and Rest with God in Christ shall never be taken from you, not even if your body is crucified, burned, and scattered to the winds.  All things are still yours in the Body of Christ.

His crucified and risen Body is your true home and your shelter.  And within His Body on earth, His holy Christian Church, He gives to you His life and health and strength, and yes, all the wealth and riches of heaven itself, even in the face of all the afflictions and hardships that you now bear.

With the Food and Clothing of Christ and His Cross, be content.  For the Lord does not fail to feed you with His Word, and with His Body and Blood.  What firmer guarantee could you be given?  Nor does He fail to clothe you.  You are not found naked, unclothed, or abandoned in the streets.  For He has dressed you in His own righteousness, like a Bride made ready for her Bridegroom.

With this Food and Clothing, be content.  Taste and see that your Lord is good.  As you receive Him into your ears, into your mouth, and into your body and soul, you lack nothing that is good.  Here on earth as it is in heaven, this one true God is your God, and you are His own, His own dear child and a sheep of His pasture.  Eat and drink from His hand, and live with Him in His Kingdom.

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

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