09 December 2018

To Worship the Lord Your God by an Acceptable Sacrifice

It is in His mercy that God speaks to you.  Listen to what He says.  Hear and heed His Word to you, His Voice.  For He sends His messenger before His face to preach to you, and by the foolishness of the preaching He saves you.  He takes away your sins and gives you life eternal with Himself.

By the speaking of His Word God called the heavens and the earth into existence out of nothing.  And so, now, by the preaching of His Voice, He calls you out of darkness into Light and raises you from death to Life, that you might live and love in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

Apart from His Word there is only death.  But God speaks to you.  So listen, and live according to His Word.  Do not pursue death and the grave any longer, which is all that your sin ever does, but turn away from evil and do good.  Do not take, but give; do not hurt, but help your neighbors.  Do unto your neighbors, to each and all of them, as you would have your neighbors do for you.

In loving your neighbors, you demonstrate the faith by which you worship the one true God, who does not take but gives, who does not hurt but helps.  And you are commanded to worship Him.

You will worship something, and you do.  Believe that.  Your heart is created to worship, and you will worship something, or someone.  But you are commanded to worship the Lord your God, Him only shall you serve.  And to do so, to worship Him, is not only His Commandment, it is Life itself.

To worship the Lord your God is to believe and trust in Him.  It is to hear His Word, and to confess what you have heard.  It is to call upon His Name, the very Name with which He has named you, to pray, praise, and gave thanks in His Name, even in the face of suffering and death.  It is to call on Him in confidence and hope, expecting only good from Him at all times and in all situations.

To worship the Lord your God is true and real Life.  Worship Him, then, not by any part or portion, but with your whole self, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, with all that you do and say.

That is the polar opposite of self-righteousness, whereby you barter and bargain with God in the hopes of buying Him off with a percentage and keeping the rest for yourself to do with as you will, to live your own life.  He calls you instead to sacrifice everything, to offer up your body as a living sacrifice.  You thereby worship Him with your entire being, trusting that God the Father will pour out His Spirit upon you and provide you with all good things and every perfect gift in Christ Jesus.

Open your mouth wide, and He will fill it.  For here is the delicious irony of faith and life, that in giving yourself entirely over to Him, the Lord your God gives Himself and His divine Life to you.  So have no fear that you will come up short.  If you live according to His Word, if your whole life is entrusted to Him, you will lack no good thing.  If God Himself is yours, what else do you need?

Open up your hands and mouth in faith, and He will feed you and fill you up with all that you need and more, so that His love overflows in you for your neighbors in the world.  That is the way of life with God in Christ, to live in faith toward Him, and so to live in love for your neighbors.

The alternative to such worship of the Lord in faith and love is to be consumed by the very things that you hunger for, the false gods that you worship by your lustful appetites.  That is the sad irony.  Those things that you chase after and pursue with all your might — those things that your heart, if not your stomach, growls and grumbles for — those things and your hunger for them will eat you up, devour you, and consume you, until there is nothing left of you but death and damnation.

It is a paradox, which your sinful mind cannot comprehend.  It is a conundrum, which your sinful heart cannot fathom.  Sacrifice yourself to God, and live with Him in faith and love now and forever.  Or else, pursue those things that you so desire, which seem so enticing and promising in this world, only to be swallowed up by your appetites, and to perish along with all of your stuff.

Repent.  That is the preaching of St. John, the Voice of God.  It is the preaching of Christ and His Apostles.  And it is the preaching that I am sent to speak to you.  Repent.  Turn away from evil, and do good.  No longer trust in your false gods and idols, but put your hope in the Lord Jesus.

For the Lord is coming, and He will appear suddenly, with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap, to purify the sons of Levi, to purify all the sons of Jacob, all of Israel and Judah and Jerusalem.  The Lord is coming, and He will suddenly appear — with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap — to purify you.

Now think back to Mt. Sinai, when God had brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand.  Remember how Moses was on that Mountain forty days and forty nights, but then, as he was coming down, he heard the sound of revelry in the camp, among the people.  It was not the sound of victory or defeat, but the gluttony and fornication of idolatry.  It was the sound of the people worshiping the false god they had made out of their precious gold.

So Moses took that gold which had passed through fire and come out as a calf, he crushed it and pulverized it, and he cast it upon the water and made the people drink it.

Then God purified the sons of Levi and set them apart.  He took three thousand of them, and He told them to strap on their swords, to go through the camp and slay their brothers, their friends, their children and parents, to devour with the sword all those who had committed idolatry.  That is how the Lord purifies the sons of Levi and visits His wrath upon the children of disobedience.

How then shall you stand His coming?  How shall you endure His cleansing by fire and water?  And how shall you not be devoured by the sword on account of your own idolatry and unbelief?  For the Lord your God is surely coming with the Holy Spirit and with fire, with the Sword of His Spirit and with the fire of His Law, in order to thoroughly clear His threshing floor.  He is coming to harvest His wheat into His barn — and to burn up all the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Examine your heart, and consider your life in the light of the Lord’s Commandments, whatever your calling and stations in life may be.  What wheat is there in you?  And what chaff?  How much of your time and energy are occupied with taking and hurting?  How little do you spend on giving and helping?  What good fruits does your tree produce?  For every tree that does not produce fruit is cut down and, like the chaff, burned up with fire.  How, then, shall you be saved and survive?

Repent!  And take heart in the Lord.  For He is gracious and merciful, He is slow to anger, and He is full of compassion.  It is in mercy that He sends His messenger, St. John — the son of Zacharias, a son of Levi — to purify you by his preaching, and to prepare you for the coming of the Christ.

As the Voice of God, the Forerunner preaches a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  That is how he clears the way.  That is how he makes you ready and prepares your heart for the mightier One who is coming after.  That is how the Lord purifies you for Himself, not with a sword through your body, but with a Word that puts you to death in order to make you alive with Him.

Wherever that Voice is heard, wherever that preaching of repentance is proclaimed in the Name of the Lord, wherever that washing of the water with His Word is administered for the forgiveness of sins, there the Lord Himself is at hand, who comes in the flesh to save you for life in Himself.

Hear and heed the Word that is preached to you, therefore, and return every day to the banks of the Jordan, that is, to the waters of your Holy Baptism.  Not to be “re-baptized” (for there is only one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, which is the work of the Lord and cannot be improved upon), but to remember and to exercise the significance of your Baptism by contrition and repentance.

Believe what God the Lord is speaking to you.  Hear and receive His Word of Holy Absolution.  Be cleansed of all your sins, and bear the fruits of repentance in your life, not only with sorrow in your heart, but with good works in your hands, and with good words on your lips.  Bear the fruits of repentance in the place where God has put you on earth.  Bear the fruits of repentance, that your neighbor might open up his hands and his mouth to be fed and nourished by the good gifts of God.

Bear the fruits of repentance by worshiping the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and by loving your neighbor as yourself.  Those are the fruits of Christ, the fruits of His good Tree, His holy Cross.  They are the fruits of righteousness and peace, because they are His own fruits which He bears in you and for you, as surely as He has suffered and died for you, and just as He is risen from the dead to live and reign eternally as your merciful and great High Priest.

He is the One who has gone through the fire on your behalf, when the Lord was pleased to crush Him in your place.  St. John, the son of Levi, is the instrument by which this Lamb of God was anointed for the Sacrifice of Atonement by His Baptism in the Jordan River. Thus has He suffered the cleansing that you so required, so that by His flesh and blood, far more precious than gold, you are purified.  He has been pulverized and cast upon the waters of your Baptism, so that you might die with Him in those waters, and rise with Him and live with Him, as well, in His Resurrection.

It is by His sacrifice that He has entered into His Temple, into the Holy of Holies, into the Inner Sanctum, the very Bosom of His Father in heaven.  But so is it also by and from and through His sacrifice on the Cross that He now comes and enters into His Temple here on earth, as well.

Here within His Church on earth is the crossing of the Jordan, whereby the Lord Jesus brings you out of the wilderness into Canaan, as in the days of old when Joshua (the son of Nun) brought the sons of Israel into the good Land that God the Lord had promised to their fathers.

Then the sons of Levi took up the Ark of the Covenant and stood in the midst of the Jordan while Joshua led the people of Israel through the water.  So now does this son of Levi, St John, take his stand in the midst of the Jordan, preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  As Jesus will enter those waters in His own Body of flesh and blood, and as He passes through those waters on His way to the Cross, so do you follow Him through the water into the Kingdom of God.

It is by His sacrifice that you and all His people, all who believe and are baptized into Him, are purified in body and soul and presented as an acceptable sacrifice to God, pleasing in His sight.  In the Body and Blood of Christ, given for you on the Cross, given and poured out for you here in His Sacrament, you come into the Temple of God, into the Holy of Holies, the Inner Sanctum, the very Bosom of God the Father, who is now also your God and Father in His beloved Son.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, everything that belongs to Him is now yours.  Indeed, He withholds no good thing from you, but He feeds you with Himself, with His own Body and His Blood, the Fruits His good Tree, the Cross, the very Sacrifice of Atonement that He has made once for all.

Open your mouth wide.  See how He fills it.  See how He feeds you.  See how you lack nothing.  By the preaching of His Gospel, by His Word and works of forgiveness, you are anointed with His Holy Spirit and united with Him as a beloved member of His Body and Bride, the Church.  So do you worship God the Father rightly and well, in holy faith and holy love, in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Already you are righteous, already you are holy, already you are pleasing to the Father in heaven, through His incarnate Son, who is your Savior and Redeemer.  There is nothing lacking, nothing that comes up short, not in Him.  For He purifies you daily with His forgiveness of all your sins.

And He who has begun this good work in you by His Word, will likewise perfect it and bring it to completion by His Word, unto the appearing of your Lord Jesus Christ.  Then shall you also see Him as He is, and you shall be like Him, glorious as He is glorious, immortal and imperishable.

So now enter His gates with thanksgiving, enter His courts with praise.  Come into His presence with singing, with Psalms and hymns and Spiritual songs to the glory of His Name.  For He feeds you and He fills you in body and soul with the fruits of His righteousness, the gifts of His Gospel.  Wherefore, in Christ Jesus, you abound more and more in faith and love to the glory and praise, the honor and worship of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

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