24 February 2019

A Place of Peace and Rest in Christ Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ has taken your place — from His Baptism in the Jordan River to His crucifixion, death, and burial — in order to give you His own place in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father.  So it is that, in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, the one true God is your own true Father, and you are His very own dear child.

As your Savior, the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, has come down from heaven to save you from sin, death, and the devil.  He has borne your griefs and carried all your sorrows on His own back and shoulders.  He has taken the heavy yoke of the Law upon Himself, and carried the full burden of your sin in His Body to the Cross, in order to make Atonement for you by the shedding of His holy, precious Blood.  So, then, in His Resurrection from the dead, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you receive all the good gifts and blessings of His Father, and you find your dwelling place in Him.

Come to Him, therefore — here within His House on earth — and find your perfect Sabbath Rest in Him, in the Liturgy of His Gospel, in the Ministry of His preaching and His Holy Sacrament.

He has ascended into heaven, where He ever lives to make intercession for you before the Throne of God, and where He has established a place for you with the Father in Himself.  But so has He also made a place for you within His Church on earth; and He abides with you here, especially by the Gospel Ministry of those men whom He sends in His Name and stead, who preach and teach His Word, who work His works with His authority and administer His means of grace and peace.

It is by this Ministry of the Gospel that God the Father reveals and gives to you His beloved Son.  So also does the Son pour out the Holy Spirit upon you and reveal the Father to you.  It is in this way that Christ Jesus brings you with Himself, in the Holy Spirit, to His God and Father in heaven.

Thus, by the way and means of the Gospel, it is indeed on earth, here and now, as it is in heaven.

You cannot come into this divine Life by your own reason or strength.  You cannot grasp it by yourself, nor for yourself.  You will fail every time you try.  You cannot take it, nor can you keep it by your own labors and hard efforts.  Not by your intelligence; not by your instincts, intuition, or experience; and not by any strategy of your own devising.  It is simply not within your power.

But Christ has come to you, and He calls you and brings you to Himself, by the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness.  And with His Word of grace and peace, He gives you a place that remains.

Better than that, your merciful and great High Priest, Christ Jesus, is your Place.  He is your Home, in whom your righteousness abides.  He is your Place of perfect Peace and genuine Sabbath Rest.

You live and abide and rest in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood, as you live and abide within His Body, the Church.  You live in Him, in faith before God, and in love for your neighbor.  Such faith and love are the fulfillment of the Law, the righteousness of Christ, which is credited to you through faith in His Gospel.  Such is the life that He grants to you by His grace, and to which He calls you by His Word and Spirit.  That is the place where you now live with Him.

It is sobering to consider that Judas Iscariot was given that same place, as a disciple, and as an Apostle of Christ Jesus.  But he departed from that blessed place, in order to go to his own place, to a place of his own making, apart from God, to the darkness of despair, death, and damnation.

St. Matthias, though, who has already been given the place of Christ as a disciple, is now called and ordained to work within the place of Christ as one of the holy Apostles, as well.  In that Office he speaks with the voice of Christ Jesus.  He speaks the Word of the Lord, the Law and the Gospel, unto repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins.  He works the works of Christ in His Name.

There is hard work and suffering involved in this sacred vocation.  And at the end of his life and service on this earth, Matthias will be martyred for the Ministry of the Gospel of Christ.  Not only in his words and works, but in his very body and life, he bears the Cross of Christ the Crucified, precisely because he is one who has been given the place of Christ.  That is true, not only for the Apostles of our Lord, but for all of His disciples in their respective vocations and stations in life.

For all of that, and as hard as it may be to comprehend, Jesus declares and promises that His yoke is “easy,” that His burden is “light.”  Not from the standpoint of the world and its expectations; nor from the perspective of your old Adam and your mortal flesh, which, like Matthias, are finally put to death.  But even the burden of mortality and death becomes “light,” and the work that you are called to do is “easy,” because your peace and rest are found in Christ Jesus, in His risen Body, in His indestructible Life.  Your body and life are hidden safely and securely with Christ in God.

You have been granted the place of Christ in the presence of your God and Father in heaven.  So do you also occupy and live within the place of Christ Jesus in loving service for your neighbor, wherever the Lord your God has stationed you in this world, in this poor life of labor.  Here, it is true, the place that you are given and its duties are heavy and hard.  To be called to faith and love in the here and now, is to be called daily to death, to carry the Cross and follow after Christ.  So are you commanded, for example, to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.

Remember, though, that it is the place of Christ to which you have been called, in which you now live and abide by His grace.  He, too, has suffered and died, not only for your neighbor but for you.  By His death He has conquered death, and in His Resurrection He has opened up the way of life for you and for all, forever and ever.  So the yoke is easy, because you do not work or suffer for yourself and your salvation, but for Him who has already died and is risen for your Atonement and Justification.  And your burden is light, because your sin is forgiven and your death is undone.

Such is the Peace of Christ, which the world does not know and cannot provide, but it is yours.

In gentleness and tender care, the Lord who loves you comes to serve you in body and soul, and to give you His own life.  He daily removes and washes away your sins with His holy forgiveness.  He raises you up from death to life, not only by the promise of His own Resurrection from the dead, but also by restoring you to the pledge and promise of your Baptism; by providing for all your needs, according to His grace and mercy; and by feeding you with His Body and His Blood, in which your flesh and blood are made brand new and made ready for the resurrection at the last.

In receiving these gifts, rely upon His gracious Word and promise, and so rest yourself in Him.  Rejoice in the knowledge of faith, trusting that you are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus, your Savior.  Be at peace, dear child of God, as your Father is at Peace with you in His beloved Son.

It is not by your own wisdom, reason, or strength.  It never is, nor can it ever be.  But like a little baby, as in your mother’s womb or at her breast, or cradled in your daddy’s arms, so are you fed and cared for by the Lord your God within His Holy Christian Church, on earth as it is in heaven.

Consider the example of St. Matthias, who does not say or do anything in the case at hand, but he simply receives the Office to which he is called and ordained.  So does the dear Lord Jesus raise up servants for His beloved Church on earth.  He has always done so, even to this day and place.

Through pastors who are given a place by God’s grace — who follow in the train of the Apostles and Prophets and Martyrs, who speak and serve by the calling of Christ Jesus — by their preaching and administration of His Holy Gospel, the Father reveals His beloved Son to you, the Son reveals His God and Father to you, and the Holy Spirit establishes you in the Kingdom of God by faith in His Word.  Not only are you called to occupy an office of love, wherein you serve your neighbor in the world to the glory of God, but so are you given your own house and home with God, your own dear Father in heaven.  For the Body of Christ, His Son, is your Place of Peace and Rest.

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

17 February 2019

Blessed Are You in Christ Jesus, Our Lord

Everything that has happened since our Lord Jesus preached His first sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth has been an exercise of His Word, as He lives from the significance of His Baptism in the Jordan River toward His Cross and Resurrection.  For He is the Christ, anointed by the Spirit of God to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to deliver the captive, to give sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of release from bondage.

Those are not empty promises, nor are they some kind of pie in the sky.  They are a present reality in the Body of Christ Jesus.  In all the frailty of His truly human flesh and blood, He is and remains the almighty and eternal Son of the living God, who has come in the form of a servant, bearing the full burden of our sins, in order to share His own divine life and glory with all of us poor sinners.

As the incarnate Son of God, the Word-made-Flesh, He brings not only a “message” of good news, but He Himself is the Gospel.  He is Healing, Deliverance, Sight, Liberty, and Release.  He is your personal Champion against all the powers and oppression of sin, death, and hell.  And in His own flesh and blood, which He so graciously gives to you, He is your Life and Health and Salvation.

Sadly, many of those for whom He has come reject Him and send Him away.  Too many despise His Word and the preaching of it.  Too many refuse to receive the gift of His Body and Blood.

Thus did His own people of Nazareth recoil at His Word, reject Him, and attempt to get rid of Him.  But so had their ancestors dealt with the Prophets of the Lord in the Old Testament, and so would their children persecute the Apostles and the ministers of Christ who follow in His footsteps.

In the estimation of the world, the persecution of Christ and His preachers is a sure sign of failure.  Just as your own flesh tends to measure everything in life on the basis of how well it is received and regarded by the crowds.  You count yourself blessed when you are popular, prestigious, and prosperous in that which is perishing.  But you wail and moan when you suffer hardship and loss.

Which goes to show how consistently you violate the first and most important Commandment, that you are to fear, love, and trust in God, the Lord, above all people and all things.  For all of that, your happiness in life, your contentment and peace, your confidence and hope for the future, dare not rest upon your material possessions, your creature comforts, your own thoughts and feelings, or on anything other than Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, the incarnate Son of God the Father.  Nor should you despair or mourn like those who have no hope when any or all of those things are taken from you.  Your life does not consist in your possessions or your peeps, it resides in God.

In Christ Jesus you find a totally different measure of faith and life: First of all in the example of His own faith and life on your behalf; and so also, as today, in His Words of Blessing and Woe.

His Cross, for example, which appears to all the world as though it were the ultimate failure and defeat, is in fact the Hour of His Divine Glory, the Epiphany of His deep love and tender mercy for all people, and the way and the means of His great Victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell.

Although He is despised and rejected by the world, He is beloved and well-pleasing to His God and Father in heaven.  And it is according to the good and gracious will of God that He voluntarily takes up the Cross, lays down His Body and Life, and sheds His holy and precious Blood for the salvation of the very world that hates Him.  Thus does He take all your sins and death and sorrows upon Himself, that He should grant you His forgiveness, His Life, and His great joy in return.

It is this Victory of His Cross which is now revealed and made manifest for all the world to receive in His Resurrection from the dead.  As you have heard from St. Paul in the Epistle this morning, the Resurrection of Christ Jesus is the guarantee and surety of your own resurrection from death to life everlasting.  For He is risen and lives forever as the One who bore your sins and carried all your sorrows, who endured the punishment of your iniquity and suffered your death in your stead.

And so it is that, on His way to the Cross, He heals the sick, raises the dead, and casts out demons.  He preaches the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation, and He invites sinners to repent of their sins and to recline at the Table with Him, to feast with Him and find their Sabbath Rest in Him, who is their heavenly Bridegroom, their Savior, and their one true God in human flesh and blood.

Thus do crowds of people and the multitude of His disciples seek Him out — to hear His Word and to lay hold of Him in the flesh — because the power of forgiveness and Life goes out from Him.

No less does He pour out the same power of forgiveness and Life for you, to this day and in this place, by the preaching and ministry of those whom He calls and sends in His Name and stead.  Like the Apostles, they speak the Words of Jesus in the preaching of His Gospel and the granting of His Absolution, and they work the deeds of Christ in Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion.

But those who preach and those who hear His Word, those who baptize and those who are baptized in His Name, likewise bear His Cross and suffer persecution and rejection in this body and life.  That is why the Lord Jesus here instructs you in the Way of His Cross, which is the Way of Life, the Way of divine grace and every blessing in Christ, despite the way it feels and seems to you.

He does not lecture you from an ivory tower, from a distance on high, but He comes down from the mountain and stands beside you on the plain.  God in Man made manifest, He is the Temple and City of God on earth as it is in heaven; He is the Name and the Glory of God here with you.  And by His Word and Holy Spirit He draws all people to Himself, calling sinners to repentance, and making disciples from all the nations by the catechesis of His Word and Baptism in His Name.

It is in Christ Jesus alone, by His Cross and Resurrection, that the blessings of God are given and received in the midst of poverty, sickness, and death; and without Him there is nothing but woe.

Woe to you, therefore, the curse of the Fall, when you fear, love, and trust in wealth and riches as your god; when “having” makes you happy, and “not having” throws you into despair.  Woe to you when your measure of success and your consolation in life are the size of your house, the status of your neighborhood, the number and quality of your toys, and the temporal value of your assets.  For what will it profit you to gain the whole world for a while, but to forfeit your soul forever?

Woe to you when your income is your security; when your investments are your confidence and hope for the future; when your insurance policies are your safeguard against sickness and death.  Sooner or later, every one of those things will be spent, used up, and gone for good.

By contrast, blessed are you in Christ Jesus, be you rich or poor.  For though He was rich beyond measure, yet, for your sake He made Himself poor, that you might inherit the riches of God in Him.

Blessed are you in Christ Jesus, though your job may be taken away, your house may burn to the ground, and your savings may amount to nothing.  He who feeds the ravens and the sparrows, who dresses the flowers of the field, He will not let you perish forever.  His grace is sufficient for you, one day at a time.  And even in your poverty, the very Kingdom of God is yours in Christ Jesus.

But woe to you, the curse of the Fall, when you are filled and content and satisfied with perishable things, when your belly is your god, and you worship and serve your appetites day after day.

Woe to you when you take the credit for your daily bread, as though you had caused the sun to shine, the rain to fall, and the crops to grow; as though you had flexed your mortal hand to satisfy your every need.  I tell you the truth, the Lord will send such a famine and a drought upon you, that you will learn to hunger for even the crumbs of bread that fall from His table.  He will humble your pride and teach you to rely upon His open hand for all that you need to support this body and life.

Even so, blessed are you in Christ our Lord when you have learned to hunger for His Providence.  For He would feed you, fill you up, and satisfy you with every good thing in Himself.  Indeed, when you drink the living Water which He generously pours out for you, then you will not thirst, but that very Water will become in you a fountain of Water springing up into everlasting life.  And when you eat that living Bread which is the Flesh of Christ, you will not die but live forever.  For His Flesh is Meat indeed, His Blood is Drink indeed, by which He lives in you, and you in Him.

Blessed are you, therefore, when you hunger and thirst for Christ Jesus alone.  Though your body may waste away in hunger, and though your blood runs thin and weak in your veins, He remains your Nourishment and Strength and Vitality.  With Christ you are filled up and satisfied forever.

But woe to you — the curse of the Fall — when you laugh at your sins and ignore their bitter consequences, as though it did not matter and made no difference to contradict and disobey the Word of the Lord.  Woe to you when you live only for the moment, eating, drinking, and making merry in this perishing world, denying the Cross, and disregarding the Judgment of the Lord.

Woe to you when you tell the Prophets of the Lord not to prophecy; when you shut your ears and harden your heart to the preaching of His Law; when you listen only to what you want to hear and heed only the desires of your flesh.  In the great and terrible Day of the Lord you shall not laugh, but you shall mourn and weep for your sins and lament your idolatry.  For the ungodly shall not stand in the Judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; they shall perish altogether.

And yet, blessed are you, poor sinner though you are, when you heed the Lord’s call to repentance; when you weep even now for your sins and drown your old Adam in the tears of daily confession.  Blessed are you in Christ Jesus, who has already borne your griefs and carried your sorrows.  He was wounded for your transgressions and bruised for your iniquities; by His stripes you are healed.

Blessed are you in Christ Jesus when you flee the terrors of His Judgment by fleeing in repentant faith to His mercy.  You shall lift up your head in that Day, and you shall laugh with great rejoicing in His presence.  For He has been crucified for your sins, and He is risen as your Righteousness.

But woe to you — the curse of the Fall — when the world speaks well of you and treats you as one of the crowd.  For they crucify the Lord of Glory.  They hate Him, exclude Him, revile Him, and cast Him out.  But if you would be His disciple, you must bear the Cross and follow after Him.

Woe to you when you love yourself and your reputation more than Christ and His Cross.  Woe to you when father and mother, son or daughter, mean more to you than Christ Jesus.  Woe to you when your friends are able to pull your faith and life away from His Word and the preaching of it.  Vain are such counsels at death’s dark portal; earthborn they are, and they too shall soon decay.

By contrast, all the more, blessed are you in Christ Jesus when His God and Father gives to you His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace you are kept steadfast in His Word and in the one true faith until the end.  Blessed are you who thus cling by faith to Christ alone, come hell or high water.

Blessed are you in Christ Jesus when all men hate you, as they hated Him; when they exclude you from their wealth and food and laughter, as they excluded Him; when they revile and insult you, as they did Him; when they cast you out of their presence for the Name of Christ which you bear.

Blessed are you in Christ Jesus, who by His Cross has conquered all the hatred and rejection of the world, all the assaults of the devil, and all the powers of death and the grave.  He is the Firstborn from the dead, and so is He the First Fruits of all those who carry His Cross and share His death.

Rejoice, therefore, and leap with great joy.  In Christ Jesus your reward in heaven is great indeed.  For He who is mighty does great things for you, and Holy is His Name, here in time and hereafter in eternity.  His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.  He puts down the mighty from their thrones, and He exalts the lowly.  He fills the hungry with good things, but the rich He sends away empty.  And He remembers His servants in mercy, now and forevermore.

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

10 February 2019

Doing All Things at the Word of Jesus

Rejected by His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has returned to the other regions of Galilee, and by His Ministry of Word and deed He reveals Himself as the Son of God, the Christ (or Messiah), the Savior sent from heaven for the life of the world.  He comes in the footsteps of the Old Testament Prophets, speaking and acting in the Name of the Lord, suffering rejection and hostility in return, but thereby fulfilling all the promises of God.  For His entire life and Ministry, and finally His death, are the accomplishment of all that the Prophets before Him spoke and did and suffered.

He not only walks in the footsteps of the Prophets, Himself, but He also calls and prepares others to follow in His footsteps, as well.  As the Prophets prepared the world for the coming of Christ, so do their successors, the holy Apostles and the ministers of the Gospel, deliver the Christ who has come into the world in the flesh, who abides among His people in His Word and Sacraments.

As in this Holy Gospel, the teaching of Jesus is the Word of God.  He is the source and the location of all that you must hear to be and to live as a child of God.  Learn from the example of the crowds, therefore, to press upon Him wherever He is found, in order to hear and learn His Word.

Bear in mind that St. Luke has written for those (including you) who already know the rest of the story.  Not only the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, but so also His ongoing Life and Ministry within His Church on earth, as in the Acts of the Apostles.  He is the One who is actively present and at work in the words and deeds of Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, and all those whom He calls and sends in His Name.  So does He continue to guide and govern, feed and protect His holy Christian Church, and so is He with you always, even to the close of the age.

It is with that ongoing Apostolic Ministry of Christ in view that you are given to hear and receive the Holy Gospel.  It is for this very reason that it is read and preached in the Liturgy of the Church, not simply as ancient history, but as a very present reality and truth right here and now for you.

In the case at hand, for example, you know from the start that Simon the fisherman will become St. Peter the Apostle, and that his preaching and ministry of the Gospel will continue the teaching and miracles of Christ Jesus as the Word and works of God; so also to this day and to this place.

It is important, therefore, that you should think about Simon Peter and his fellows properly — not only who they were, but who they have become for the entire Church: at the Word of Jesus.

The bottom line in this Gospel is that Simon Peter and his partners will become “fishers of men.”  But as always, the initiative belongs entirely to the Lord Jesus.  These fishermen have already given up before He arrives; they’re not even in their boats anymore when Jesus enters the scene.

It is the presence of Christ Jesus that converts, not only Simon, but first of all his boat into a little church, a little “Ark of the Holy Christian Church.”  When the Lord Jesus sits down and begins teaching from Simon’s humble fishing vessel, it becomes at once a mighty cathedral from which the Word of God sounds forth and gives life.  In this picture is found Simon Peter’s own future.

The transition from the Ministry of Jesus Christ, God’s Son in the flesh, to the Apostolic Ministry of His servant, Simon Peter, is depicted in the fishing expedition that follows.  St. Luke writes that Jesus stopped speaking — not permanently, of course, but as an indication that He will complete His personal Ministry on earth with the fulfillment of His Cross and Resurrection and Ascension.  And as He stops in this case, He directs the Apostle to cast his nets out into the deep; for as the same Lord Jesus will subsequently say to Simon Peter and the other Apostles, “You will be My witnesses from Jerusalem into all Judea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”  But here is where it all begins, from a little fishing boat on the Lake of Gennesaret.

If you would find yourself in the story, look into those nets of Simon Peter, that is, among the fish.  That is where you also find your dear Lord’s tender concern for all those, such as yourself, who are so far from the shores of Galilee, across a great span of time and space, a seemingly impossible distance from the Lord Jesus Christ — if not for His provision of these fishermen and their nets.

Simon thus puts into words what he and every pastor and congregation must recognize: All our own toiling, all our own efforts and striving, all of that will accomplish nothing.  Only at the Word of Jesus do we dare attempt anything at all, for only by His Word is there any hope of success.

If not for the Word of Jesus, the Apostles would never have made it out of Jerusalem; their nets would have remained empty, and the Church, as well.  And that is no less the case in our own day.  The Church is nothing, and has nothing to offer, except by the Word of her Lord Jesus Christ.

As pastors and people, His Word in every case remains our saving grace and our only hope, even when it makes no sense to our mortal flesh with all its knowledge and experience.  Like heading out to fish in the middle of the day after a long hard night with no success, and casting the nets in the most unlikely place, the Word of the Lord often seems like nothing but foolishness.  Hence Simon’s caveat in response to Jesus, clarifying that a day-fishing attempt is certainly not his idea.  And yet, he does what the Lord has spoken.  And consider what happens then at the Word of Jesus.

They go out to the deep waters — recalling the “Deep” waters of the Creation in Genesis — with the Spirit-filled Word of Jesus moving over the surface of those waters, as though to administer a “mass Baptism” of all those who have been lost at sea.  You already know how the fish will come to signify people — adrift in the deep, like those poor, unfortunate souls who went down with the Titanic.  But thus says the Lord, “Cast out your nets and let them be rescued!”  “And it was so!”

The Apostles immediately catch such a great plethora of fish that their nets begin to rip and tear.  Always it is the case that the Lord provides far more than we could ever hope or expect or imagine — to such a great extent that our own frail resources are frequently stretched and challenged.

It is not only our physical and financial resources that are challenged, but all of our finite human resources.  And as such, whatever temptations Simon Peter or anyone else might have had to view this great Apostle as a one-man show, that would never be the case.  The Lord would use him mightily, as St. Luke makes plain in the Acts of the Apostles; St. Peter preaches and acts with the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls him and sends him in His own Name.  But from the start there are others, his brother Andrew, his colleagues James and John, Twelve Apostles in all, the new Patriarchs of a new Israel.  And, in their footsteps ever since, many others have followed.

The fact is, one could hardly over-emphasize the importance of St. Peter for the life of the Church; which is no doubt why St. Luke focuses so much attention upon him.  But for that very reason, it has always been necessary to recognize that Simon Peter is upheld by his Lord Jesus; alongside St. Peter are his fellow Apostles; and following after St. Peter are the ministers of the Gospel who continue to preach and teach the same Word of the same Christ Jesus, to baptize, absolve, and commune the congregations of His people all over the world, as also here among us to this day.

So it goes at every level of service within the Lord’s Church.  You are not called to “go it alone.”  Nor are we as a congregation an island unto ourselves.  Together as Christians, as a congregation, we are members of one Body in Christ, and each of you are called to live in communion with all those who belong to His Body, not only in this present time and place, but of all times and in all places.  So has Violet been grafted into that Body of Christ this morning, born again as a child of our one God and Father, a member of His household and family together with all who are baptized in His Name.  She belongs to you, and you to her, in Christ Jesus, who is with you always in His Gospel–Word and Sacraments, and who supplies the people and resources for all that is needed.

Whenever you are brought to recognize the true depths of this blessed fellowship, you may well be overcome by your own unworthiness, especially in contrast to the Divine Glory of Christ Jesus.  As Simon Peter learned in this Holy Gospel, and as Isaiah recognized in the Temple, the Epiphany of God is a terrifying experience for such wretched sinners as you and all of us are.  There can be no pride or boasting in His presence.  “We are beggars, that is true.”  We live solely by His mercy.

So it is that Simon Peter prostrates Himself before Jesus, whom he has recognized as the Lord, as Yahweh in the flesh.  This man who will in due time be given the keys of forgiveness for others, is here brought to his knees in repentance, confessing his sins and his unworthiness to his Lord.

But this Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has not come to punish the sins of men as they deserve.  Instead, His Word rings out again: “Do not fear!”  With those words of grace and peace, He bestows His Holy Absolution upon Simon Peter — as He does now through my lips, cleansed of sin by the burning Coal from His Altar, that I might speak His forgiveness to you.

He comes in the flesh, and He lays down His body and life in death upon the Cross, that He might raise you up from death to life by His Word of the Gospel; that He should make you His own in Holy Baptism, and feed you with His Body and His Blood at His Table, and so give you His Life.

To be and to live as a disciple of this Lord Jesus Christ is not to raise yourself up by your own bootstraps, nor to impress Him with your bravado, savvy, or achievements, but to hear His Word and to receive the good gifts that He freely gives you by grace alone.  That is where and how your life as a Christian begins, and that is how it continues, unto the Resurrection and everlasting Life.

As you have been caught and rescued in the nets of His Gospel, no less than Violet Victoria this morning, and as you receive all good things in heaven and on earth at the Word of the Lord Jesus, so does He also manifest Himself in your body and life, in the works of your calling and station.

For my part, I have been called and ordained to serve in the Office that began with Christ and His Apostles.  Thus do I preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name, I catechize you with His Word; I baptize in His Name, and I call you daily to the significance of your Holy Baptism, as I shall do by God’s grace for Violet henceforth; I feed you with the Food and Drink that Christ Jesus provides, that you should not die but live as a member of His Body and Bride, the Church.

As I carry out these works in His Name, at His Word, they are His own works of grace, mercy, and peace, whereby He manifests the Glory of His Gospel for your life and your salvation in Him.

And you, in turn — baptized into Christ, cleansed and forgiven by His Word of the Gospel, and fed from His Altar with the burning Embers of His Sacrifice — you are called to show forth His praises in your body and life, to manifest the Glory of His Cross and Resurrection in that which you are given to do.  Wherever He has put you in this world, whatever your place in life, He has re-created you in His Image and Likeness, and He epiphanies His Glory in your words and works.

To be sure, bearing His Glory in this fallen and perishing world means bearing His Cross in this poor life of labor.  For His Cross and Passion remain the greatest revelation of His Glory on earth.  To suffer and to die with Him is not easy, but the Cross that you carry as a disciple of Christ Jesus is not for your destruction; it is the way and means by which you enter into Life with Him forever.

It is from His Cross that He feeds and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood; and so it is that your flesh and blood are given in love, to and for your neighbor, to the Glory of Christ Jesus.  Likewise, the Word of Jesus that you hear and receive becomes a word in your mouth for others.

Are you a parent?  Speak the Word of Jesus to your spouse and to your children.  Are you a child?  Speak the Word of Jesus to your father and mother, to your brothers and sisters, to your playmates and your friends.  Are you a worker?  Speak the Word of Jesus to those you are given to serve.

This life that you live, these Words that you speak, they are not of yourself, but they are the very things that you have received by the grace and charity of Jesus, who has made you His own; who has caught you in His nets; who has taken you safely aboard the holy Ark of His Christian Church; who does not cast you away from His presence, but pours out His Spirit generously upon you.

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

03 February 2019

Preaching and Healing with Authority

By His Baptism in the Jordan River the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son, was anointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Christ, the Messiah, who bears all our sins and becomes the Savior of the world.

By His reading and preaching of the Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth, His hometown, as we heard last Sunday, He not only announced but inaugurated the fulfillment of all the Words and promises of God concerning the Christ.  For He bears the Spirit in His Body from His Baptism to His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, in order to liberate His people from the captivity and bondage of sin, death, and the devil.  In keeping with that goal and purpose, His rejection by the people of Nazareth, their attempt to murder Him, anticipated His coming Cross and Passion.

He moves then, with His Word and Spirit, away from Nazareth to Capernaum and beyond, taking the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to those who will receive it.  And today you have heard from St. Luke a few specific examples and a summary description of the preaching and healing that characterize the entire Ministry of Christ Jesus, as He proceeds on His Way to the Cross.

This is more than just a great story from the life and times of Jesus.  It is more than ancient history.  The Ministry of the Gospel of Christ Jesus, His preaching and healing, continued in the Ministry of His Apostles — from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, into Samaria, even to the ends of the earth — as St. Luke has recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  And not only that, but the same Ministry of the same Lord Jesus Christ also continues to this day and in this place in the preaching of His Gospel, in the ongoing catechesis of His Word, and in the administration of His Holy Sacraments.

Concerning this preaching and healing of Jesus, even as these are happening for you and given to you here and now in this sermon and this Divine Service, St. Luke has highlighted three points of particular importance.  And as I follow in the footsteps of Christ and His Apostles and Evangelists, I would have you recognize the significance of this Ministry and receive it in faith and love.  For it is the Word and Spirit of the Lord which lead you, in this way, from the Font and the Lectern to the Altar, from the preaching of His life-giving Gospel of forgiveness to the healing Medicine of Immortality, His Body and His Blood, given and poured out for you in the Holy Communion.

The first point to be made is the divine necessity of this Ministry of the Gospel, this preaching and healing of Christ Jesus.  It is not simply expedient or practical, a useful methodology, or one of many possibilities.  It is not an optional program.  The Ministry of the Gospel is necessary to life and salvation, no less so than the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ.

“Thus it is written,” the Lord Himself will say to His disciples in the final chapter of the Gospel, “and thus it was necessary, that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His Name to all the nations.”

Of course, none of this is necessary for God’s benefit, as though He needed anything for Himself.  But according to His good and gracious will, both the Cross and Resurrection of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, and the preaching of the Gospel in His Name, are necessary for the forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation of sinners from all over the world.

To be sure, Christ was crucified once for all, and there is no other sacrifice for sin to be offered.  He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, never to die again.  So that work of the Lord Jesus Christ is complete and perfect, whereby He has made Atonement for your sins and reconciled you and all the world to His God and Father in heaven.  But apart from the preaching and bestowal of this Gospel, you remain lost in your sins and unbelief, and you cannot be saved.  Apart from the preaching of the Gospel, you remain in captivity to the devil and the fear of death.

That dire predicament remains, even for those who are gathered together with the church on earth — if not for the preaching and healing of Christ Jesus.  Whereas the Cross and Resurrection are accomplished, never to be repeated, the Ministry of the Gospel is an ongoing necessity.  Even if you are convinced that you’ve already heard it all, you are still called daily to repentance and to faith in the forgiveness of sins.  It’s not so much a matter of knowledge but of the Word and Spirit of the Christ, without which you are doomed.  Nor is it simply a matter of showing up, putting in your time and “paying your dues,” as it were, although being where the Word is read and preached is a necessary start.  But you must not let that Word go in one ear and out the other.  You must hear and heed the Word of Christ, take it to heart, repent of your sins, and believe the Holy Gospel.

Remember that it was the synagogue in Nazareth that tried to kill the Lord Jesus.  And again today, it is a man within the synagogue in Capernaum who is possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon.  So, too, you are not saved by your being here but by the preaching of Christ which happens here.

It is by His Word and the preaching of it that the Spirit of Christ Jesus actually works repentance and faith within your otherwise hard heart.  For His Word and Spirit convey to you the salvation that He has obtained for you by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead.  What He has purchased and won for you and for all people by His sacrificial death, He wraps up and presents to you in the Ministry of His Gospel.  Not only by the preaching of His Word, but also in His Holy Sacraments, in which the Word continues to become flesh and abides with you in body and soul.

As the Son of God became true Man, flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, as He bore your sins in His Body to the Cross, as He rose bodily from death and the grave, and as He has ascended to the right hand of the Father in and with His Body of human flesh and blood like your own, so does He bring His Gospel to bear upon your body as well as your soul, by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and by feeding you with His Body and His Blood at this Altar.

Now, then, the question of the crowds in this Holy Gospel has brought us to the second point at hand: “What is this Word!?”  What power and authority belong to this Word of Christ, by which He commands and casts out unclean spirits, rebukes both demons and fevers, and heals the sick?

In the first place, of course, there is the authority that Christ Jesus has by right, by His own divine nature as the almighty and eternal Son of the living God.  He is the Word by whom all things in heaven and on earth have been made, so it is to be expected that whatever He says must be so and must be done.  Even the demons recognize and must acknowledge this fact in fear and trembling.

Yet, on that note, we are dealing here with what is often called the “Messianic Secret,” that is, the way that Jesus frequently admonishes those who witness His mighty works not to speak of them to anyone, and the way He commands the demons and the unclean spirits, in particular, to be quiet and not announce His identity (as you have heard them doing here).  That probably seems strange to you.  But it is neither appropriate nor salutary for the Lord Jesus Christ to be proclaimed as the Son of God, the Holy One, apart from His Cross and Passion.  Apart from His voluntary suffering and His sacrificial death, His divine power and authority must confront you with the Law, with His righteous wrath and judgment against your sins, and without any hope of forgiveness or salvation.

Thanks be to God, there is also the divine authority that Jesus has been given as the Son of Man, just as He says following His Resurrection: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”  That is the authority which He has obtained and received as the true Man who has given Himself in the place of sinners, in the place of all people, Adam & Eve and all their children, that He might atone for their sins and redeem them by His Blood, by His death upon the Cross.  As God has raised this same Christ Jesus from the dead, He has become your righteousness, and He is the One whom God the Father has appointed as the Judge of all mankind, the living and the dead.

It is with that authority of His Cross and Resurrection — already in view as He proceeds on His Way from the waters of His Baptism — it is with that authority and power that He forgives sins, casts out demons, heals the sick, and raises the dead.  For He has come to conquer death in His own Body of flesh and blood, and to bestow the life and health and strength that He receives from the Father in the Holy Spirit through the preaching of His Word and with His Holy Sacraments.

Even more to the point for you and your salvation, and for the entire Church on earth to the close of the age, the same Lord Jesus Christ uses the authority that He has received as the crucified and risen Son of Man to call and send His holy Apostles even to the ends of the earth, and so also to call and send ministers of His Gospel as the preachers of His Word to this day and to this place.

The third main point in this Holy Gospel, therefore, is the divine content of this Ministry of Christ, the substance of this preaching and healing which are now delivered to you by His own authority.  According to the Lord Jesus and His Evangelist, St. Luke, it is nothing else and nothing less than the Kingdom of God which He preaches to you.  For it is by His Word of the Gospel that He reigns over you in love, as your true King, with forgiveness and life and salvation.  It is by and with His Word of the Gospel that He delivers you from the devil’s tyranny and gives you peace with God.

The preaching and healing of Christ Jesus bestow the Kingdom of God, because this Ministry of the Gospel bestows Christ Himself, your crucified and risen Savior, with all His gifts and benefits.

And wherever Christ Jesus enters in — by and with His Word — Satan is cast out, and God’s good Creation is resurrected and renewed in righteousness and peace.  It is just as you witnessed in the Holy Baptism of Fredrick William James Bliese this past month, and as you shall witness again next Sunday in the Holy Baptism of Violet Victoria Rodriguez.  What is more, so has the Spirit of Christ Jesus entered in and cast out the unclean spirit from your body and life by the preaching of His Gospel and by the washing of the water with His Word in your own Holy Baptism.

This divine, eternal life and salvation Christ Jesus bestows, not only as the Creator and Lord by whom all things are made, but also as the true Man who bore the curse of sin in His own Body, who made Atonement for the sins of the world by His sacrificial death on the Cross, who restored His fallen creation to perfect goodness in His Resurrection from the dead, and who has exalted human nature in Himself to the right hand of His God and Father in the heavenly places.

Such is the life that He now gives to you by and with His Word, by the preaching of His Word, just as all things are created through His Word.  He speaks, and it is so.  And it is very good.

And such is the salvation that He now bestows upon you — the healing of your body and your soul for life with God now and forever — by the touch of His divine and life-giving flesh, by the giving of His Body for you to eat, and by the pouring out of His precious Blood for you to drink.

As surely as He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and all those other people in Capernaum and beyond, so surely does He grant His life and salvation to you by the Ministry of His Gospel here.

For this preaching and healing of Jesus the Christ make this place a New Testament “Synagogue” of His Holy Christian Church, and this Liturgy of the Lord’s Day a true “Sabbath Rest” in Him.

Indeed, South Bend, Indiana, is among those many “other cities” to which the Lord Jesus has also been divinely sent to preach the Kingdom of God.  And so it is that He has come to you here and now, sending me in His Name and stead, by His divine authority, to preach the Gospel and to heal the diseases of your soul with the precious Medicine of Immortality here at His Altar.

God grant that, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, you would have the same zeal to hear and receive the preaching and healing of Christ as the crowds in this Gospel, and that you would therefore cling to Him by faith in these means of grace and never let Him get away from you.

And as it shall be so, according to the good and gracious will of God, let this report of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God — your crucified and risen Savior and Redeemer — spread far and wide “into every locality in the surrounding district,” that all those who are sick with sin and subject to death might also be brought to Him in His Church.  For the “Messianic Secret” is now revealed by the Cross and in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus, the Holy One, who saves you by His grace.

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

01 February 2019

To Redeem and Purify You for Life with God

Here now, on the Eve of the Fortieth Day of Christmas, the Holy Scriptures have brought us again to the Temple of the Lord in order to receive and worship the Christ Child in His Body of flesh and blood.  Everything unfolds exactly as the Lord has spoken, according to His Word and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.  For these events belong to the fulfillment of His promises of old.

Though not readily apparent, St. Luke has actually recorded the keeping of two specific Laws from the Old Testament, one concerning St. Mary and her purification after giving birth to her firstborn Son, and the other concerning that same Son, Jesus Christ, who is here called holy to the Lord.

It may seem odd that St. Mary, the blessed Virgin chosen by God, should need to be purified for giving birth to the Lord, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.  Of course the Holy Family keeps the Law received from God through Moses, according to the custom.  But there’s more to it than that.  For this Law, in particular, concerning the purification of a woman after childbirth, now finds its goal and its fulfillment in this Mother who has given birth to this Son.

It goes back to that first promise of the Gospel in the Garden of Eden, following the Fall into sin, that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent.  You know that St. Mary is that Woman, and Christ Jesus, her Son, is that Seed who treads Satan, sin, and death beneath His feet.

At the same time, along with the promise of the Gospel, there was also the curse and consequence of sin, that Eve and her daughters would suffer pain in the bringing forth of children.  Hence, both the curse and the promise are met together in the conceiving and bearing of daughter and sons.

In the light of God’s Word, notwithstanding the burdens and hardships of sin and death, it was the case that every son born of a woman — to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah, to the family of Isaac, Israel, and Judah, to the house and lineage of David, as the promise became more focused — every son born of a woman might be the Messiah, and every daughter might be the mother of the Messiah.  Until, finally, there is this Woman who gives birth to this Son who is the Messiah, whose body and life shall be given into death for the redemption of all, and whose holy, precious blood will be shed upon the Cross for the Atonement of the sins of the whole world.

That is what the requisite offering for the purification of a new mother signified.  It was for the atonement of her sins and the sanctification of her body and life, in view of the hope and promise of the Gospel.  And all of those sacrifices pointed to the One who has now come, the Child Jesus.

So there is also the Law concerning Him, which is here fulfilled, as well.  For every firstborn son who opened the womb was to be “called holy to the Lord.”  This Law went back to the Exodus from Egypt; and, along with that, it also recalled the case of Abraham and his beloved son, Isaac.

You know that earlier story, when God came to Abraham and told him to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and to sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering to the Lord on the mountain.  Abraham proceeded in faith to do as he was commanded, painful though it was to comprehend.  But at the very last moment, his hand poised in the air with the knife, ready to slay his son as a sacrifice, God stayed his hand and provided the Ram, caught in a thicket, in the place of Isaac.

So, likewise, in the Exodus from Egypt, when the Angel of the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down all the firstborn sons of man and beast, the sons of Israel were spared because God provided a lamb in their place: The Passover Lamb, sacrificed at twilight, prepared according to the Word of the Lord, the blood of the lamb marking the door, the flesh of the lamb being eaten.  Where the Lord beheld that blood, He passed over, and He spared the sons in those houses.  So it was that all of those firstborn sons belonged to the Lord.  And so were they called holy to the Lord.

Now, to be sure, all of Israel belonged to the Lord.  Indeed, the whole of creation belongs to the Lord.  But the firstborn sons, in particular, were spared and redeemed by the Lord through His giving of that lamb in their place.  So every firstborn son, precisely in this way, belonged to God.

The way God worked that out was by taking the entire tribe of Levi to be His special servants.  The Levites would serve in His presence, assisting the sons of Aaron (also from the tribe of Levi) in caring for the Tabernacle (later the Temple).  For this sacred service the entire tribe of Levi was dedicated, consecrated to the Lord.  By contrast, all of the other firstborn sons, from all of the other tribes, were redeemed for the price of five silver shekels, rather than being given over to serve.

This is the Law that God established for the firstborn sons of Israel, which Mary and Joseph came to fulfill in the Temple on this day.  Notably, though, St. Luke does not speak of redemption.  The Lord Jesus is not from the tribe of Levi, and we may assume that Mary and Joseph brought the five silver shekels that were specified as the price of His redemption.  But that is not what St. Luke describes.  Instead, he indicates that the Child Jesus was presented to the Lord, almost as a Levite would have been — in the way that Samuel (a Levite) was dedicated to the service of the Lord.

Of course it is true that Jesus belongs to the Lord, for He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity.  But here now, in the substance of human flesh and blood just like your own, He is presented and dedicated to the Lord on your behalf.  He is given in your place, in the place of all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  His entire body and life are given up to God, to live and die for you and all people.  He is not redeemed from sacrifice and service; He redeems you by His sacrifice and service.  He is the Ram and the Passover Lamb given for you.

Now then, what the Law actually required for the purification of a woman after childbirth was not two young birds, be they turtledoves or pigeons, but actually one bird and a lamb.  But in the case of those who were poor, who could not afford a lamb, the Law made provision for a second bird in the place of the lamb.  So it is that St. Mary and St. Joseph here bring the offering of the poor, that is to say, two young birds, for the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mother of our Lord.

And yet, for all of that, this same Mother brings in her arms the One who is the Lamb, the true Passover, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the whole world.  She brings not just a couple birds but her own dear Son, and she presents Him to the Lord, that He should live and die as the Sacrifice of Atonement for Israel and all the nations; that He should redeem His people from their sins, and purify and cleanse them, by the shedding of His own Blood.

And He is the Atonement for all of your sins, as well.  For by the sacrifice of His flesh and blood, He has liberated you from Egypt and redeemed you from the bondage of sin, death, and hell.

And that is not all.  For He has become like you, not only to bear your sins, but to partake of blood and flesh like your own, that you might become like Him and partake of His divine nature in body and soul.  So has He bound Himself to you, and He traverses the wilderness right along with you.  His entire body and life are dedicated to God, and He lives that life in the flesh as the true Man, as the beloved and well-pleasing Son.  He is a Babe in arms, a Toddler, a little Boy, a Twelve-Year-Old, a Teenager, and a full-grown Man.  He lives the same human life that you are called to live in the flesh.  He lives by faith, He lives in love.  He lives unto God, that you might live in Him.

He traverses the wilderness with you, and He brings you into the Promised Land.  He brings you into the presence of God.  He brings you into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  He is not only the Propitiation for your sins, but He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  By His sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has not only entered the Temple of God, but His Body has become the true Temple, the divine, eternal Temple of God, that you might abide in the presence of God within His Body.

As He has given Himself into death for your sins, so has He been raised as your righteousness and holiness forever.  And He ever lives to make intercession for you — in the human flesh that He shares with you, and with the blood that He has shed for you.  As your own High Priest, not from the tribe of Levi, but according to the order of Melchizedek, forever and ever, He stands for you in the presence of God the Father, in the Holy Spirit, that you should be with Him where He is.

In the beautiful words that St. Paul has written, you have already died with Christ in your Holy Baptism, and so is your life hidden with Christ in God.  You are seated with Him in the heavenly places.  And here is the surety and guarantee, the sign and seal of that Life: As Christ is presented in the Temple in human flesh and blood like your own, presented to His God and Father on your behalf and in your place, so are you presented to His God and Father holy and blameless in Him, without flaw, without blemish, perfect in every way.  You are holy and righteous in the presence of God, you are beloved and well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.

As He has partaken of your flesh and blood — as He has come in the fullness of time, the Seed of the Woman, the new and greater Adam, the Husband and Head of His Body and Bride — so are you here given to partake of His flesh and blood.  And as you feast upon these Fruits of His Cross, the Body and Blood of the Lamb, you have the Life of God in yourself, in your body and your soul.

And in this one Lord Jesus Christ, your merciful and great High Priest, you have Peace with God — at all times and in all place.  Peace even now, in this poor life of labor, as you go about your days in the world.  As you lay down at night and get up in the morning, as you go about your work, as you care for your family and serve your neighbor, you have Peace that surpasses all human understanding.  For you know that you are reconciled to God and acceptable in His sight.

And at the last, when the Lord shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, you shall depart in Peace from this mortal life on earth, knowing that your death is but a slumber, and that, as your Savior Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, so shall you also rise and live with Him.

Then you shall see Him face to face with your own eyes, from your own body of flesh and blood.  Then you shall behold Him, no less than Simeon did, but even more clearly, the One who is the Glory of Israel, the One who is your Light, your Life, and your Salvation, who sanctifies you with His own holiness and glorifies you in both body and soul with His own righteousness forever.

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