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.