30 June 2019

The Character and Content of the Christian Life

What we have here is a series of people who just don’t get it.  They don’t understand Christ Jesus or His Cross, why He has come, where He’s going, or what in the world He is doing.

The Samaritans, first of all, resent the fact that Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and not on Mount Gerezim; because one of the biggest contentions between the Jews and the Samaritans was where and how to worship Yahweh.  And the truth is, the Jews were correct that Jerusalem was the place where God had caused His Name and His Glory to dwell among His people, Israel.

But Jesus is on His way to offer Himself in Jerusalem as the final, perfect Sacrifice, fulfilling the entire Old Testament in His own Body of flesh and blood.  By His death upon the Cross He atones for the sins of the world, and in His Resurrection from the dead His Body is established as the new and permanent Temple of God.  So God is now worshiped by faith in His crucified and risen Body.

The Samaritans do not recognize or understand what Jesus is all about, and so they want nothing to do with Him.  So it is that, sadly, to their own spiritual detriment, they refuse to receive Him.

Yet, James and John, those “sons of thunder,” they don’t get it, either.  They are right in supposing that Jesus Christ, the almighty and eternal Son of the Living God, should be received and treated with honor and respect, reverence and worship.  But He has come to accomplish and reveal an even greater Glory of God in His Self-sacrifice on the Cross for the sake of the salvation of all people.

On His Way of the Cross, the Lord Jesus comes preaching and bestowing the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, in and with His Word and His flesh-and-blood presence on earth.  Where and when He is not received, He does not seek retribution or revenge; He simply moves on to preach and bestow the forgiveness of sins to those who do receive Him in faith and humble gratitude.

Even to the close of the age, the dear Lord Jesus preaches and bestows the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, through the Ministry of His Holy Gospel in Word and Sacrament.  Week after week, there are those who refuse to hear and receive Him, because they don’t like what He has to say, and they don’t want anything to do with Him or His Cross.  But the time for Judgment is not yet.  Nor is it your prerogative.  Vengeance belongs to the Lord alone, He says.  And yet, for now, until that Day arrives, the Son of Man comes with grace and mercy, to save and not to destroy men’s lives.

Where and when He is not received, He goes elsewhere with His free and gracious gifts of life — to bestow the fruits and benefits of His Cross by the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, with His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, and in His Body given and His Blood poured out at His Table.  Take it, or leave it, these means of grace are what He is all about — whereby He grants forgiveness of sins, life with God, and eternal salvation — all centered in His Cross and Resurrection.

Those who are called to follow Christ Jesus, to be His disciples, are called to an apprenticeship of the Cross, that is, to a life defined and shaped by His Cross, which no one is able to comprehend or carry by sinful nature.  But, by God’s grace, you have been signed and sealed by and with the Cross of Christ in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And so it is that you carry His Cross as a Christian within whatever place the Lord your God has called and stationed you to be in this body and life.

That is where and how you are called to live, to bear the Cross in faith and love, to the glory of God and for the benefit of your neighbors in the Church and in the world.  But, oh, how easy it is to look back and yearn for an easier way of life, to put down the Cross and withdraw from Christ.

How easy it is to put down the Cross of the Law and the Gospel, when the world around you offers such a different set of standards and priorities; when your family and friends compete for your time and attention, your allegiance and affection; and when your own flesh, your heart and soul, your reason and strength, your thoughts and feelings drag you away from Christ Jesus and His Word.

In fact, there are days when you do look back, and times when you have turned back: When you knew the right thing, but you would not do it; and when you knew that such-and-such was wrong, but you plowed ahead and did it anyway.  There are those times when you have set aside the Cross.

Thus, today, you are confronted and called to repentance by the Word of the Lord, which starkly reveals that of yourself you are not fit for the Kingdom of God.  You do not deserve it, you are not worthy of it, and you are not able to enter into it by any wisdom, reason, or strength of your own.

But you are not your own.  You are bought with a price, the precious Blood of Christ, and you belong to Him.  So, too, the Cross that you are given is the Cross of Christ, which He has borne and carried for you.  It puts you to death and buries you with Him, so that you might live with Him.

All that you have failed to do according to God’s Law, including your reluctance to bear the Cross appointed for you, Christ has taken upon Himself and carried in His own Body to His Cross and Passion in Jerusalem (the city that stones the Prophets and kills those who are sent to her).

As the incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself the entire weight and burden of your mortality and the deadly consequences of your sins.  What is more, in the footsteps of the Old Testament Prophets — Moses and Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest — in steadfast faith and holy love, in perfect obedience to His own God and Father, He has preached the Word of the Lord unflinchingly.  With all that He says and does — to and from His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — the Kingdom of God has drawn near in His Body and Life.

Having set His hand upon the plowshare of His Cross, He does not look back — no, not even once — because, not only is He fit for the Kingdom of God, but it is by and from His Cross that God establishes His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  It is for that throne of His Cross and for His crown of thorns that He has been anointed by the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all people.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that those who would be His disciples — who would share in His salvation and live in His Kingdom — must take up His Cross and follow after Him.

Nor is it surprising that those who perceive the destiny of His Cross want no part in it.  After all, foxes have their holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but Christ the Son of God has only the hard wood of His Cross and the cold stone of His borrowed Tomb on which to rest His head.

Of course, to reject this Lord Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, finally will bring judgment and fire down from heaven.  But for the time being, that is not His purpose in coming down from the Father in heaven into this world.  He comes by way of His Cross in order to bear and suffer the judgment and wrath and damnation of God against the sins of the entire world — on behalf of Samaritans, Jews, and Gentiles alike.  And having come to bear that judgment in Himself, in His own Body on the Tree, He does not inflict it on others.  He offers them, instead, His presence and His peace; and when those gifts are denied and rejected, He perseveres and continues on His way to His Cross.

Today, by His Word and the preaching of it, He calls you to follow Him on that road to Jerusalem, to walk after Him in the Way of His Cross, with your face set resolutely on Him and His Passion.  Such things are your inheritance as a Christian in this world; they are your life and your salvation, your hope and comfort in Christ Jesus.  Such is your journey with Him through death into life.

His Word to you this morning, and to anyone who would be His disciple, is a matter of priorities.  What comes first in your life?  Where do you invest your time, attention, energy, and resources?  And what is it that you prize and value more than everything else?  If you would live with God in Christ Jesus, you must fear, love, and trust in Him above all else, and have no other gods before Him — no other gods before Christ, in whom the Holy Triune God is revealed and given to you.

So it is that Christ Jesus says elsewhere that anyone who does not hate his father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, and yes, even his own life — in deference to Christ — is not worthy to be His disciple and is not fit for the Kingdom of God.  True discipleship involves the adoption and practice of entirely new and radical priorities, according to which the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus takes precedence over your family and friends, your country, and yourself.

It is by your Baptism into Christ that you have been signed and sealed with His Cross and set upon that new way of life in body and soul.  For thus you are crucified, put to death, and buried with Him — dead to yourself and to the world — and so also raised to newness of life with Him.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed, you also are anointed with the Spirit of God, and so are you granted the life that God intends for His children, that is, the divine, eternal life of the Holy Triune God Himself, given to you in Christ as your salvation.  But in this world, because it is the very life that Christ has lived for you, it is a life lived under His Cross.  Your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation are all rooted in His Cross and defined by it, in such a way that the Cross — with all its bitter pain and agonizing sorrow — is nevertheless your glory and your hope.

And as this divine life that is yours by virtue of your Holy Baptism is a living, dynamic, ongoing reality, so does your Baptism have a daily and lifelong significance — as the Catechism teaches.

It is the daily crucifixion of your fallen flesh by way of contrition, repentance, and the confession of your sins — being put to death by the judgment of God’s Law, which declares that no one who practices the works of sinful flesh will inherit the Kingdom of God; and that you are not fit for that Kingdom.  In this way, all of your pride, all your self-reliance and self-confidence are crushed and destroyed under the weight of the Law; and the very heart of you is drowned and put to death, each and every day, in the waters of your Baptism — even seventy or eighty years after the fact — until the significance of your Holy Baptism is finally consummated in your earthly death and burial.

All of this is painful, it is difficult, and it hurts.  But in spite of the pain, because the Cross that you bear is the Cross of Christ — which He has already carried for you — it is a salutary, blessed, and life-giving death by crucifixion that you undergo: in Baptism and throughout your Christian life.

What is more, because it is the Cross and Crucifixion of Christ Jesus that you share, you are also given a share and a portion in His Resurrection and Ascension to the heavenly, eternal life of God.  For the same waters of Baptism that drown and destroy your old Adam have been sanctified by Christ to be a rich and full washing away of all your sins.  Therefore, Baptism not only crucifies and buries you, but, as St. Peter writes, Baptism also now saves you.  Uplifted by the Word and water of this salutary Flood, you are preserved, dry and secure, in the Holy Ark of the Church.

It is in that sure and certain confidence and hope that you daily bear the Cross you have received.

Of course it is true that, in your sinfulness and weakness, you fall short and fail on a regular basis.  You do not bear and carry the Cross in all your thoughts, words, and actions, as you are called and commanded to do.  All the more do you need the daily forgiveness and the blessed mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, who continues to carry the Cross both with you and for you.  In grace, mercy, and peace, He saves you from your sin, from death, and from the power of the devil; He sustains you by the Holy Spirit through His Word of the Gospel; and He raises you up, again and again, to the newness of life in both body and soul that He has established in His Resurrection.

And as often as He calls you to repentance, as often as you hear and receive His Holy Absolution of all your sins, and as often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood according to His Word and promise, He returns you to the life and salvation that are yours in Holy Baptism.  So does He unite you with Himself in both His Cross and His Resurrection from the dead.  And just as surely does He bring you with Himself to the Father in heaven — even now by faith, and hereafter in both body and soul forever.  The One who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.

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

No comments: