The Kingdom of God has come near to you. It is here, because Christ is here with you in His Word of the Gospel and in His flesh and blood, that you should have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He is here with you in His Church on earth, that you should be with Him where He is forever, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, seated with Him in the heavenly places.
He and His Kingdom draw near to you by the way of the Cross. For it is by His Cross that Christ has conquered Satan and defeated death. He has not come with the fierce power of almighty God, judging and condemning and destroying the world, but rather, He has come in peace to reconcile the world to God by taking the righteous wrath and judgment of the Law upon Himself, bearing it in His own Body, willingly suffering death, and shedding His holy and precious Blood, the very Blood of God Himself, in order to make Atonement for the sins of the whole world.
All this He has done by His Cross. And so it is by and from and through and with His Cross that God’s Kingdom comes to you. So do His messengers come bearing the Cross, even as He sends them in His Name before His face to every place where He Himself will go. His Cross is what they preach, and His Cross is what they bear and suffer in both body and soul for His Name’s sake.
They are sent as lambs in the midst of wolves. They are sent as living sacrifices, like unto the One who sends them, who is sent by the Father to lay down His body and life in Sacrifice on the Cross. They suffer because the preach His Word and catechize His people, they baptize and absolve in His Name and stead, and they administer His Body and His Blood in remembrance of Him.
They are supported and sustained by nothing but the grace of God and the love of His people. They are not to bring any supplies at all, but to rely on those who receive them in the Name of the Lord, trusting that He will sustain them through His Church. They are to focus on the one task they are given, that of speaking the Gospel and bestowing peace through the forgiveness of sins.
They come in such poverty and meekness, preaching what the world perceives to be such a sad and meager message, that of the Cross and suffering. And yet, for all that, the messengers of Christ are given to tread the serpents and scorpions of Satan under foot with the preaching of His Cross.
They heal diseases and cast out demons with the Word of the Lord. For all things are made new by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus; and Satan is utterly defeated by the forgiveness of sins, which is what the servants of Christ Jesus preach in His Name and with His own authority.
With that Word of forgiveness there is also life and salvation. Where sins are forgiven, death has no more claim on you. Rather, as Christ has died for you and risen from the dust of the earth, His Spirit breathes in you through His Word of forgiveness, so that you are now truly alive in Him.
Because your sins are forgiven, the devil has no more power over you. He cannot hang the fear of death over your head, not when you have already died with Christ and find your life now hidden with Christ in God. And the devil cannot accuse you of anything. Not to say that he doesn’t try! You know that he does. But all of his accusations are lies. It is true that you have sinned in many and various ways, but all your sins have been removed, and God does not count them against you.
God raised Jesus from the dead, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s trespasses against them, but establishing in Christ Jesus the righteousness that is yours by faith in Him. Thus does He grant you His true peace, comfort, and real joy, such as this world is unable to provide.
The world cannot give you peace, because the world cannot forgive your sins. The world itself is fallen and subject to death, enmeshed and mired in its own sins. In its false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, the world conspires with Satan to lead you into temptation, on the one hand, and then to accuse you and destroy you on the other hand.
It is not in the world that you have peace and rest, confidence and hope, but in the Church of the Gospel, in the preaching of the Word of Christ, and in His Body and Blood. It is in the Church, in the House of God where you are welcome, in the household and family of faith into which you have been baptized. That is where the Lord provides for both His preachers and His hearers, for those who are sent in His Name and for those who receive them in holy faith and holy love.
That is why and how it is that His Church, His true Jerusalem and free, is the glorious Mother of His children; that she nurses them at her bosom and feeds them with the pure Milk of God’s Word; that she is full to overflowing with the bountiful goodness of Christ Jesus; that streams of peace like rivers flow from the Lord through His Church to His children, who have peace and comfort and safety in His Holy Gospel like little babies in the arms of their dear, sweet mothers.
It is to establish His Church on earth, to provide and care for you in these ways, that Christ Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, toward His Cross and Passion; and that He sends messengers before His face, in the way of His Cross, to every city and every place where He Himself goes. He sends them to preach and proclaim, with His own Word and His own voice, the forgiveness of your sins.
And so do they come to you in His Name, even to this day and to this place, delivering the fruits of His Cross, whereby you are born again as a new creation in Christ Jesus, as He Himself is the Firstborn from the dead. For His crucified and risen Body is the First fruits of the New Creation. He has offered Himself on the Cross as a sweet-smelling Sacrifice; and He has risen and ascended to the Right Hand of God the Father, where He ever lives as your merciful and great High Priest.
All that He has accomplished and obtained for you is given to you in the preaching of this meager message by this servant of Christ Jesus, this meager messenger who has no authority or greatness but that of Christ and His Cross. God forbid that any of us should boast in anything but that! But here there is that Cross, by which you receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.
Even if you are dying; even if you are hurt; even if you are ashamed; even if you are terrified; even if no one else loves you; even if you are losing everything — your sins are forgiven; and you have life with God; and you are safe in Christ Jesus, here within His Church, because He is your Savior.
Here within His Church, within His House (which He has made your home), there is grace and every blessing. Here is the Kingdom of God on earth; and it is here for you and your salvation.
It does come by the way of the Cross. And those who receive these fruits and benefits of the Cross also bear that Cross and the Passion of Christ Jesus in their bodies and in their lives on earth.
So it is that you bear the Cross. You received it in your Baptism, when the sign of the Cross was made upon your forehead and your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. You thus belong to a crucified God, and you have life by His Cross. So do not be ashamed of the Gospel of His Cross, and do not be ashamed of the Cross that you bear and carry as His disciple.
You bear it, not as a curse, but as a blessing. Not as a dead weight, but as that which raises you up with Christ Jesus. Yes, it crucifies you. Yes, it puts you to death. Yes, it destroys the old Adam in you with all your lusts and desires of the flesh. But no less so, the Cross also saves you, because the Cross of Christ has redeemed you, and in His Resurrection you are made brand new.
The Cross that crucifies you, puts you to death, and buries you, also grants you the forgiveness and life and salvation of Jesus, who by His Cross has atoned for the sins of the world and reconciled the whole world to God; who has crushed the devil’s head under His own bruised heal.
Because that Cross of Christ is yours by your Baptism in His Name, you also have the authority to tread Satan, his serpents and scorpions under your feet, to drive out demons and heal diseases, even in the midst of great affliction. In the face of the devil’s accusations, in the face of the Law’s threats, and in the face of your experience in this perishing world, you can boldly say, “I am God’s own child. I am forgiven. My life is hidden with Christ in God. There is nothing that anyone can do to me, for God is my Rescuer. God is my Strength and my Shield, my Song, and my Salvation.”
When you boldly pray and confess that Word and promise of the Lord your God, the devil does not stand a chance. Oh, he can rage at you, and God may even allow him to rob you of everything in this body and life on earth. But God will not allow the devil to rob you of Christ Jesus, your Savior. Nor will He allow the devil to snatch you out of His hands.
Not only that, but when you are too scared to confess what is true, when you are too fearful and ashamed to pray, when you are too weak and helpless even to cry out, “Kyrie, eleison!” — even then, the Holy Spirit helps you in your weakness and intercedes for you with groanings too deep for words. And the Lord Jesus stands before your God and Father in heaven, pleading for you with His Blood, interceding for you with His own life; and He sets Himself between you and the devil. Thus are you protected and preserved under the Cross in the hope and promise of the Resurrection.
The Cross of Christ, which has been laid upon you by His grace — the Cross that you bear in His Name by His grace; not by your own reason or strength, but by His grace through faith in His Word — that very Cross, though it is hard and heavy to bear and carry, though it puts you to death to yourself and your desires, to the world, and to your sins — it is the Cross that grants you peace, day by day throughout your life, with the forgiveness of your sins and the righteousness of Christ. So it is that you do not perish and die forever, but you live and abide in Christ, body and soul.
That same peace and life which are yours in the Cross of Christ are for your neighbor, as well. So are you able to tread down Satan, his serpents and scorpions, for the benefit of your neighbor: By forgiving your neighbor his trespasses against you in the faith and forgiveness of Christ Jesus, and by loving your neighbor, even when he or she does not love you and is not being very loveable.
Whether that peace is received or rejected, do not lose heart, do not grow weary of doing good, and do not give up the hope of Christ. It is in Him that you have joy and gladness at all times and in all places, whatever your circumstances. For His Love is stronger than even death and the grave. And by the power of His own indestructible Life, He saves you from sin, Satan, death, and hell.
In the meantime, take to heart that your labor in the Gospel of Christ is never in vain. Though you may succeed in nothing in your own perception or according to the standards of this perishing world, even so, to speak the truth of Christ, to bear His Cross in love, to live by faith, that is the very life of God which He has given to you, and it is yours. Though you are nothing, the Cross of Christ and His Name which you bear are and do everything pertaining to life and godliness.
Be sure and certain of this: The Kingdom of God has drawn near to you. Indeed, it is here for you now, in this Liturgy. And your name has been written in the Kingdom of God with the very Blood of Christ, your Savior, by the stylus of His Cross, by the preaching of His Gospel — in the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God in the Resurrection of the same Christ Jesus from the dead.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.