25 May 2014
Text: John 16:23-33 (Num 21:4-9, Jas 1:22-27)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Our Lord’s mission was to come into the world in human form in order to die on the cross as a ransom for our sins. He removes our guilt, pays our debt, and absorbs the consequences that we have earned because of our disobedience. And like the snake-bitten, rebellious children of Israel who looked to the bronze serpent on the pole, we look to Jesus and we find life instead of death.
And we rightfully emphasize this forgiveness of sins and this comfort that at the cross, the Lord won redemption for us, and in Holy Baptism, this gracious gift is delivered to us personally, so that when we look to the crucified Lord lifted up upon the cross, lifted up from the slumber of death, lifted up in His ascension to the Father, we are lifted up out of certain condemnation to hell and lifted up to the heavenly realms even as our bodies die as a result of sin.
But there is more to the Christian life than not going to hell. There is more to the Christian life than going to heaven. For in ransoming us from our sins, the Lord Jesus is restoring us to a greatness that we don’t even remember from our past and that we can’t even imagine in our future.
The going of our spirits to heaven is not the eternal part. Life is the eternal part. We are promised a resurrected body. We are promised a new heavens and a new earth. We are promised that all things will be made new. We are promised a bodily existence without a body that is corruptible. Our new existence in this new physical world will have no pain, no suffering, no remorse, no fear, no hatred, no diseases, and no death.
No death, dear friends! Can you even imagine it?
Well, we really can’t. And so our Lord preaches by means of figurative language to teach us about this kingdom, this eternal existence that doesn’t begin when we die, but begins when we die to sin, when we are baptized, an eternal kingdom that begins even here in this sinful world, a kingdom that begins when we believe. It is as our Lord says: “The Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.”
And in putting it this way, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks plainly and without figurative language.
Love and belief receive Christ and His grace. Faith grasps hold of this gift of forgiveness, life and salvation. Faith receives the victory our Lord won at the cross. Faith is believing in that which we can’t see. And our Lord is telling the disciples that He is going to the Father where they will not see Him. And yet, their faith – itself a gift of God – will see them through. For as our Lord tells them plainly: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Our Lord has overcome. He has won the victory. But we are still living in the fallen world of sin, of death, of the devil. We are still stuck to the Old Adam. We are still mortal. In this world, we still have tribulation. We have sickness, sadness, pain, suffering, and death. And so we look to the cross, and to the One who was crucified, just as the children of Israel looked to the bronze pole, and the serpent attached to it. In seeing this reminder of the Lord’s promise, the children of Israel were given faith – faith to overcome the ravages of death. And we have more than a reminder, for we can look back in human history not to a suggestion of the cross, but to the cross itself. We look to the body and blood of Christ nailed to the cross, for Him the tree of death that has become for us the tree of life. For He “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
And in this ransom, there is more than merely staying out of hell. We are restored to the Father. Like the rebellious children of Israel, like the rebellious prodigal son, we have a renewed and proper relationship, a healthy and wholesome communion with the Father. This is achieved by the Holy Spirit’s calling of us, and the Son’s physical body and blood, not only paying our debt, but being delivered to us in the sacrament of the altar.
We receive these gifts by faith, believing that Jesus came from God the Father. But St. James warns us not to reduce this belief to a sterile intellectual assent. Faith is belief, but it isn’t just facts and figures on a ledger. It is rather a reality that encompasses mind, body, heart, and soul, every aspect of our being, laying claim to our very reality as creatures in this universe. And so James warns us: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” For “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
And in this faith that is lived out in a life of love and service and humility and separation from the world, we look to the Lord Jesus lifted up at Calvary with the eyes of faith, and we are transformed into the righteousness of Christ. In this gift of faith, we ask the Father for what we need, and do so in the name of Jesus.
Because of the cross, we can call God our Father, and we can make our requests known to Him, for “God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.”
This is what it means to pray in the name of Jesus. It isn’t just a superstitious add-on or a magic incantation. To pray in His name is to pray by His authority, to pray in faith through Him who won salvation for us, to pray in belief that He came from God the Father, and to trust in His passion, death, and resurrection to restore us to the Father.
And so look to the cross, dear brothers and sisters in Christ! Look to His body and blood given and shed for you. Look upon these elements in faith and receive them in your bodies and souls, for you will rise again, body and soul, growing up as sons and daughters of God, looking joyfully forward to the end of this snake-bitten rebellious age to a joyful eternity to come – an eternity that begins here and now as you receive His Word. For our Lord says: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.” Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, peace be with you! Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
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