Sunday, January 22, 2012

Outstretched Hands for Life

Dear Baptized,

To hear how Christ stretches out His hand to touch you on this Life Sunday that you "Be Clean"-click on this mp3 audio link.

Have a blessed week in the Lord rejoicing to be clean in the life He gives.

A rough preaching manuscript follows below if you prefer to read along or read instead.

TEXT: 1When [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:1-3

And there you have it. The answer to the age old question, the answer to your question, "What is God's will for me?" Here it is revealed to you in the words of Jesus Himself, "I will; be clean."

Since the sin of Adam and Eve, every last one of us born into this world is born a leper—our flesh is being ravaged and destroyed by sin every day, and our senses have become so dulled by the disease that we cannot even feel or notice the deadly toll it is taking on us.

So Christ comes down from His mountain, where He sits at the right of the Father, and He breathes His Holy Spirit out into the world in the Divine Service that you and all who receive His Word of forgiveness in faith will be clean. That is His desire, His will for you and for all people, as we learn from the apostle Paul urging Pastor Timothy to lead the people under his spiritual care in "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. [Because] this is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:1-4

And if God wants all people to be saved, as with the all nations to be baptized, this must include the littlest people among our nations. So I would be remiss on this "Life Sunday" if I were to neglect to mention the little ones carried in the womb among all the people He wants to save and to be cleansed. Today, January 22, 2012 marks the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the case of Roe V. Wade. This decision has resulted in over 54,000,000 innocent human beings to lose their lives since 1973 to what the medical community and women's choice advocates voluntary pregnancy terminations, that is, abortions.

We trust God has dealt mercifully and His will has been done with these hosts of little ones--innocent as to their role in whatever distress a pregnancy presents, but still in need of the merciful cleansing of our Lord as to their having been conceived in sinful flesh. We pray that He would lead us out of the temptation to sacrifice more little ones for the sake of our own selfishness and deliver us from this evil taking of life so that they may be brought to the font of living water to be cleansed and saved.

What is more, it is His will to lead those mothers who have terminated the lives of their babies in this manner—and even the doctors and medical personal and counselors and spouses and significant others who have been complicit—to repent and come to Jesus to be cleansed as well. Yes, He died for their sins, too. He died to save each and every one of them and give them life with Him in heaven. If not, how is it you could think He died for your most grievous sins, to save you, and bring you into the kingdom of heaven with HIm?

Yes, each and every one of us needs to be made clean, because each and every one of us is infected and infested with the leprosy of sin that will eventually destroy this body and take us to the grave--back to the earth from whence God formed us. And unless the God who created you does something to change this course of events, to cleanse you of this deadly disease of sin, to come and touch you and give you life, you remain as you are, unable to do anything about your disease or even to know how advanced and serious is your leprous condition.

That's what Baptism is for.
What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. As Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned" [Mark 16:16].
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God, which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without the Word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says in Titus chapter three, "He saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy" [vv. 5-8].
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts. And also it shows that a new man should daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6, "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" [v. 4]. [Small Catechism Explanation of Holy Baptism]

That's what Confession and Absolution is for, both in the Divine Service and privately with Christ's servant of the Word. Indeed everything the pastor does is to lead to just this, that you confess your sin and receive the forgiveness of our Lord that He came to win for you on Calvary and deliver to you in His holy Christian Church.
Confession has two parts: the one is that we confess our sins; the other is that we receive Absolution, or forgiveness, from the confessor, as from God Himself, and in no way doubt, but firmly believe that our sins are forgiven before God in heaven by this. [Small Catechism Explanation of Confession & Absolution]

That's why we sing "Create in me a clean heart" as the offertory every Sunday.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.

That's why our Lord invites and even commands us to eat of His body and drink of His blood often in the Sacrament of the Altar.
What is the benefit of this eating and drinking? These words, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins," show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

In order that we can know and believe that Jesus comes down from His mountain of heaven with the same flesh of His human nature--to cleanse us and abide with us and replace our rebellious, leprous, death seeking spirit with His pure life giving Holy Spirit in all these gifts He has given to and through His Church and Office of the Holy Ministry.

This is why Jesus is called the Christ, because He and only He has been anointed in the flesh with the Holy Spirit of God to give this Spirit of Life to sinners in their flesh for eternal life. And this is why Jesus, the Christ sends the Holy Spirit in all these things of His Church--to transform us back into the image of Christ we were created to be in the beginning, but which has been perverted in and lost to us as sinners. Without Christ coming to us in these things we remain dead in the leprosy of our sin and unable to do a thing to save ourselves, to get rid of our own leprous sin, or to rise from the dead.

1When [Jesus] came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." 3And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Just as Jesus came down from the mountain to stretch out His hand and touch and heal the leper and others, He has come down from the mountain of heaven to stretch out His hand and touch and heal each of us most profoundly in our Baptism. What is more, He is touching us even now in His Divine Service--stretching out His hand through the preaching and praying of His holy Word, touching you in your repentant request. As you bow before Him at the throne of His altar He is saying, "My will is to do this for you. Be clean, for you are mine and I am here for you to heal you and give you life."

Just as the leper was healed by the Lord Jesus Christ as He came down from preaching the Sermon on the Mount, He has come down from heaven today, preaching His sermon of forgiveness and giving you His body and blood to heal you for eternity --in the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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