IN NOMINE JESU
There are a number of things we could focus on today as we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew. We could look at him as a former tax collector who was also known as Levi, whom Jesus called to follow Him to be a disciple and, later, apostle. We could look at the Gospel that bears his name, its themes, and how it’s organized. We could speculate on what tradition holds on where he ministered and how he died. We could zero in on all sorts of things, all worthwhile and edifying for us. Today we will focus on a single Hebrew word that serves as bookends to his Gospel: Immanuel, which means “God with us.” We see this Immanuel theme in the first and last chapters of Matthew’s Gospel.
In the first chapter he recounts the angel’s message to Joseph, that Mary his virgin wife had conceived by the Holy Spirit and that the Child’s name would be Jesus, which means “YHWH saves.” Matthew, under inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, tells us that this fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 7, that the Child shall be called Immanuel. This Jesus, the Word-become-flesh in St. John’s Gospel, is the God-with-us in Matthew’s. Every Christmas we are reminded of the Incarnation and Immanuel as we sing the hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” especially as we sing this stanza: “Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord, Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity [John’s reference]! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel [Matthew’s reference]!” [LSB 380:2]. And in the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus, prior to His ascension, sends out His disciples-turned-apostles (Matthew included) to go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching, and He promises them that, wherever they are, He will be with them always. Jesus was their Teacher, their Lord, and their Immanuel. Just as He was for them, Jesus is OUR Savior, OUR Lord, and OUR Immanuel. Jesus is OUR God-with-us. God IS with us. As He was in the beginning, Jesus is with us now, and He will be with us forever.
In a world full of sin and chaos, Jesus is with us, just as He has promised in His Word. Yet there are times when all we see, hear, and feel is the sin and chaos. The world in which we live is full of chaos because it is full of sin. It is full of sin because we are full of sin, beginning at the moment when we were conceived. As we were in the beginning, we are sinners now, and we will be until we die. We have taken a bad thing (this sinful world) and made it worse by our continued sinning. We by our sins are part of this sinful world. God tells us in His Word that this is not His will for us, that He calls us to live holy lives. Listen to Jesus as He gives us His Sermon on the Mount. He spells it all out for us in black and white—or red and white, depending on the Bible you have. We are sinners and are unworthy of God’s love, for we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. We don’t love God over all else; we don’t love our neighbors as ourselves. We contribute to our sin-and-chaos-filled world because we worry about what’s going to happen in our lives next. We worry about our grades, our finances (or lack of them), this fall’s harvest, our health, or even how we will carry on after our loved ones have died. We worry because we lose sight of the one thing needful and wonder where God is in the midst of all our chaos. Why isn’t He with me? we think. If God is truly with me like He says He is, why did He let this happen to me? We worry, and our worry turns to anger. We get mad, and we blame God for all the bad stuff that happens for not being with us the way WE want Him to be here. We try to be God’s god, but He gives us a sure and certain reminder of who’s who when He says through the Psalmist, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10).
It is wonderful for us that God has been exalted. God has been exalted in His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who was lifted up on the cross for us. Last Sunday we celebrated Holy Cross Day. In doing so, we celebrated not that Jesus’ cross was supposedly found, but we celebrated, as we do each Lord’s Day, that Jesus was exalted on the cross and died in our place. Jesus said, “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die” (Jn. 12:32-33). On the cross Jesus bled and died, winning for us the forgiveness of all our sins, including those of our worrying and of our doubts of His presence among us. Our Father in heaven turned His back on and forsook His only-begotten Son on Good Friday to be with us, His children, into all eternity. By Jesus’ all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, He Himself was exalted and His Father glorified, and we are forgiven, for He is with us. How is this so?
Jesus, once crucified and dead on the cross, is not there because His work there was—and remains—finished. He is not there, for He has risen from the dead! On the first day of the week, Jesus rose, victorious over sin, death and the grave. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we are here each Lord’s Day to celebrate the weekly anniversary of His resurrection. Today we celebrate this anniversary with a feast. In a few moments we, at our Lord’s gracious invitation, will feast on His body and blood. Here we are in His house…and so is He! The Lord who on the cross gave His body and shed His blood for you is here giving it to you. He has willingly and willfully bound Himself to the bread and wine and will be with you here at His table. I have even more good news for you: Your Lord and Savior has been present with you the entire time here in His house. Christ, who was present at your Baptism, has been here with us, gathered in His Name, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” He promises us (Mt. 18:20). God Himself is present, forgiving you for His Son’s sake in the Absolution, the Word read and preached in your hearing, and in the body and blood of Christ. God is with you as He places His Name on you in the Benediction. He is with you as you leave here today as live your lives and your vocations. Christ is the calm amidst our chaos, an ever-present Help in times of trouble, our Immanuel—our God-with-us, as He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5), thanks be to God!
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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