Do you ever feel like you're not as good as the people around you? Does it seem like everyone else glides along smoothly in their life, while you are stuck in rough turbulence most of the time? Does it seem like they have gifts that you lack, and you struggle hard to do the smallest of good works? Or perhaps you compare your generation today with generations in the past that seemed so strong in the faith.
The Church in the days of the Prophet Zechariah looked at themselves and thought that they were not a very good church. The old Temple, the golden Temple of Solomon, had been destroyed. The new Temple was a sad shadow of the glory of the old Temple. The numbers of the faithful were pathetically small. Modern Church growth standards would label Zechariah's Church as "dying."
It is tempting to define the Church in terms of what it does or how successful it is. That is so much easier. Then you can tell whether a congregation or an individual is doing well spiritually. You can rev-up your spiritual life simply by doing more things and getting busier. Judging by works appeals to the human flesh. It makes sense. It seems right. It feels satisfying.
But when you've had a hard week, or you've been lazy, then judging by works leads to despair. When you have stumbled into sin, then it does not feel like you are a good Christian. When you realize how often you sin, you can wonder whether all the effort of trying to be a good person is even worth it. Sometimes, going to Church doesn't seem to help. Trying your best doesn't seem to help. When you've had a bad day, it seems like NOTHING helps.
If we at St. Paul's Lutheran Church judge ourselves by how successful our congregation is, we will be found wanting. This is not a large, thriving congregation. We do not have many programs and so-called "ministries." There is always more that we could be doing. We are by no means a mega-church. We do not follow modern trends of church growth techniques. We do not seem to be "Ablaze!"(tm) with mission fervor. Sometimes we may seem downright unloving and uncaring.
And you know what? We really are. If we are judged apart from Christ, then we are weak. We are spiritually inept. We should be strong and mature, but so often we fall back into bad habits.
Zechariah calls people like us "feeble," like someone who stumbles. We are constantly trying to do well, but so often something trips us up. We seem to lack spiritual coordination and strength.
Zechariah also says that all who are feeble shall look upon Him whom they have pierced. That "Him" is God Himself in the flesh - Christ Jesus whom you pierced. You afflicted Him with pain and death because of your sins. You are responsible for His crucifixion just as surely as if you pounded the nails into His flesh yourself.
With bitter sadness, you should weep at the price your sins demanded. With horror, you should gaze upon the cross as the fate you deserved. By your sins, you crucified the precious, one-and-only begotten Son of God.
Do you grieve bitterly because of your sins? Are you horrified by the awfulness of your iniquities? Our natural inclination is to explain how our sins are not that bad. But when we look at the Cross, and the price our sins demanded, then we cannot minimalize sin.
To be weak and stumble does not mean you are not a Christian. ALL Christians are sinners, and none of us are strong in ourselves. But as Christians, we should see how bad our sinfulness is. We should grieve bitterly for the destructiveness of our transgressions. That is repentance, which all Christians must have.
Saint John's Gospel tells us that Zechariah's prophecy was fulfilled when the soldiers at the cross pierced the side of Jesus with a spear. From the wound in His side came a stream of water and blood. From the death of Christ comes the cleansing of Baptism and the Atonement of the Sacrament of the Altar. From the death of Christ comes healing and forgiveness. From the death of your Lord comes comfort. Although you see the price your sins deserved, yet you also see that the price is paid in full, the account is balanced, and your debt is forever erased. That is why, when you look at the One whom you pierced, you do not weep for long. You raise your voices in the joy that overflows from your hearts.
Under the Cross, there is no question of who is better than whom. Was a previous generation more loving than us? Not in God's sight, for all are equally sinners, and equally forgiven. So forget any thoughts that you're not as good as people around you. In the Blood of Christ, all believers are equally good.
Even more than that - Zechariah prophesied that even the weakest of saints, those who stumble, shall be like David. The Church, which Zechariah calls the House of David, shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord in His majesty. The Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Son of God, equal to the Father Himself. Therefore, you are supposed to measure up to the glory of the Father and the Son.
How can you, who are weak and who stumble, measure up to the glory of God?
In Baptism, you are clothed in Christ, as today's Epistle says. Through this gift of Baptism, Jesus overshadows you. He is like the most beautiful robe that covers up the tattered, filthy clothing of your unglorious sinful nature. The glory of God in Christ covers your weakness. In Him, there is no stumbling for you, since every fall into sin is forgiven by His Blood.
Likewise, in the Lord's Supper you receive His very Body and Blood, and they enter you and become a part of you. When you eat and drink Jesus, then you become partakers of His nature of holiness and righteousness and immortality. You are so closely united with Jesus that, in God's sight, there is no difference between you and Him. Not that you have become God, but you have the fullness of God's Son dwelling in you. That is why you have the glory of God in you.
Consider David. Before he was King, he killed the giant Goliath with a sling. Now, it was not that David was such a powerful warrior. He was a boy who was too small to fit into a grown man's armor. But the glory of God worked through David, so that he could overcome evil. It was not in his own strength. David was nothing much to look at. But God's power in Him was mighty enough for a thousand giants.
YOU are like King David. You who seem weak and small are actually filled with the glory and power of God. The Blood of Christ that covers you is mightier than a thousand demons. The Word of Christ that you hear and speak is more glorious than a thousand bonfires of human pride.
Consider the Angel of the LORD, who is the Son of God. When He became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, He seemed like nothing at all. When He was laid in the Manger, He seemed weak and tiny. When He stumbled upon the road to the Cross, He seemed defeated. When His lifeblood dripped down, and His last breath gasped out, and He gave up His spirit, He seemed like a complete and utter failure, nothing glorious in Him at all, and at last nothing but a corpse.
But in fact He is the salvation of God. He is the power and glory of God. He is the only way to the Father, so that no one enters Paradise but by Him.
Your life is hidden in this Son of God. You are covered by His holy image, no matter how sinful your deeds. He is your holiness and glory, no matter how weak you may seem.
So how can you live up to the glory of God? You cannot, not by your good works, at least - not by any Church program, nor through any dignity or nobleness in your nature. But you are, right now, the glory of God, even the lowliest and weakest of you, through faith in which the very Son of God covers you and gives to you His glorious goodness. Even babies who cannot speak, cannot walk, and cannot do any good works, these are glorious sons of God, through Baptism into the image of Christ.
This is also why the saints have the authority and power to pray. Since you are in the image of Christ, and the Spirit of Christ rests upon you, you are able to make petitions before the throne of God. You intervene for any who are in need, much as Christ our Mediator intercedes for you.
So be content, and rejoice, and shout out, since the glory of Jesus shines in you, greater than all the good works mankind could ever do, greater than all of mankind's glory and majesty, which is nothing next to Jesus. He holds all the glory of heaven and earth in His hand. He possesses the true majesty of His Father, which is His by right from all eternity, before all worlds were made. His glory and holiness are pure and unchanging and incorruptible. That Son of God dwells in you.
When you are frustrated, tired, or depressed, look to Jesus. He is one with you. His glory covers you. Look away from the lowliness of your works and your flesh and your sin, and see instead that the gift of God is His own Son. And that is enough for a thousand lifetimes.
In His Name, with the Father and the Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
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