[I forgot to mention this before, but during this Lententide I'm preaching at midweek Vespers on the Epistles for the week according to the Lutheran Hymnal Project's proposed Three-Year Lectionary.--MAS]
IN NOMINE JESU
Some people claim that we can tell a lot about other people by how they walk. Whether or not this is true is not the point. We do notice, though, that different people walk in different ways. Some shuffle. Some limp. Some walk briskly. Some stroll. Some people occasionally walk with long strides and with a fixed stare or a determined look in their eyes. One might surmise that such a person is walking with a purpose. Such a person with such a walk may well have a goal in mind, that he or she is walking toward something.
Our text talks about walking and the walk we are to take. Ours is not a physical walk but a spiritual walk. Saint Paul writes, "So we are confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:6-7). Paul is encouraging us to walk by faith as he did. Paul sets himself as the pattern for us to follow. He bids us to walk the path that leads to heaven, to follow the one true Way unto salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the only way we are to walk as Christians, to walk in the way of Him who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. May it be our prayer this evening and always that the Holy Spirit would continue to keep us on the narrow way.
Paul cautions us, though, that there are those among us who seek to entice us from the Way and down their darkened paths. They seek to direct our attention this Lententide away from the cross of Christ, for, as Paul notes, "they are enemies of the cross of Christ" (3:18b). They are enemies of the cross because the message, the preaching, of the cross is a scandal to them. Who are these enemies of the cross? They are the false prophets who claim that all paths lead to heaven. In this era of multiculturalism and political correctness, they seek to melt all religions, Christian and non-Christian [and thereby false] alike, into one, often called the "American Civil Religion." They seek to lower the Triune God, the one true God, to the level of those false gods. The cross scandalizes them, and so they speak violently against it.
There are more enemies of the cross than we care to recognize or realize. A lot of the so-called evangelists we see on television and hear on the radio want to take us off the narrow way, or they at least try to widen the path that leads to eternal life. They attempt to widen the way by falsely asserting that faith is something that we "do," that it is our decision to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, even though Scripture clearly teaches otherwise. This means, then, that faith would be our work and that, therefore, we can ultimately save ourselves, thereby emptying the cross of its glory. These false prophets may not say that, but this is the "logical" conclusion of their false teachings. These wolves in sheep's clothing are in fact saying, "Decide for Jesus, but trust in me, and send me your money!" They themselves are their message, not the cross of Christ. They want the glory. They want the money. They want you to go astray. They want you to become fellow enemies of the cross of Christ, for their "end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things" (3:19). It is such people for whom Paul weeps…and for whom our Lord weeps.
Those who lead us off the path are indeed enemies of the cross of Christ. We who follow them are also enemies of the cross of Christ. We are enemies on account of our sinful nature. Left to ourselves, our sinful nature will always run the opposite way of the cross; our sinful nature always takes us down the path that leads us to hell. This is the wide way, for this is the way that all sinners and, therefore, enemies of the cross of Christ, take. You see, as enemies of the cross of Christ, we are scandalized by the cross and the Church's preaching of it. We are scandalized by it because we are reminded that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, that He died to save us, for we are sinners. The preaching of the cross scandalizes us because it reminds us that we are sinners, so steeped in sin that we were conceived and born in it. We cannot escape our sinfulness, no matter how quickly we try to walk, or run, away from this preaching. The Church and her called and ordained servants of the Word have preached the cross—have preached the Way—for two millennia, and sinners have been brought to repentance and have been turned by the Holy Spirit from the way of condemnation. But many have closed their ears and hearts to the Lord's call to repentance. When we do not heed our Lord's call for us to repent, we show ourselves to be enemies of the cross of Christ, for we are spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, and our "end is destruction, whose god is [our] belly, and whose glory is in [our] shame—who set [our] mind on earthly things." As enemies, there is only one way for us to go…the way to hell.
Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for the One whose Passion we remember this Lenten season has been in this valley, for the way He went took Him there through the cross. The way of the Christ was the way of the cross. This way took Him from heaven down to earth where He assumed our human nature, to Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem, to the cross on Calvary's holy mountain. This was they way John the Baptizer prepared and Jesus the Messiah perfected. It is finished. It is perfected. It is completed for us. The events of Good Friday were not the end for our Lord, but it was the beginning for us, the beginning of the new covenant of our salvation, our forgiveness, and our new and true citizenship which is in heaven.
Our Lord and Savior has shown that death cannot hold Him. His end is not destruction because He has no end, for He is eternal. His God is not His belly but His heavenly Father and, through Christ, our heavenly Father. His glory is not in His shame, "for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame…" (Heb. 12:2). His mind is not set on earthly things, for He has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, where He is preparing the heavenly mansion for us, that it would be ready when He calls us to our eternal home, "for our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (3:20-21). We are strangers in this imperfect world, though we are for now imperfect, but in heaven we will be at home and be made perfect, regaining the image of God once lost at the Fall.
The Lord has sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we would walk by faith. From the font the Holy Spirit has turned our face not toward the holy city of Jerusalem but toward heaven in Jesus Christ. Through this preaching of the Word the Holy Spirit continues to keep you on the way to heaven, the way that Paul walked, the Way that Jesus Himself is! You see, Jesus went the way of the cross so we would not have to. The way to heaven He took for us took Him to the cross and the tomb, so that we would not have to go there ourselves. The way our Lord has given us to heaven goes through here—through the font, through the preaching and ongoing catechesis, and through the Lord's Table. Through these means of His grace our Lord feeds us, giving us strength for the way that leads to life everlasting. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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