Monday, July 1, 2013

The Confessing Christian

Christians confess. That is simply what Christians do; confession is what makes us Christians in the first place. You are a Christian because you confess Christ, from the simplest, basic confession of the New Testament, “Jesus is Lord,” to the complexities of the Athanasian Creed. Christians confess, and our confession is that of Christ as God in the flesh, our Savior who died and rose again for us. Having heard this message, we cannot help but speak it back in joy to our neighbors and our God. In fact, to ‘confess’ means to ‘say the same thing,’ to repeat back to someone else what you have already heard. Therefore, to confess the faith is to speak back to God and to the world what we have been taught by Him in the first place. And what He has taught us is Christ: His death, His resurrection, for us, in our place.

What God has taught us is our need for Christ. The Law comes before the Gospel; before we can confess our Savior, we need to confess that we need a Savior. This is also a matter of ‘saying the same thing;’ God tells us clearly in His Word that we are sinners condemned to eternal death, and we respond, we speak back to Him and the world with that same message. God shows us His Law, encapsulated in the Ten Commandments, and declares: “These you have not kept.” We hear that proclamation and we respond by saying the same thing: “These I have not kept.” Then, and only then, are we prepared to hear and confess the saving message of Christ, His death, His resurrection, for us, in our place.

Christians confess; that’s simply what we do. We confess our sin and we confess our Savior. The Law is proclaimed to us: we confess. The Gospel is proclaimed to us: we confess. Our mouths are constantly speaking back to God and the world what God has first declared to us. The Christian therefore lives within the dynamic of both Law and Gospel; we are constantly examining our lives according to God’s Word, and where we see sin, we confess it, and hear Christ’s forgiveness applied to us.

Christians confess; that’s simply what we do. Christians come to the Divine Service knowing that they need to confess and receive the blessed absolution. Christians go to private confession and absolution because they know of sins that need to be confessed and forgiven. Christians who avail themselves of both Sunday morning and private confession and absolution will then confess to their neighbors, admitting their sins and asking for forgiveness. The Lord bless your confession, of your great sin, and your greater Savior, each and every day!

Proper 8 of Series C (Luke 9:51-62)

“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, have you ever seen determination? More specifically, have your ever looked into someone’s eyes and have seen the steel there, the firmness of purpose that the job was going to get done, no matter what? Perhaps you have seen it in the face of an athlete, as he prepares to take the winning shot, or in the eyes of a political or military leader, who is absolutely committed to leading those in his charge to their goal. If you have, then I think you can picture what Jesus looked like in our text today as He “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” This moment marks the turning point of Luke’s Gospel, and from this point forward, Jesus is driving toward Jerusalem, for: CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION. But the Samaritans want nothing to do with it. “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. And He sent messengers ahead of Him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem.” They know His resolve, that He is determined to go to Jerusalem, that His eyes are set in that direction and will not be deterred. They are unwilling to pay the price that goes with following Christ, they will not make the commitment that discipleship will demand from them, and so they reject Him.

We can’t help but be indignant toward those Samaritans, toward all those people ‘out there’ who have rejected our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At least we understand the cost of discipleship. But do we really? CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION, but have we truly set our face toward Him? Do we even understand the cost that following Christ will require from us? If we, like the disciples, think that we truly understand the cost, then Jesus has a lesson for us today. He rebukes His headstrong followers, and then shows them what discipleship truly entails. A man comes to Jesus, boldly declaring that “I will follow you wherever you go.” Doesn’t this sound like the bold assertions of the disciples, of the bold assertions that we make when things are going well? At those times, it is easy to say that we will follow Jesus whatever the cost. But Jesus holds the bill, and it is quite steep: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Would you be willing to give up all of your worldly possessions for the sake of Jesus? Are you willing to give up your television, video games, sports, or movies in order to focus more on Christ? If an employer wanted you to do something immoral, would you cave in or stand firm? When push comes to shove, would you freely give up your job, your home, or all your things in order to confess Christ? Maybe our commitment isn’t as strong as we first thought.

Jesus takes the initiative with the second man, calling on him to “Follow me,” but the man, while willing, has other tasks to perform. He first must attend to his family. Jesus’ reply should shock us: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Jesus here preaches a drastic reordering of priorities. Nothing, absolutely nothing, stands in the way of following Christ. Are your squirming in your pews yet? The things of this world, sure we can understand giving them up for Christ (although we sure don’t want to), but our family? Especially a family emergency? How can Jesus demand this much?!

But if we expect to find any exceptions, we’ll be disappointed. A third man, who has perhaps heard the other two conversations, is willing to follow after Jesus. He simply wants the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Once again, Jesus’ reply shocks us all. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Sin’s greatest perversion is that it takes the good gifts of God, our possessions and our family, and uses them to distract us from Him. Jesus has called us out of this world, and we are to no longer seek the approval of others, even those closest to us. If our family opposes itself to our faith in Christ, then we must follow Christ. If family demands priority over the things of God, then we must follow Christ. If family distracts us from a complete and total focus on Jesus, then we must follow Christ. Even if we are completely committed to Christ in every other area of our life, if we love those closest to us more than Him, we have failed to truly follow him, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. 

Well, what do you think now? After Jesus gives us these three examples, do you really think that you in the pew or me in the pulpit or the disciples two thousand years have ever demonstrated the commitment Christ demands? Jesus demands from us everything, body and soul, family and friends, possessions and all that we have. He requires a drastic reordering of priorities, He wants Himself placed above all else. Simply put, He requires nothing less than perfect obedience. But we are sinful people, we even let the good things of this world distract us from Jesus, we spend much of our lives with one hand on the plow, gazing back at the things of this world. CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION, but we don’t set our face toward Him. We aren’t fit to follow Jesus, we aren’t fit for the kingdom of God. In the face of such extreme and shocking demands, we cry out in protest. Who could possibly fulfill these requirements, who could show the commitment that Jesus demands from us?

“When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, left His heavenly throne behind, He left all the glory that was rightfully His from eternity in order to become man. Not only did He become man, but He wandered this earth, taking on the filth of our sin and healing our diseases. He didn’t have a place to call His home, He abandoned all earthly possessions, Jesus became dirt poor. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” He was committed to accomplish the task set before Him, and when He set His face toward Jerusalem, He wasn’t going to let anything come between Him and His goal. He had no shelter, no comfortable place to sleep, but His resolve was firm. He was going to Jerusalem, for there He would give up His life on the cross for each one of us. There He would show the commitment to our salvation that we couldn’t show to Him because of our sin, He would deliver us no matter what. CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION for He set His face toward Jerusalem and the cross.

The Father’s love compelled Him to walk that road, and Jesus’ love for you and me drove Him to that cross. Jesus said to the man who wanted to bury his father “Leave the dead to bury their own dead,” and He said to the man who wanted to say farewell to his family, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This same Jesus cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Jesus was willing to suffer separation from His heavenly Father upon the cross, He was willing to leave His earthly family behind, for nothing, not His love for His Father, not His love for His family, not any of the things of this world, could deter Him from doing what had to be done, from suffering the very wrath of God in our place. He was committed to crushing sin, death, and Satan, He was committed to delivering you, and in His love for you He was committed to suffer all that our sin deserved, all that our lack of commitment deserved. CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION, from the moment He became man, to the moment He turned toward Jerusalem, to the moment He breathed His last on the cross.

Because CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION, He has proved Himself the only One truly fit for the kingdom of God. He did not put His hand on the plow and then look back, but instead was determined to save you, me, and all people from our sin. And so the Father vindicated Jesus, He declared Him to be the conqueror over sin, death, and Satan when He raised Him from the tomb. Due to our sin, we couldn’t commit ourselves fully to Him, but He committed Himself fully to us for our salvation, and now He makes us fit for the kingdom of God. The same determination that led Him to the cross now leads Him to seek us out and claim us as His own, declaring us fit when He creates faith within us through the Word and the waters of Holy Baptism.

In baptism, Christ makes us His disciples, and through faith, we set our face toward Him. This is not an easy task, for even though Christ has fulfilled the commitment that He demands, that demand still exists. We are still called to place Christ above all else, even our own family, we are still called to willingly give up our worldly goods, even our own lives if necessary. What has changed is that we now have forgiveness for when we stumble, for when we fail to follow Christ above all others, when we are distracted by the things of this world from our task as His disciples. CHRIST HAS SET HIS FACE TOWARD OUR SALVATION, and therefore the same commitment that He demonstrated on the cross is now extended toward us each and every time we fall. He is committed to bringing us forgiveness, through the word of Absolution, through our Baptism, where He made us fit for the kingdom of God, and through the lavish overflowing of grace in the Supper of His Body and Blood. Christ is committed to our salvation, He is committed to bringing you to heaven someday, and this determination should not be underestimated. The same determination that led Him to the cross for you and your salvation will bring you to His side in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will set our face toward the Lamb on the throne for all eternity. In the Name of Jesus, who set His face toward Jerusalem, toward suffering, toward the cross, for you, Amen.