+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews the writer reminds us of the stellar faith of the saints of old. Many of them, because of people’s disdain for God and His Word, were martyred for the faith. “They were stoned (to death), they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy.”
The Church is both militant and triumphant at one and the same time. The saints who fought of old have come to their labors rest. Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. We, that is, we who remain in the fight, are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” and we are strengthened by Christ that we might fight as the saints who nobly fought of old.
Life in Christ is a battle, not that we might win the approval and the favor of God, for that blessed gift has already been laid upon us in holy baptism, but that we might confess Christ to a world that does not know Him. On the one hand, the battle is fought in a very public arena. The Christian Church, as always, is under assault because it dares to speak truth to lies. Thus, among many others, added recently to the list of the martyrs of Hebrews 11, is Pastor Alfrery Cruz Canseco, a Mexican pastor, who was gunned down in the pulpit on Sunday, August 18 (that’s last Sunday), as he preached to the members of his congregation in Southwest Mexico. Indeed, “they were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword,” and they were gunned down.
While the battle for faith is oftentimes fought in the public arena, it is perhaps more frequently fought in the quiet recesses of our hearts and minds. Sin is always with us, as are the flaming arrows and the fiery darts of the evil one. The angst and the concern we feel over the presence of sin in our lives often leaves us weary and discouraged. We reason that we should make greater strides in holiness as we live out our lives as children of God. And yet, as we take two steps forward, we take steps backward. Sanctified, that is, holy in the eyes of God we are, but in our own eyes, and by our own experience, we are plagued by sin and rebellion against the Almighty. We cannot but agree with St. Paul who bemoaned the sin in his own life, saying, “the good that I would do I don’t do, but the very evil that I hate this is what I do.”
While the old evil foe would have us believe that our keen awareness of the sin within is evidence that the Holy Spirit has abandoned us, leaving us to our own devices, to the contrary, the awareness of our sin is evidence that the Holy Spirit is very much alive and well in our hearts. Those who are dead in their trespasses and sins fear not the wrath of God, nor the sinfulness of their heart, nor the loss of their salvation. Rather, they revel in their own supposed righteousness and they find solace and consolation in their perceived superiority over others.
Still, the struggle with sin is wearisome. At times, we think of ourselves as having fought the fight to the bitter end, which is to say, we just can’t take it anymore. Again, we join St. Paul in his lament. “O wretched man than I am. Who will set me free from this body of death?”
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Our help in such situations begins with the counsel of God through the Holy Spirit who helps us to properly and soberly assess the fight in which we are embroiled. First, we are called to, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Our eyes on Christ, we see One who was and is without sin, suffer for sin! We see the greatest injustice the world has ever known. And in Him, we find hope. The sin we most loathe in ourselves has been credited to Him and His righteousness has been credited to us, to YOU!
Secondly, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” As much as you may bemoan your sins, you have not been called by Christ to make atonement for them! To the contrary, you have been told that you need not, indeed, that you cannot make atonement for your sins. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Why? “Because God made Him who knew no sin to be sin that you might be the righteousness of God in Him.”
Third, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?” The struggles you endure are not caused by happenstance. They are not mere inconveniences in your otherwise carefree walk with God! No, they are the discipline of God who treats you as sons and daughters. Sometimes He treats you with firm love, what we sometimes call tough love, but other times He simply wipes away your tears and enfolds you in the comforting assurance of His forgiveness and grace.
As a son, or, daughter of God in Christ, in your struggle with sin, you come not to Mt. Sinai, to the condemning sternness of the Law. “You have not come to what may be touched (says the writer of Hebrews), a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.””
As a son, or, daughter of God in Christ, in your struggle with sin, you come not to Mt. Sinai, to the condemning sternness of the Law. Rather, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
The blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The unbelieving world’s battle against God manifested itself in lives of two brothers. Cain, in an act of jealously, spilled his own brother’s blood in the field. Though Abel died as a martyr for Christ, his blood could not redeem his brother Cain, nor could it redeem any other.
The blood of Jesus, however, has redeemed the whole world. It “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” The word it speaks to you is God’s word of pardon. Turn away from Mt. Sinai, from the Law that so troubles you and wearies you and hear the voice of God from Mt. Zion. “I, in the stead and by the command of Christ, forgive you all of your sins.” No ifs, no ands, and no buts.
“Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.”
“Jesus, be endless praise to Thee,
Whose boundless mercy hath for me,
For me, and all Thy hands have made,
An everlasting ransom paid.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
Send Rev. Alan Taylor an email.