Saturday, March 2, 2013

Victory and Spoil from the Stronger Man: Thoughts on Lent 3

In Judges 14, Samson, that strong nazarite hero of God, went out to find for himself a bride. Along the way, he was met by a ferocious young lion, prowling around seeking someone to devour. By the power of the Holy Spirit which had come upon him, Sampson, with his bare hands, ripped the lion apart.

Having found his bride, he passed by the carcass of the lion a few days later. There he found it swarming with bees and laden with sweet honey. Thus he composed this little riddle: “Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet” (Judges 14:14).

Just as Sampson had to first overcome a roaring, threatening lion before he could get his bride, so also Christ our Lord, the Stronger Man, the Nazarene hero sent by God into the flesh, had to overcome the hellish lion, the devil, who prowls around seeking to devour sinners, in order to gather His Bride, the Church. And from this victory comes the food of our salvation, the sweet taste of the forgiveness of sin and eternal life (Gerhard, Postilla, Vol. 1, 241).

Jesus Christ is the Stronger Man who entered the strong man's house and overcame him. And overcoming Him, He divides the spoils. He gives to us the spoils of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. For Jesus came into the flesh, was born of a woman under the law in order to redeem those under the law. He came to die on the cross so that in His death, death would be put to death, and in His resurrection, life would reign in victory. He came to bear our sin, for He who knew no sin became sin for us. In His baptism, He stood in the place of sinners, so that in our baptism, we sinners would stand in the place of Christ. For all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have put on Christ. You are a new creation in Him. All He is and has belongs to you--His righteousness, His purity, His holiness, His life--because all that you are and have belongs to Him--your sin, your impurity, your death. All this is yours in Christ through Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion.

The devil and his demons have no sway over you because you have been cleansed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God given in speech and action, in Word and Sacrament. They go running away, they flee and are driven out by the Word of God spoken and enacted in Word and Sacrament. "For this reason alone you ought to read, speak, think, and use [God's Word and His Sacraments], even if you had no other profit from them than driving away the devil and evil thoughts . . . . For [the devil and his minions] cannot hear or endure God's Word. God's Word is not like some other silly babbling [that we hear on television, the radio, or the news]. But as St. Paul says in Romans 1:16, it is 'the power of God.' Yes indeed, it is the power of God that gives the devil burning pain and strengthens, comforts, and helps us beyond measure" (LC, Preface, 11).

But we receive far more than this by means of the Word and the Sacraments. We receive the very life and righteousness of Christ Himself. By these things, we are reconciled to God the Father, we receive our place as His children, and we have the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. All that belongs to Him is ours because we belong to Him.

And yet we do not prize these gifts that God out of His love and mercy has given to us as we ought. We despise them. It's not that we hate them. But we do not give them the honor they are due. We treat them as insignificant and unimportant. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we grumble. We do not look forward to hearing God's Word. We get bored in church. We get bored with our prayers. We get bored with reading and delving into the Word of God, the history of our salvation. And so we put off the things of God until all other things are done. We don't put Him first. We put Him last, after sports and exercise, after work and school, after running to this event or that event, after all the things that we think are really important, then we will focus on the things of God. And what usually happens is that we end up devoting no time to them at all. We crowd God out of our schedules. We cut ourselves off from the very thing that gives us life. Repent.

Jesus said, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." That is, whoever is not where Jesus has promised to be, where Jesus has promised to give His gifts, is against Him and scatters. And when we do that, we leave ourselves, our bodies and souls, clean and ready for the unclean spirits to return with his friends. And the last state is worse than the first.

The unclean spirits must be replaced with the Holy Spirit. And those who have the Holy Spirit hear the Word of God and keep it and are thereby blessed.  Blessed are those whose wickedness has been covered and sins have been forgiven. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Blessed are those who take hold of God's Word and Deeds by faith and never let go. Blessed are those who guard and cherish the gifts of God in His Word and Sacraments.

You are such people. For though you have not loved and cherished the things of God as you ought, you have also confessed this as sin. You repent of it. You are not a hypocrite. You have not claimed to be anything other than a sinner forgiven by the grace and mercy of God in Christ. Thus, you hear the Word of God and keep it. That is not to say that you obey it perfectly, for you don't. We are sinners. No, you hear the word of God and keep it. That is to say, you cling to it, you believe it, you trust it, and you hope in it because it is your life and your salvation. It drives away demons. It slays your sinful flesh. It forgives your sins. And it tells you not only of your history, but also of your future: eternal life for heaven is your home. 

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