Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Around 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem would receive the comfort and salvation promised to Adam and Eve at the fall into sin: “Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.” The fight had been going on for far longer—thousands of years, according to the genealogies found in Genesis and the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Even as Adam and Eve were in mourning because they had given in to temptation, the Father promised a Seed to crush the satanic serpent. The Garden was lost to them, as was the Tree of Life. Life would be full of hardship, toil, and pain. But the fight had already begun—in fact, the staging for this battle had begun even before the foundation of the world: the Father, with His divine foreknowledge of man’s fall into sin, preparing His only-begotten Son to win forgiveness and life for His creation. In thanksgiving for this forgiveness and life, creation sings the praises of “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle;
Sing the ending of the fray.
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay:
Tell how Christ, the world's redeemer,
As a victim won the day.
Tell how, when at length the fullness
Of the appointed time was come,
He, the Word, was born of woman,
Left for us His Father's home,
Blazed the path of true obedience,
Shone as light amidst the gloom.
The time had come. Here, in the midst of Lent, we get a little Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” And as God in flesh, yes, He “blazed a path of true obedience,” perfectly obeying His own Law as only God could, applying that perfect obedience to man as only a Man could.
He went forth from Nazareth,
Destined, dedicated, willing,
Did His work, and met His death;
Like a lamb He humbly yielded
On the cross His dying breath.
We see the smaller battles in the overall war between God and Satan: how the devil tempted our Lord three times in the wilderness after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, only for Jesus to perfectly pass the test; how the devil tempted Jesus to set aside the cup of suffering as our Lord approached His cross, only for Jesus to submit Himself to the will of the Father in staying the course, drinking that cup to the bitter end; and then the ultimate showdown: how the devil thought he would win the war with the death of Jesus on the cross, only for Jesus to emerge from the tomb with the true victory on the third day.
Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit your equal be;
Symbol of the world's redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee!
Everything after that has been Satan waging rearguard battles as he retreats, because he knows Jesus has already won; he’s just choking out his last little rebellion as we await the Last Day.
We take this victory for granted, don’t we? We sing the song of this victory on Sunday morning, and then we go into the world and live as if Satan won the war. We see the forgiveness which Jesus won for us at the price of His own blood and death, and we treat it like it gives us a license to sin. Old Adam luxuriates in his sin and vices. He likes the cesspool in which he wallows, all too happy with his stench, all too willing to be covered with the filth of corruption. After all, my baptism will wash me clean every time, right? We take the grace all too cheaply, as if the blood of Christ is a small price to pay for our sin.
But that blood of Christ, applied to us in the waters of baptism, shed into our mouths in the Holy Supper, does wash away our sin. Over and over again, our Lord brings us back to our baptism through the words of Holy Absolution, spoken by our pastor as by Jesus Himself. The grace which the Old Adam treats so carelessly is a powerful cleanser. A stanza missing from the Lutheran Service Book version of our hymn tells us:
There the nails and spears He suffers,
Vinegar, and gall, and reed;
From His sacred body piercèd
Blood and water both proceed;
Precious flood, which all creation
From the stain of sin hath freed.
This reminds us of Luther’s Flood Prayer in the Rite of Holy Baptism: “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” There is no wallow, no filth, no corruption that Baptism cannot wash away, by the power of the blood of Christ which was shed on the cross for us and for our salvation.
How else can we respond to this grace than to sing? Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,” our hymn tells us. “Sound the loud triumphant lay.” For, as another beloved hymn tells us:
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
We’re still fighting here, still struggling against Satan and his demon minions, still struggling against our Old Adam. But the victory has already been won in our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh cannot defeat our Jesus; and through the power of His cross, His blood, and His resurrection, these enemies cannot defeat you. In the name of the Father and of the (†) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.