Sunday, November 28, 2010

Slave, Soldier, Son

First Sunday in Advent
November 28, 2010
Romans 13:8-14

In the Church Year we don’t wait till January to begin. We begin now. The Church Year isn’t just a way to mark time, it’s a way to focus our attention on Christ. So we start before everybody else. We start now. We begin with a season of preparation and move into a season of celebration. We prepare in Advent for our celebration of the birth of Christ in Christmas.

But there’s one other thing we do in Advent: we prepare for what we should always be preparing for in our lives—the day when Christ will come in glory. In our Epistle reading Paul says it’s near, nearer now than when we first believed. So what kind of lives should we be living? What kind of people should we be? “So then let us cast off the works of darkness,” he says, “and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime.”

The way Paul talks here and elsewhere in the book of Romans, as well as in some of his other letters in the New Testament, we see imagery of who we should be as Christians. There are three ways we should be as Christians who live in this world and who prepare for the Last Day: as a slave, as a soldier, and as a son.

Take today off and plan on starting tomorrow. Wake up and take a deep breath. Begin with a positive attitude. Now that you’ll be prepared and ready to go, go about your day. Live the godly way the Epistle has described. Go the day without sinning.

You won’t make it past your attempt at a positive attitude. Not only will you sin, you will stand in the sight of God as a sinner in whom there is nothing but sin and contempt for His perfect Law.

The fact is, you are a slave. You were born into slavery. You are a slave to sin. You can try to escape. You can try to not sin. You can attempt to justify yourself, which usually is in the form of rationalization—Well, it wasn’t that big of a sin; it was only a white lie; there are worse things I could have done. These attempts to see ourselves as anything but purely sinful prove that we are slaves to sin.

There are a lot of people throughout history, including in our own American history who have a particular distaste for slavery. It’s not something most people would choose. And if you are born into it, well, you don’t have much of a choice, do you?

Think about this, Paul was writing to Christians, including all Christians of all times and places. So why did he have to remind them of the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment”? Why did he have to stress that love does no wrong to a neighbor? Could it be because we are slaves of sin? That we in fact do commit adultery, do murder, do steal, do covet, and do wrong our neighbor? That our heart is full of desires that defile the sacred bond of marriage created by God, that our thoughts gravitate toward wishing ill upon others when they harm us, that we do not always seek to help our neighbor keep his possessions, that we instead often whish that it were us who owned them?

Why is it that Paul in speaking to Christians must give this exhortation? “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” Could it be because our default position is to engage in these behaviors? As much as we don’t want to be slaves, we are. Even more painful to be shown and to admit, as much as we loathe being slaves, we revel in our slavery. We do not seek freedom from our sin but from the Law which constricts our behavior and brings the hammer down on us when we make provision for our flesh’s desires.

We are slaves, we cannot free ourselves. But listen to these words earlier in the Book of Romans: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. [6:16-18 ESV]

Even though God in His Word gives us the news we would like to dismiss, He also gives us Good News. There is another kind of slavery. But this doesn’t sound like good news. Why would we want to trade one kind of slavery for another? How is that better? It makes sense that we think that way because, guess what, we’re slaves to sin. Our sin has corrupted our minds, the way we view and understand spiritual matters. Only God can truly say what is what in spiritual matters.

The amazing thing is that He frees us from our slavery to sin and the slavery we are brought into is a slavery in which we are free. We are free because we are free from the condemnation of the Law. We have escaped the punishment we deserve. Even though we are slaves of righteousness, slaves of Christ, we are free. We are not bound.

There are two ways Paul depicts this. One is love. It’s actually a pretty simple thing, although it’s the hardest thing in the world because of our sinfulness and selfishness. But as slaves of Christ, we love others. You’ve no doubt experienced the freeing feeling you have when you help someone out who really needed it. You don’t just feel good, you are empowered because you know that you could have helped the person just the same if you had been forced to do it or did it simply out of obligation, but you wouldn’t have done it out of love. When you do it simply because you see a person in need and you can fill that need there is freedom there.

The other way he depicts it is with battle imagery. We are not only slaves, we are soldiers. A soldier in one sense is not free. A soldier voluntary places himself under the authority of the military. He chooses to serve in this capacity, to abide by the commands of the authority above him. A soldier wears armor. This limits him. He is not free to dress any way he likes. But the armor protects him. It is much better to submit to this condition than to face harm from the enemy. Without the protection he is actually becoming a slave, letting the enemy have power over him.

When you are a slave of Christ you are a soldier of Christ. You are wide open for the assault of the devil. Every time you sin his arrows are piercing your soul. You have no chance against him without the armor of light Paul tells us about. You are a soldier of Christ, so put it on. I guess I don’t really need to tell you to be here since you’re here. But I can exhort you to continue. You need to be here, week in, week out. You need the protection your Lord gives you in His Word and His Sacraments. Without His protection you’re a sitting duck. Satan has you within his sights and he never misses. He knows your weaknesses and he attacks at will.

But he can be stopped. No, not only stopped, he has been. But what can we do to stop him when we are slaves to sin? When we so often leave the armor our Lord has given us by the wayside? We can’t. We can’t do anything. We are powerless against Satan. The only hope we have is in one who is stronger, one who in fact does not seek our downfall but our freedom and rescue. One who does not save us only to turn us into slaves, but of a different kind. One who does not rescue us only to turn us into soldiers, albeit ones who are fighting the good fight against Satan.

Our Lord has also called us out of darkness into His marvelous light as sons. We who are slaves of Christ and soldiers of Christ are also sons of Christ. He has brought us into His eternal Kingdom, His eternal family, as His very own sons and daughters, His children. It would have been something if Paul had exhorted us to put on the armor of light and let it be at that. But he goes farther: Put on Christ. Wear the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is your clothing now.

He who is the Lord, the Master, the King Almighty, the creator of the universe, and the servant of all. The one who became a slave by taking on flesh, by humbly going to the cross, by being buried in a tomb. If being a slave is distasteful to you, take a look at Christ and put Him on. He did not give a second thought at becoming a slave, because for Him it’s not about what He could get out of it—He has everything—it’s purely about love. Love for you and me and the whole world. He became a slave to free us from our sin and the condemnation of the Law.

Put on the Lord, the one who fights for you. The one who is the commander, the one who holds the highest rank, the one who to whom all others answer, and yet willingly became a soldier. Defeating Satan on the ground, not from the control room. Jesus went to the front lines, even giving up His life. If you are not keen to the idea of being under authority and engaging in a war on Satan and your sin, look to Christ and wear Him as your armor. There’s nothing standing between you and Satan but Christ. You are protected. Christ is your armor, your Lord is your clothing. You are clothed with Christ.

Wrap yourself in Christ. You are His son, His daughter, His child. You are Baptized. You are an heir to the Kingdom. A mansion is prepared for you in the heavens. The day will come when your Lord will welcome you into it for eternity. As you await that day put on the Lord. Daily walk in your Baptism. Daily repent. Daily wrap yourself in the forgiveness delivered to you when you were washed with the waters of your Baptism. Daily live under grace, under mercy, under strength, under protection—the love of Christ from the cross, delivered to you in Baptism and placed into your mouth in the Holy Supper of your Lord.

He is a gracious Lord and Master, a strong and beneficent commandant, and a loving Brother and Savior, clothing you with Himself so that you may rejoice in your Heavenly Father’s grace and mercy forever. Amen.


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