The Full Gospel

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 39:30 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This is My body. This is My blood. Given for you. Shed for you. For the forgiveness of sins. Wherever these words are spoken without change and without apology for the word “is,” the entire history of God’s salvation is brought to bear. Heaven and earth are joined together in the crucified and risen Jesus. Time and space are collapsed in the one who has been exalted to the right Hand of God’s power; the one whom God gave as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22). Because we are joined with Jesus here, we are joined to His entire Body, whether they are with Him in heaven or with Him on earth; with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven.

Our salvation, our forgiveness, our life, are all tied together here, where we receive the Gift that Christ prepared for us, that we would remember and believe everything He has done for us when we receive the benefits of His sacrifice in this bread and wine. On the night He was betrayed He gave His disciples this meal. Betrayed by one of His own chosen apostles, betrayed unto death. He knew where it all would lead; this is His last will and testament, by which He interprets His death for you. His death for you is not like any other death, which remains at a single point in history; we may know the fact of any other death, like the second date on a gravestone, but it is up to us to consider what it means. Jesus has left nothing to chance when it comes to His death. The remembering that He gives us to do is not like other kinds of remembering, where we recall to our minds something that we witnessed or experienced. None of us were there in that upper room, so we do not remember it in that sense. This remembering happens whenever we do what He gave us to do, which is receive in our mouths by faith the same body and blood which were crucified.

But certainly not only crucified. If He had not been raised from the dead, our faith would be in vain, and we would still be in our sins. But Jesus says this Food is for the forgiveness of sins, which includes in it His bodily resurrection. If He is not raised and ascended and glorified, then we could not be eating His body and drinking His blood. But He is not a corpse. He is not only a man; He is a man who is also God, who has divine power to be present where He says He will be. His is the creating word, by which He says “Let there be light,” and there is. He says “This is My body” and it is. “This is My blood,” and it is as He says.

It is of the unleavened bread and the wine of the Passover meal that Jesus says these things. Here He makes a new covenant—not one that simply replaces the old covenant, but one that fulfills it. Everything in the old covenant is a shadow of Christ Himself. Under the old covenant, everything was purified by the shedding of blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. So how many thousands of sheep and goats were sacrificed? How many shed their blood in place of the people? Every single one of them, all of them, pointed to the single Lamb of God who would take away, once and forever, the sins of the whole world. His blood is not like the blood of those sacrifices, which had to be repeated over and over. His blood is the blood of the Son of God, which contains in itself eternal life. So His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink, and you who eat and drink in faith will live forever and He will raise you up on the last day.

The Passover meal, observed once a year, was a reminder of the blood of the lamb that marked the doors of Israel in the midst of Egypt, and God passed over them and did not kill their firstborn. But Jesus is the firstborn Son of Mary, begotten from eternity as the Son of the Father, and He is put to death. “Here our true Paschal Lamb we see, whom God so freely gave us; He died on the accursed tree—so strong His love—to save us. See, His blood now marks our door; faith points to it; death passes o’er, and Satan cannot harm us” (LSB 458:5). We do not eat lamb from this altar, but the body of the Lamb of God in this bread, and the blood of the Lamb of God in this wine. This is why Israel was forbidden from eating the blood of any creature, or shedding the blood of any person: because the life was in the blood. But not the life that is eternal. There is only one whose blood has eternal life, and it is His blood that we are now given to drink. God’s life is in His blood.

The significance of this Food not only stretches backward, as God’s creative word encompasses grain and grapes, pressed and crushed and made bread and wine; not only backward to encompass the saving actions of sacrifice and Passover, by the blood of the divine victim, who has become the Victor; but it stretches forward, into eternity. Here is the medicine of immortality; because we sin often, we need often to receive the medicine. Here is the bread of life come down out of heaven to give life to you and to the whole world. Jesus ties resurrection to the eating and drinking of this Meal. Whoever believes Jesus has eternal life, and what we believe is that He is the one whom the Father has sent into the world: This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh (John 6:50-51). Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him upon the last day (John 6:54).

This is the full Gospel, for you and for the whole world. Everything is here in these words: given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. You get it all: what is it? Christ’s body given and Christ’s blood shed on the cross. For whom is that body given and that blood shed? For you. And to what purpose? Why do you need it? For the forgiveness of your sins. Here God does everything for you in His Son, and all you do is receive from His gracious hand. You cannot go back to the cross, to Jesus’ death, so Jesus brings His death to you. You don’t have to imagine what it must have been like in order to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection mean something for you here and now. You don’t have to make the mental leap or the imaginative connections. He literally delivers it into your hand and mouth. You don’t have to wonder where you can find Jesus in this creation: He takes His creation and joins to it His words, and promises that your faith can find Him here for you.

Of course, we have trouble with what we cannot see. But faith in Christ is all about what we can hear. The Good Shepherd speaks, and His own sheep hear and know His voice. This is why we continue to hear His words: Take and eat; take and drink. This is My body and My blood. Given and shed for you, for your forgiveness. Now, as Dr. Luther said in his Large Catechism: “It is certainly true, as I have found in my own experience, and as everyone will find in his or her own case, that if a person stays away from the sacrament, day by day he or she will become more and more callous and cold and will eventually spurn it altogether. To avoid this, we must examine our heart and conscience and act like a person who really desires to be right with God. The more we do this, the more our heart will be warmed and kindled, and it will not grow entirely cold” (LC, 472:53-54). Here, Jesus continues His ongoing work of exchange: He keeps taking your sin and death, which He claimed as His own on the cross; and He keeps delivering to you His resurrection forgiveness and life. It is like one continual, life-support, blood-transfusion operation that goes on and on until you have no more sin and death; instead, you will have only His resurrection life. This is not like all the things we do, which may become meaningless and unimportant by continual use. This is God’s work, and the more we hear His words and receive this Gift, the more our hearts are warmed and kindled, and we are kept and defended from sin, death, and the devil.

“For Your consoling supper, Lord, be praised throughout all ages! Preserve it, for in ev’ry place the world against it rages. Grant that this sacrament may be a blessed comfort unto me when living and when dying” (LSB 622:8). If you are ever in doubt about the Gospel or what it means, recall these words: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and the Christ who gives His body and His blood to you will be your comfort in life and in death.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/5/23

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