“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
An angel appeared to a lowly woman in Nazareth, an insignificant city, as she was minding her own business – betrothed to a carpenter, an unimportant man. The angel declared her chosen. She would be the mother of God. And so it was. And she lived on, and we know surprisingly little about it.
A Gerasene demoniac lived among the tombs, cutting himself, crying out during the night, breaking his chains, naked and maniacal, and then a rabbi came to town, and he became the welcome party. After all the others had turned away, he was the only one to sit at the rabbi’s feet, to beg to go with him, clothed and sane. And he lived on, and we know nothing more.
A Samaritan woman went to a well in the heat of the day when no one else would go, for shame. Her sexual history was scandalous, and she wasn’t living any better now. She went to be alone, and a Jewish traveler found her there. He told her about real life, eternal life, and living waters. And she became an evangelist to her people, the people she had been avoiding. And many came to hear Christ. And she lived on, and we know nothing more.
A poor man lived in squalor, unloved, unaided. The dogs licked his festering sores. He was laid at the gate of a rich man, a man who must be loved by God, because he was rich—he had all the toys. And yet both men died, and that poor Lazarus found himself in heaven, chosen by God, and the rich man, who had enjoyed his heaven here, and paid no mind to Lazarus at his gate, was in hell. And he lived on, and we nothing more, nor need we.
Joshua sent his spies into Jericho. The king searched for them, and toward no good end. But a prostitute hid them. She risked her life. And they lived. And the line of the Savior ran through Rahab. And she lived on, and we know little about it.
A tax collector went up to the temple to pray. He was ashamed. He stood in the back. He kept his eyes on the floor. In the front was a Pharisee. He prayed to be seen. He paraded his works in prayer. He was a holy man, unlike the tax collector. And yet it was the tax collector, who could only pray, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” who went home justified. And he lived on, and we know nothing more.
A woman out of whom seven demons had been cast went sorrowfully to her Master’s tomb. He’d delivered her from possession. He’d given her hope and community. And now he was dead. And she grieved. But then the stone was rolled away. And she was told he was not there, that he was risen. And she became the first to proclaim the resurrection. And she lived on, and we know little about it.
And here we are today, all of us with our sins and sinfulness, some known, some not. Here we are, as we are, no heroes of holiness, no dream team of righteousness, and yet, nonetheless, God declares us his own, adopts us as his children, and calls us what we know we are not in and of ourselves: holy and righteous; justified. And we live on, and few know much about it at all.
Christ came, and his glory was hidden while that of his opponents was on full display. Christ came, and he was accused of unrighteousness, while his opponents flaunted their own. Christ came, and the church and the state wanted him not, choosing Caiaphas and Caesar instead. Christ came, and he came like a hidden treasure, a treasure only fully revealed on Easter Sunday. It was hidden for a long time, but with his resurrection it was revealed, and it is now ours, as he is ours. It is ours, and yet it’s hidden in us.
The Old Testament church of Jesus’ day had lost its focus. Religious leaders were on display, and the mercy of God obscured. People were pointed to themselves and not the Messiah. This church has become a showroom for fake saints rather than a hospital for sinners. Commands had been multiplied and promises muddled. The institution had forgotten its purpose.
The medieval church of Luther’s day had lost its focus. Religious leaders were on display and the mercy of God obscured. People were pointed to themselves and not the Messiah. This church has become a showroom for fake saints rather than a hospital for sinners. Commands had been multiplied and promises muddled. The institution had forgotten its purpose.
Luther wrote, “Therefore, we may consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can lack everything except the word of God. Without it, absolutely nothing else satisfies the soul. But when [the] soul has the word, it is rich and needs nothing else because the word of God is the word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, freedom, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and every imaginable blessing” (Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, 491).
But the law cannot save because while we can work at doing it, we can never fulfill it.
Luther insisted, “Thus, to preach Christ means to feed, justify, free, and save the soul—provided a person believes the preaching” (ibid., 491).
The law is a necessary thing. It shows us our sin. It shows us our need for a Savior. But the law cannot save because while we can work at doing it, we can never fulfill it. It’s a merciless taskmaster because it wasn’t given to show mercy but to uphold justice. And so it’s a terrifying thing to be left only with the law – alone with the law. No one should be.
God refused to leave Adam and Eve like that when they sinned but gave them a promise, the promise of a Savior. He did the same with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet in Jesus’ day, and in Luther’s, there was a great need for the promise to sound forth again. And so in Jesus’ day, the promise appeared, flesh and blood. And so in Luther’s day, that promise did the same with renewed vigor, through preaching, with bread and wine and water.
Luther said of those who preached the law but botched the gospel: “These ‘work-saints’ cannot get rid of this [monster] unless faith, its destroyer, comes and rules in the heart” (ibid., 518). Only faith can free us from ourselves, can hide us. And faith does this by setting our eyes and hearts elsewhere, on another, a Hero, a Deliverer, on Christ. As with John the Baptist, Christ increases, and we decrease, and in this way, we are free. Christ is revealed, and we are hidden, and Christ who lived for us, now lives in us and through us for our neighbor.
You are a child of God. You’re blameless, holy, perfect, and righteous. Don’t feel that way? Too bad. God is greater than your heart. You are a child of God. You’re blameless, holy, perfect, and righteous. And you aren’t this by your works. You’re this by Word. Yes, your works will reflect this, however imperfectly, but your works will never make you what you are. They flow from it. You are what God says you are. You’re blameless, holy, perfect, and righteous.
Luther said, “Thus ‘the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field’ (Matt. 13:44). The field is dirty in contrast to the treasure; while the one is trodden underfoot, the other is picked up. And yet the field hides the treasure. So also ‘our life is hid with Christ in God’” (Col. 3:3)…. (LW 25:383).
We are God’s field. And through the preaching of the Word, God has sown his seed. We are baptized. God’s treasure is ours, and lives in us and through us. And yet, in this life, that treasure is hidden. The field is dirty. It has rocks and thorns. But the treasure is there. We know it is, because Christ is here, preached, taken in the Supper, poured from the font.
Being who God says we are, that is true freedom.
He is here, revealed, and so we are hidden. We are hidden, but we are what God says, and that is what the Reformation was about. We live in Christ through faith and in our neighbor through love. This is Luther’s reminder to us today.
Most of the time, we are afraid of being what people might say we are. That’s why we hide our sins and only reveal our strengths. But being who God says we are, that is true freedom. We need not pretend anymore. We can confess our sins and find strength in our weakness.
So when the devil accuses, when the world shames, when your own heart and mind and flesh and blood abandon you, remember where to look. You are what God says, but you are hidden. Christ was hidden but is hidden no more. Now he is revealed for you. Look to him and know that what he is, you are, and what is his, that is yours. Amen.