In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. A newborn infant trusts his mother unconditionally. He instinctively recognizes that all good things come from her. He knows that when he is in need, his mother will answer his call for food, comfort, rest, or a fresh diaper. When a newborn infant cries, he does not do so out of frustration because of his inability to address his own needs—that comes in toddlerhood. The infant cries because he wants to receive from his mother. He doesn’t think twice about the source of all good things. He instinctively knows that his mother loves him unconditionally and will provide for him.
2. As Christians, we would do well to become more like infants in this regard—recognizing that all good things in life come from our heavenly Father. And yet, as selfish sinners, we prefer to do things our own way, seeking to address our own needs rather than looking to the Lord as the source of all good things. Perhaps this attitude is why many, if not most, present-day church-goers begin shifting uncomfortably in their seats when they hear the Scriptural term “submission.” In our world’s way of thinking, submission is authoritative and oppressive. It’s antiquated, damaging, and maybe even downright evil. The world doesn’t recognize what it means for a Christian to submit. Submission for a Christian means trusting in our heavenly Father’s unconditional love—how he desires what is truly best for us. And so, allowing our sinful nature to get the better of us, we learn from the world to rebel against submission to God’s will and ways. But we would do well to become more like infants, instinctively trusting in the goodness of our heavenly Father. When we submit to our heavenly Father, we receive from him fulness of life and love, which are hopelessly sought apart from him.
3. Even at the age of twelve, our Lord Jesus knew the necessity of submission to his heavenly Father. Fulness of life and love are found in being about the Father’s business. And so, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to Joseph and Mary that Jesus had no desire to leave the temple when they departed Jerusalem. It was in the temple that the most learned men gathered to discuss the things of God and to pass on their knowledge to those who wanted to gain wisdom. When Jesus came to Jerusalem with his family, it should surprise no one that this is where he would be. He must be in his Father’s house, about his Father’s business, submitting to his heavenly Father. When confronted about his absence by his earthly father and mother, this is precisely what our Lord said: “Didn’t you know? There’s nowhere else I could have been but to be about my Father’s business.” Our Lord Jesus, even at such a young age, learned to take delight in his Father’s business so that what pleased his heavenly Father also became a joy to him.
4. This pattern of trusting, willing submission to his Father became especially important during our Lord Jesus’ passion. St. Luke tells us that on the night of his arrest, when he was gathered with his disciples in Gethsemane, our Lord knelt down and prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Our Lord knew all that he was about to go through—how he would be severely tortured, “his appearance [being] . . . so marred, beyond human semblance” (Isaiah 52:14). He knew all that he would endure in the next hours, leading up to his death on the cross. He didn’t desire the pain. He was not looking forward to the suffering. No human would knowingly endure all that our Lord did without some apprehension. But our Lord was able to submit himself to the will of his heavenly Father in the garden and on the cross because he has practiced doing so all these years. And so, when his hour drew near, he was ready. Our Lord lived a perfect life of submission to his heavenly Father so that he could become the perfect, spotless sacrifice for our sins—so that, being “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), he might “bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1) and free “from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7) and death because of sin. By his sacrifice on the cross, we are forgiven and freed from sin, death, and the power of the devil. By our Lord Jesus’ willing submission to his heavenly Father, we are offered the fulness of life and love.
5. Our secular American culture preaches that nothing is of greater importance than the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And so, we pursue the fulness of life by chasing the American Dream. We use credit cards that we can’t afford to buy things we don’t need to please people we don’t like, all the while building a life we don’t truly want because we bought into the lie that somehow the pursuit of happiness in this way will help us to find the fulness of life. But it doesn’t. It’s no wonder, then, that so many people go through a mid-life crisis—because they finally wake up to this reality. Others of us pursue the fulness of life by chasing liberty—freedom from responsibility toward others, liberty from oppressive oversight. We’ve bought into the lie that the fulness of life can be found internally—by prioritizing the holy trinity of me, myself and I. But fulness of life cannot be found this way. Our Lord teaches us that freedom and liberty, the American Dream and the pursuit of happiness are all delusions. To search for complete freedom from all external forces, to seek out happiness for its own sake is vanity and a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Fulness of life is not found in these selfish pursuits. Fulness of life cannot be found apart from fulness of love. And so, we see that fulness of life is found in one place alone—in submission to our heavenly Father—because in him and in his son Jesus alone, is found abundant life (John 1:4; 5:26; 10:10), which comes to us by his sacrificial love (John 15:13).
6. So, submission to our heavenly Father is not really about you. It’s about our Lord’s unconditional love for you. When our twelve-year-old Lord Jesus was at the temple, he amazed and astounded the teachers and his parents. But in doing so, our Lord was not manifesting his divine nature. He was manifesting his human nature as humanity was meant to be. To be human is to be in submission to our Lord; to not be in submission to our Lord is to not have fulness of life. Fulness of life cannot be found apart from submission. And so, we must daily submit ourselves to our Lord’s command to pray (Second Commandment). We must daily study God’s Word. We must, as often as we are able, come to the Lord’s house to discuss the things of God and to gain knowledge. We must regularly submit to the Lord’s command to “Do This” in remembrance of him at the altar rail. We submit to our Lord in these ways because, out of his unconditional love for us, our Lord has given us these gifts as the means through which we are kept in the fulness of life and love on this side of eternity. In doing so, we are assured that when our Lord returns and restores all things in the new heavens and the new earth, we will be partakers in the eternal joys of life and love in unending paradise. Fulness of life and love are found, like a newborn infant, through trust and submission to the unconditional love of our Lord, whose sacrificial love grants us the fulness of life here in time and there in eternity. May God, by his grace, keep us ever trusting in and submitting to his loving will for us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.