What is a pastor to do when the Gospel reading is all law?
Step 1 : Read Luther’s Sermon on the topic. (Nobody understands Law and Gospel like Luther.)
Step 2 : Oh, so that’s how you do it.
Here is my humble effort.
Text after the jump.
What does it mean to be a Christian in the world? What are we supposed to do with ourselves? What is our life like? Or , what should it be like? Or to put it another way, “I’m saved, now what?” Jesus tells us, in today’s Gospel reading.
We hear about the mighty works God does to save us through the birth, death resurrection and ascension of his son Jesus Christ. We spend half of the year hearing of the love God has for us in sending his son Jesus Christ. Now, we hear from Jesus himself what we should do if we want to not only say we are Christians, but act like it.
This is a pretty hot topic. Not just now. It’s been a hot topic for centuries. Millenia. Even John the Baptist had to answer the question.
And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
Luk 3:11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”
Luk 3:12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”
Luk 3:13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.”
Luk 3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
Now, this may seem obvious to us. Tax collectors shouldn’t cheat, soldiers shouldn’t extort money. To put it more succinctly, don’t lie cheat or steal. Instead, show mercy. Help people. Be loving and kind. As Jesus says elsewhere, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Again, this is all pretty obvious stuff, isn’t it? Maybe not so much. We’ve got a problem. We are sinners. The ten commandments sound good, but keeping them in real life? No. Show me someone who can keep the commandments perfectly, and I will show you a liar. The law can not save us. We just spent six months hearing about how Jesus does that. We can’t save ourselves. We are sinners. We are deserving of death, hell and the devil. We need Jesus to take our sins away by his death on the cross.
Jesus words here don’t help us get to heaven. Not even a little bit. We can’t decide to follow him. We can’t suddenly decide to be good. We can work on our outward show of righteousness. But we can’t fix the sinful flesh. It is totally corrupted.
So what is Jesus saying here? Are we supposed to do these things or not? Well, yes. But not by our own power and strength, and not in order to save ourselves. We are saved solely by Jesus blood and merit. And that gift of salvation is ours only because God, in his mercy sends his Holy Spirit so that we would believe the promise.
The love that we show to others is a fruit of faith. The fact that Jesus even bothers to say to us, show mercy to those around you, love your neighbor, be kind to others, shows the grace of God. Because we couldn’t do any of this if it wasn’t given to us to do by our heavenly Father. If he hadn’t sent Jesus to forgive us our sins, if the father and son did not send us the spirit so that we would believe, if they had not sent the spirit to create in us clean hearts, we could not do this, any more than we can worship God on our own, any more than we can believe in Jesus Christ on our own.
The love and mercy of God do not stop at the cross. It isn’t that God sent Jesus on the cross to die, and then said, well, I’m all done, now you do your part humanity. No. He sent his son to die for you, and then after the ascension the Spirit was sent so that you could believe the promise.
So what purpose does the law serve? If God has fulfilled the law in Jesus Christ, what do we do with it? Some say, Jesus died, the Good news of salvation exists, so that you can obey the law. But that can’t be right. Because Jesus death doesn’t suddenly take away our sinful flesh. It takes away our sin. We have been declared righteous. But the Old Adam in us still fights against God and his word.
Jesus preaches this sermon so that we would understand that salvation is a gift. But it isn’t a gift to be abused. We can not simply say, “I have been freed by the Gospel, and therefore I can do whatever I please. I can lie cheat and steal, and all will be forgiven. I can treat my neighbor badly, as long as run to church afterwards and say, ‘Oops, my bad.’”
It’s true that you are freed from the demands of the law by Jesus death. Yes. It’s true that because of Jesus sacrifice, because the gift of salvation he has given you, you can do whatever you want.
As one pastor put it, the Christian life, sanctification, is God asking “What do want to do, now that there is nothing that you have to do?” There is nothing you have to do. So what do you want to do? If you are an apple tree, you want to make apples. If you are a peach tree, you want to produce peaches. If you are a grape vine, you want to bring forth grapes. So, if you are a Christian, what do you want to do. You now live not for yourself, but for Christ. You now live, not in yourself, but in Christ. You are joined to him as branches to the living vine. You have been grafted onto him. So, as part of that living vine, what do you want to do?
God forgives our sins. All of them. All of the sins you have committed against him, he forgives. And make no mistake, any sin you commit is a sin against him. He does that, and then he says, if you want to show your thanks for the forgiveness I have given, love your neighbor. Don’t judge him. Don’t condemn him. Love him.
Don’t speak out of turn. Don’t speak evil of your neighbor unless you are brining charges against him. Otherwise, whatever he has sinned against you is small potatoes compared to what you have already been forgiven against me.
So, now we can show love to those around us. Of course, there will be times when we forget. Times when we sin against our neighbor. Times when we are not loving to those around us. That’s why we need the forgiveness that God continually offers us. That’s why Jesus died for us in the first place. Because we are sinners. And there will be times when others ins against us. Now that’s the hardest one. Because we need to forgive them. We need to show them the forgiveness Christ offers by forgiving them ourselves. It’s hard. But bitterness will destroy the gift of faith God has given, until we are more concerned with our rights, our revenge, than with the life and forgiveness he gives. We, in essence, make an idol of our own bitterness and anger and hatred.
IN forgiving others, we do nothing more than show others the same sort of love our heavenly Father has shown to us.
Thanks be to God, that he did not reward us according to our deeds, but sent his own dear son to die for us, to forgive us, and the give us new life in him.
Luther ends his sermon on this reading with these words. “Let us pray that our dear father in heaven for the sake of his son Jesus Christ would graciously grant us his holy spirit so that we become true disciples of Christ with a heart that is an unquenchable fountain of love that never runs dry. Amen.