Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lenten Midweek II

Lenten Midweek II: “Make Haste to Help Me”[1]

March 7, 2012
Text: Ps. 38; Catechism: What do you believe according to these words?

The Law of God is like an arrow that pierces your very heart. The Law hurts. The Law kills. The Law damns. Because the Law of God exposes sin, your sin, your sinful nature, your actual sins of omission and commission. The Law of God exposes your sin and passes sentence: The wages of sin is death. King David, in our Psalm, as he examines himself in the mirror of God’s holy and righteous law, cries out: “O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me” (Ps. 38:1-2; ESV). The Law of God leaves no survivors. When the Law of God has its way with you, you die. The Law of God is good and wise. In fact, it is perfect. But it is deadly to sinners. “Sinner,” that is the description of every one of us, as we heard in the First Reading this evening (Rom. 3:9-26). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (vv. 10-12). Therefore, every mouth is stopped in its boasting. The whole world is held accountable to God (v. 19). By works of the Law no human being is justified in God’s sight, “since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 20). Rather, the sinner is condemned. God’s deadly arrows, the Law.

God wants you good and dead, He kills you with His Law, so that He can bring about a resurrection. And that is what happens in the Gospel. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (vv. 21-22). This is the perfect righteousness of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, given and applied to you in the Word and the Sacraments, received by faith in Christ. This righteousness raises the dead. It raises you out of spiritual death. It will raise you physically from the dead on the Last Day. And because of this righteousness of the Christ who suffered hell in your place, you have eternal life rather than eternal death in hell.

Confession and Absolution is Law and Gospel in concrete form. You examine your life according to the Ten Commandments, and you confess, you name your transgressions against God’s Law. It kills you to do so. The Law always does. But then you hear the Absolution: I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. And all at once you have new and eternal life in Christ. Because the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been applied to you. We heard our Lord’s promise about this last week: “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’ [John 20:22-23].”[2] The Lord has given an office, the Office of the Holy Ministry, the business of which is the forgiveness of sins. Tonight with Dr. Luther we ask the catechetical question: “What do you believe according to these words?” I ask you once again to recite the answer with me as printed on the inside front cover of your bulletin: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.” Because Christ, our dear Lord, does deal with us Himself in Absolution. He gives His Church pastors to be His mouthpiece. When you hear the Absolution, you can believe it and cling to it as the very Word of God, as the bloody Word of your Savior as He applies His crucifixion and resurrection to you.

And since this is the case, you need not fear the discipline of God. You do have to undergo discipline. There are still earthly consequences of your sin to be borne with patience and faith. There are still hurts and pains and sicknesses to be suffered, and of course, there is still death in this fallen world. King David speaks of this in the Psalm. He says there is no soundness in his flesh, or health in his bones (Ps. 38:3). “For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (vv. 7-8). Not only do David’s enemies seek his hurt and ruin (v. 12), even his friends, his companions, his nearest kin stand far off (v. 11). Sin causes pain in your flesh. Sin causes pain in your heart. Sin makes enemies, and sin breaks relationships. Lord, have mercy. But these consequences of sin are not punishments. Jesus bore your punishment for sin, all of it, on the holy cross. No, these consequences are discipline. Because you are a disciple of Jesus. Disciples are disciplined, they are taught. God teaches you by these afflictions that before the Law you stand condemned. You are a sinner. But in Christ, and in Christ alone, you have life and freedom from sin. In Christ, and Christ alone, you are forgiven and set free, and there will be an end to discipline and affliction, in heaven, and in the resurrection of the dead.

So, with King David, we commend the whole mess to God. He’ll take care of it. We bear whatever cross He places upon us in the knowledge that He is with us and has given us these afflictions for our good. “But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” (v. 15). We wait for the Lord’s deliverance, and we confess our sins. “I confess my iniquity,” we pray with David. “I am sorry for my sin” (v. 18). And then we hear the Absolution and cling to it for our eternal life. We hold God to His Word. “Do not forsake me, O LORD! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (vv. 21-22). And He does. And He will. He makes haste to help us. He helps us through the cross of His Son. He helps us through His Word and Sacraments. He is not far from us. He is with us. With us even to the end of the age. The Law of God kills us precisely for the purpose of raising us to new life again in Christ. That is what happens every time you confess your sins and are forgiven. It is God who does this. It is Christ, your dear Lord, Himself. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the points made in this year’s Lenten series are from God’s Gift of Forgiveness (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).
[2] Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).


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