It is the Gospel that casts out demons. It is the Gospel of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, which drives out the unclean spirit and pours out the Holy Spirit upon you; which guards and keeps your heart and mind, your body and soul, from the assaults and accusations of the devil; and which gives you life in place of death. Because the Gospel justifies you with the righteousness of Christ. It comforts your troubled conscience with the forgiveness of all your sins. It soothes your sad and sorrowing spirit with the promise of the Resurrection and the life everlasting. And, in all of this, it glorifies the Name of Christ, who is your Savior, and the Savior of the world, by His grace alone.
Those who live by His grace, are gracious to others for Christ Jesus’ sake. Because they are at peace, set free from sin and death, from doubt and fear; they are confident and content with Christ, and so they are truly free and well-able to give themselves to and for the benefit of others.
But those who depend upon the Law, destroy others with the Law, and are themselves destroyed.
If you play with fire, you are going to get burned! And the Law is a deadly fire and brimstone, which consumes the sinner altogether with its righteous demands and its strict judgments.
Insisting on the letter of the Law — as though anyone could keep the Law! — necessitates an objection to grace, and causes bitter and resentful jealousy of those who receive and live by grace.
Those who insist upon the righteousness of the Law, and who depend upon the keeping of the Law for life, despise the little children who believe in Jesus, who are welcomed and received by Him, by grace, because they do not seem capable of righteousness or worthy of such gifts and benefits.
Jesus blows that attitude out of the water, or, rather, He plunges you into the water, to drown out that false idea of righteousness, merit and worthiness, once and for all. Before God, you are a child, anyway, and there is no righteousness of your own by which you will accomplish anything. It is only as a little child — by grace — that you have any life at all, and that you live with God.
But, to be clear, the remedy for legalism is not licentiousness. Trying to live by keeping the Law won’t work, because you can’t do it. But a lawless life will simply damn you that much faster.
To sin causes both you and others to stumble and fall, as much as your self-righteousness does.
Egypt is enticing, but it is not the answer. Pursuing the flesh leads to death and decay. Riches rust and rot away. Letting go of the Law to chase your own willful pursuits, is simply to exchange one taskmaster for another; neither of which can provide for you or preserve your life.
Therefore, let us carefully distinguish between a childlike faith in Christ, and childish behavior. The former is a gracious gift of God, by His Word and Spirit. The latter is a consequence of sinful unbelief and the fear of death. Childlike faith is a matter of humility, dependance, and trust, by which you know your inability, your littleness, your weakness, and your need, and you rely upon the Lord your God to provide for you in love. Quite different is the childish behavior of sinners, of whatever age, who presume, not only their own worthiness, but their own importance and centrality. That sort of childishness is belligerent and greedy. It whines and complains, is never satisfied, but always begs for more. It charges ahead in reckless self-pursuits, heedless of the cost or the consequence to others. Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness. And like yourself.
But now, both legalism and licentiousness are scandalized by the Cross of Christ, which is the gracious Self-sacrifice of God for the sake of sinners. This scandal of the Cross is the real remedy and the only true solution. Because it is the scandal of divine Love, the scandal of forgiveness in the Name of the Lord, and the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, freely granted to the guilty.
The preaching of this Cross of Christ, against both legalism and licentiousness, is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; that you should not go into hell and die forever in a fire that is never quenched, but that you should enter into life with Christ by the way of His Cross.
Repent, therefore, of both your strong sins and your weak sins. Repent of your legalistic attempts to justify yourself and to condemn your neighbor under burdens that neither you nor he could bear. And repent of your licentious chasing after all manner of flesh pots, which only stoke and do not ever sate your appetites.
Whatever it is in you that causes you (or your neighbor) to stumble and fall, cut it out and throw it away by repentance and confession, that is, by naming your sins of thought, word, and deed, for what they are. Die to yourself, by doing without your false gods, and by doing away with the false god of your self. Die to both your sin and your self-righteousness, and seek no other life than that of Christ: Follow Him by faith in His Word, by hearing and heeding His Word; by trusting His Word, and confessing His Word, and praying in accordance with His Word.
Live by His grace, by His forgiveness of your sins. That is the Resurrection and the Life that come by the way of His Cross. You die with Him, in order to live with Him.
And as you are forgiven by Christ Jesus, by His grace alone, so be at peace with your neighbor: Forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, and love your neighbor, for the sake of Christ.
For the same Cross that sets you free from sin and death, by forgiving all your sins and cleansing your conscience of guilt and shame, also sets a way of life before you that is characterized by self-sacrificing love, even as the Lord your God has sacrificed Himself for you in His divine Love.
To be sure, the burden of your neighbor’s needs, and of your neighbor’s faults and failings, too, brings your own frailty and weakness to light; your own inadequacy and wretchedness, your own mortality and fast approaching death, and all of your own sins — it brings all of that to light. And it humbles you to recognize that you can no more save yourself than you can save your neighbor.
Call upon the Name of the Lord: for yourself, and for your neighbor. For the forgiveness of sins, and for health and strength in body and soul, and for salvation, which is found only in Christ Jesus.
Such prayer is an exercise of faith, which finds patience and peace in the Gospel. It is the practice of humility and trust in Christ, and, along with that, of love and forgiveness for your neighbor. For you cannot come before the Lord your God in prayer, without realizing your own desperate need, and your own unworthiness, and, at the same time, the fact that your neighbor is in the same boat. And so you bring yourself and your neighbor to the One who is your only hope, your only help.
Dear child of God, your hope in the Lord shall not be disappointed. And even though you be faithless, He remains faithful: to Himself, and to His promises, and to you, whom He has called. For Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, is merciful and full of compassion.
Though you may grow weary in the wilderness — and though the fire of the Cross may remove your hands and feet and eyes, and perhaps your goods, fame, child, and wife, as in the case of Job — thereby are you salted and seasoned unto repentant faith. And all the while, the Lord who loves you graciously provides for you, and for your neighbor, in your vocations; as He did with and for Moses, and with and for the seventy elders of Israel. He sends His holy angels to guard and keep you in body and soul, and He sends His human messengers to preach to you His Gospel of peace.
By the preaching of this Word, He pours out His Spirit upon you: for life, and for salvation. For it is by this Word of the Gospel that He forgives you all your sins, and casts out all your demons, and cleanses you of all unrighteousness, and clothes you in the Glory of His Holy Name.
And it is with His Word that He also continues to feed you with a miraculous Manna from heaven, which shall not fail. For this Manna is your true Meat, salted with the fire of the Cross for your redemption. It is the sacrifice of Atonement for the sins of the whole world. And as it has been offered for you, to reconcile you to God the Father in this Lord Jesus Christ, so it is here given to you, to eat, and His Blood poured out for you to drink, that you should not die but live forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana