12 June 2016

To Live and Love by Faith in Christ

It is instructive and sobering to consider the progression of David’s sin.  It is a powerful example of the way that sin feeds upon itself and grows and increases, leading further and further into death.

To begin with, David’s laziness and neglect of duty — when he sent others to fight his battles while he stayed home — became an opportunity for the devil to conspire with his flesh to incite him to covetous lust.  Which in turn conceived and gave birth to adultery and murder.  And then, to cover his sin in a way that only made it worse, he made a vile pretense of compassion and mercy for the poor widow he had taken for himself, whose husband he had wickedly killed.

David’s sin is a case in point, but the story is told so that you should consider the sins in your own life.  What distractions have pulled you from your duties?  What lust has taken hold of your heart?  And what outward pretense of piety do you make to cover up your wrongdoings and failures?

Do not congratulate yourself if you have not stolen your neighbor’s life, wife, or livelihood.  Rather, be wary of temptation, resist and flee from your covetous desires, and repent of your sins.

David supposed that he had gotten away with his sins.  He thought that he had finally managed to work it all out, to take care of that awkward problem, and that everything would now be fine.  In fact, he had the girl he wanted in the first place, now bearing his child.  But how callous must his heart and conscience have become, if he were content and actually at peace with his wickedness!  Pray that God the Lord would not allow your heart to grow so cold and hard.

For the Lord did know David’s sin, and it was evil in His sight.  Indeed, He was greatly displeased, and His anger burned against David.  He was not duped, nor would He simply look the other way.

The Lord knows your sins, as well.  He knows the sins that you have managed to hide from your neighbors.  And He knows the sins that you have managed to bury and conceal from yourself, to deny or excuse in your heart and mind.  And, because He loves you, He would have you repent of those sins.  He calls you from your hellbent path of self-destruction, back to Himself and His Life.

In David’s case, He sent a pastor, the Prophet Nathan, to preach the Law and point the finger, to bring the inbred sin to light, and to convict David of his sin.  Not with any kind of pettiness or vindictiveness, as though He also were driven by the passions and lusts of fallen flesh.  He does not rejoice to crush His children.  But He wounds in order to heal.  He kills in order to make alive.

He exposed David’s sin and convicted him of it, in order to bring the fallen king to repentance.  To turn him away from his sin and death to forgiveness and faith in the Word of the Lord.  To bring him back to life in the mercies of God, and to the righteousness and right worship that are found, neither in sin nor in human works and efforts, but in the promises of His Gospel.

It is for this same reason and purpose that God causes the Law to be preached to you, also.  It is in His mercy that He does so.  He calls you from your sin and from your death to His forgiveness, and back to Himself, and back to His Life of holiness and righteousness in Christ.

For it is by the Gospel that He takes all the consequences and punishment of David’s sins, and of all your sins, and removes them from you, and puts them upon the innocent Son of David, His own dear Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary and crucified under Pontius Pilate.

It is by His grace, through faith in this Lord Jesus Christ, that you are forgiven, that you are declared righteous, and that you are saved from sin, death, the devil, and hell.

It is not by any works of the Law that any of this is accomplished.  By the Law you are not made righteous, but you are cursed and condemned for your sins and failures.  For it is by the Law that your sin is exposed, and not only that, but made worse and exacerbated, and that you are then also convicted and condemned and sentenced to the punishment you deserve.

That is what the Law does when it confronts you, a sinner, with its righteous demands and divine prohibitions, because you fail to do what you should and persist in doing what you should not.

The Law convicts and condemns you, not only in a broad, general sort of way, which you can too easily ignore or brush off, but in very pointed and specific ways.  It addresses your own particular sins of thought, word, and deed.  For God has a way of getting into the cracks, into the closets and under the rugs, behind the closed doors of your heart and mind, body and soul.  His Law thus lays you bare before Him in your conscience, and maybe in the world, as well.

It is by the Law that you are made a sinner.  That you are brought to the end of your rope and hung upon it.  That you are driven to the conclusion of your covetous idolatry and unbelief.  That you are thus convicted of your sins, and that you thus despair of yourself and desire the grace of God.

So it is that, by the Law, you are called out as the man like David, guilty and deserving of death.

And it is by the Law that you are known to yourself and to the world as a sinner like that woman, who had the nerve to follow Jesus into the home of Simon the Pharisee, even though everyone, herself included, along with Simon and Jesus, knew who and what she was.  Probably she was a prostitute, though we are not told specifically, and we are certainly not given any of the prurient details.  She was a sinner like yourself, and that was already more than enough to condemn her.

That is where God’s Law would put you, as well.  Exposed in your sin, and humbled by His Word.

But this revealing and magnifying of sin is God’s “alien” work.  It is accomplished by His Word of the Law, by the accusations of your conscience, by the consequences and punishments of your sins in this mortal life, and by the discipline of your flesh with the curse of the fall upon this world.

But all of this in the service of God’s proper work, which is the Gospel.  That is to say, He accuses and condemns your sin in order to save you from it.  He shows you what your sin really is, and He calls you away from it, and away from the certain death that it brings.  He calls you to repentance and forgiveness, so that you would not die, as you deserve, but live by faith in Him.

He deals with you in love and mercy and forgiveness, because His desire and delight, His good and gracious will, and the whole purpose for which He has brought you into existence, is that you live with Him in safety and security, in peace and joy, in rest from all your hard labors and heavy burdens, and in the everlasting happiness and holiness of Christ.

When, by the mercies of God, His Law has done its work in you, so that you know your sin, and you know yourself truly as a sinner, then you will have no contempt for your neighbor’s sins, but only for you own.  And yet, when you thus know yourself to be such a sinner, then the Lord would also have you know yourself as an object of His Gospel, of His mercy and forgiveness.

Not only will you no longer have eyes for your neighbor’s sins, but you’ll no longer have eyes for your sins, either, nor for your own good works, but only for Jesus, for His Word and His works of mercy.  You’ll look to Him, and long for Him, and at His feet you’ll listen to and learn from Him.

For you are called to come in faith and love to Jesus, who is the Savior of sinners, including you.

It is by Him, and in Him, that the Law has been fulfilled on your behalf.  It is His divine grace and glory to serve you with His righteousness, to justify you by His own faith and faithfulness, to forgive you all your sins for His own Name’s sake, and to bring you into a right relationship with His God and Father, to peace and rest in the Holy Spirit, and to faith and life in Himself.

You worship Him, and you love Him, first and foremost, then, by hearing His Word, by receiving His good gifts of the Gospel, and by trusting Him for life and salvation with the Holy Triune God.

And then it also happens, by His grace, mercy, and peace, that, receiving all good things from Him — for body and soul, for this life and forever — you begin to love and serve Him in the members of His Body and in the needs of your neighbors.

As Jesus directs you to consider in the case of this forgiven woman, your faith in His forgiveness and your gratitude for such grace is manifested and magnified in your works of love for Him.

What, then, shall you do?  Do not presume to crown His head with glory, but humble yourself to wash and care for His feet, as He humbles Himself to wash the feet of His disciples.  That is to say, do not despise the humility of His Cross and His association with sinners, but join Him in caring for the lowly, the weak, the dirty and downtrodden, the overlooked and the underdogs.

So anoint His lowliness with costly and fragrant perfume.  Sacrifice your earthly treasures for the sake of honoring your Lord and adorning your neighbor with the sweet smelling fragrance of His mercy.  Follow Him, and support His Church and His disciples in love from your own means.

Carry out your duties within your own office and station in life, whether as a king or a soldier, as a husband and father, as a wife and mother, as a son or daughter, or whatever you are called to be.

And turn your eyes away, as need be, from the sins and from the shame and from the innocence of your neighbors.  Do not look at others as sexual objects, but as human beings like yourself, who are created in the image of God to live in His likeness by faith in His forgiveness of sins.

Thus do you forgive your neighbor who sins against you, as you yourself are forgiven by Christ.

And in that same faith and confidence, acknowledge your faults.  Repent of your sins, apologize, seek forgiveness, and make every effort to make amends and to be reconciled with whomever you have sinned against, whomever you have hurt or harmed in any way, whether with your words or with your actions, whether against your neighbor’s life, his wife, his possessions or reputation.

Instead of sinning against your neighbor, instead of craving or taking what is not yours, do good and show mercy and have compassion, not only for the rich and powerful, to gain their favor, but for the least, the last, and the lost, knowing that you also are among the least, the last, and the lost.

As the Lord Himself has both demonstrated by His example and taught you in His Word, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  For the Lord has visited you in mercy.  He has brought you into His own home and family.  He has named you with His Name and clothed you in His Righteousness.  He feeds you with His Body and His Blood.

It has never been the case that what the Law commands you is wrong.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  It is only that you cannot keep it except by faith and love and in the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  Not that it is otherwise too hard for you (though it is), but that the keeping of the Law itself begins with the Lord your God, and that you live by His grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

You are indeed to live in faith and love — in faith toward God, and in fervent love for Him and for your neighbors, especially for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And by the grace of God, in Christ, you do.  For it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you.  You love Him, and you love your neighbor for Christ Jesus’ sake, because He first loves you.

You love Him to the extent that you embrace and take to heart His forgiveness of your sins.  And yet, thanks be to God, your forgiveness, life, and salvation never do depend on you, nor rest upon your love for God and man, but always and only on Christ Jesus, the Savior of sinners.  He became the curse of sin and death, in order to bestow the blessing of God upon you through His Gospel.

Do not persist in your sin, therefore.  Do not continue down that road of destruction.  Repent, trust Christ, and live!  Why should you die in your sin, when God Himself has become your Salvation?  Here is His forgiveness, which is for you.  Recline here at His Table, and rest yourself in His mercy, for He does not cast you away from His presence.  Eat and drink, and go in His Peace.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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