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, mind, body, and soul from the assaults and accusations of the devil; and which gives you life in place of death. For it is the Gospel that justifies you with the righteousness of Christ Jesus. 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 the grace of Christ are gracious to others for His sake. Because they are at peace, set free from sin and death, from doubt and fear, they are confident and content with Christ, and they are consequently free and well able to give themselves to and for the benefit of others.
But those who depend on the Law, as though to justify and save themselves by the keeping of the Law, end up destroying others with its demands — even as they themselves are being destroyed.
If you play with fire, you will get burned! And the Law of God is a deadly fire and brimstone, which consumes the sinner completely with its righteous demands and its strict judgments.
Insisting on the letter of the Law, as though anyone could keep the Law, invariably includes an objection to grace, and it causes a bitter and resentful jealousy against those who live by grace.
Those who rely upon the Law for their own life, and so insist upon the righteousness of the Law in others, despise the little children who believe in Jesus, who are welcomed and received by His grace, because they do not seem capable of righteousness or worthy of such gifts and benefits.
Jesus blows such ideas out of the water. Or, rather, He plunges you into the water, in order to drown all such false ideas of righteousness, merit, and worthiness. Before the Lord, you are a little child, yourself, and there is no righteousness of your own by which you will accomplish anything. And yet, it is only as a child that you have any life at all, and that you live with God by His grace.
Now, to be clear, the remedy for legalism is not licentiousness. Trying to live by keeping the Law will not work, because you cannot 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 seems enticing, but that is not the answer. Pursuing the flesh leads only to death and decay. Riches rust and rot away. And letting go of the Law to chase your own willful pursuits, is simply to exchange one taskmaster for another, neither of which is able to give you life or preserve it.
Take careful note of the difference, then, between a childlike faith in Christ and childish behavior. Childlike faith is a gracious gift of God, which He gives to you and works in you by His Word and Holy Spirit; whereas childish behavior is a consequence of sinful unbelief and the fear of death.
Childlike faith is a matter of humility, dependance, and trust, whereby you know your inability, your littleness, your weakness, and your need, and yet you rely upon the Lord your God to provide for you in love. Quite different is the childish behavior of sinners, regardless of their age, who presume, not only their own worthiness, but their own importance and significance, as though they were at the center of everything that matters. That sort of childishness is belligerent and greedy. It whines and complains and always begs for more. It charges ahead in reckless self-pursuits, heedless of the cost or the consequence to others. Like 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. His scandalous 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. It crucifies your flesh and puts you to death with a fire that cannot be quenched, and yet, it does so in order to raise you up and give you life in Christ.
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 selfish chasing after all manner of flesh pots, which only serves to increase your idolatrous lusts and desires, so that your appetites remain unsatisfied and wanting more.
Whatever it is in your life and habits 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 Jesus. Follow Him by faith in His Word, by hearing and heeding His Word, by trusting His Word, confessing His Word, and praying in accordance with His Word.
Live by His grace, by faith in His forgiveness of your sins. That is the Resurrection and the Life which are yours by the way of His Cross. You are crucified 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.
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 defines the life that is set before you, which is characterized by self-sacrificing love, 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 realize 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. That is why the Lord has taught you to pray, not in lonely isolation, but in communion with the Church: “Our Father . . . forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Thus do you bring yourself and your neighbor to the One who is your only hope and only help.
And take it to heart, dear child of God, that your hope in the Lord shall not be disappointed. Even though you are so faithless, yet 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. It is His delight and His great glory to give good things to those who are His children by His grace alone, to provide for all their needs of body and soul, to forgive their sins and give them His Life.
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 — you are thereby 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 salvation in Christ. It is indeed by His 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 the one Lord Jesus Christ, so it is here given for 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.