Your God shall rejoice over you

Our church celebrated Sanctity of Life Sunday.  After making a no-holds- barred attack on the pro-death mentality, our pastor made a turn that we don’t always hear when Christians talk about this topic:

And especially on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we recognize how powerful is the mute idol of death. Which is so sadly ironic, that more and more people look for life and hope in death. What a grand deception and illusion this monstrous mute idol is! This slavery which masks itself as freedom; this evil which masks itself as good. . . .

But – be clear about what this means! (This is important. Make sure you’re paying attention here! Don’t zone out now.) The nations, all nations, need to see the righteousness of God first and foremost not because it tells us what to do and because we then do such righteous things. No! That would be the righteousness of God that drove Luther to despair; that demands from us a righteousness we could never do, a righteousness we could never achieve, a righteousness we could never fulfill. No, first and foremost, the nations, all nations, need to see the righteousness of God in the person of Jesus Christ – the good news of what our God, our Lord of life, has done for us. He is the righteousness of God that gives life and joy and hope to a world and to people lost in confusion and despair.

And again, especially on this Sanctity of Life Sunday, this is the Word that needs to be proclaimed. Yes, the Law must do its work and lead to repentance. But there are so many – so many – caught in guilt and fear and condemnation. Thinking their sin too great. Even Christians. Yes, maybe even some of you, or some who may listen to this sermon later on the internet.

And so especially on this Sanctity of Life Sunday it must be proclaimed loudly and clearly that – as Isaiah put it – that as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. So shall God rejoice over you! Yes you, whoever “you” are and whatever “you” have done. Jesus traded His life for yours. He died that you be forgiven, that you may live. Yes, for those who have had abortions, or even more than one. For those who have murdered in their hearts, in their words, or even in cold blood. For those who thought they were being merciful in ending the life of one suffering. For those who have inflicted suffering on others. For those who dealt in death and even encouraged others to do so. For those who care for no one but themselves, those who are so caught up in the depravity of sexual sins, those who have neglected or abandoned children or parents or others in need, those who have trafficked in human lives, those whose lives are filled with nothing but anger, hatred, and bitterness. Whoever you are and whatever you have done, there is forgiveness and life here for you. And know that the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, and all the angels of God rejoice over each and every sinner who repents. Over you.

And so today, do whatever he tells you means first and foremost, to come and receive His forgiveness. For this He has told you to do! To come and be baptized. To come and hear His I forgive you all your sins in response to your confession. To come and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To come and receive His gifts, for that is the highest worship of God. For what God wants most is not for you to give to Him, but for you to receive from Him what He wants to give to you. The life He wants to give you in His Son.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 2 / Sanctity of Life Sunday Sermon.

Pastor Douthwaite is drawing on one of the readings for today, Isaiah 62:1-5, as well as the epiphany being observed that Sunday, Jesus turning the water into wine.

This, my friends, is preaching Law and Gospel.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    Amen

  • Paul Reed

    “After making a no-holds- barred attack on the pro-death mentality”

    Did he say anything about birth control?

  • Sharon Philp

    In the sermon at our church, Pastor used the appointed reading of John which was the wedding at Cana. He briefly touched on Life Sunday with somewhat of an aside. He had started out with God loves weddings because He created marriage. By extension God loves babies because He created marriage and babies come out of marriage. He said it much better than I am relating. He had many other excellent points, just not directly related to Life Sunday.
    Good Law/Gospel preaching is vital, especially when dealing with Life Sunday. Too many pastors use it to say, “Don’t have an abortion; good for you if you didn’t. Stop others from doing so.” Yet as Pastor Douthwaite clearly shows, it is much more than that. Thank God for pastors who preach Law and Gospel.

  • George A. Marquart

    Amen indeed, and again Amen. Thanks be to God!

    It is not merely Law and Gospel, but the predominance of the Gospel preached to God’s people, because we are not under the Law. Without that predominance we fall into the guilt of which Rev. Douthwaite warns us, because we believe that our sins are too great for God to forgive. But He rejoices over His people and our Lord, “for the sake of the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame…”

    I have maintained that failure to preach the pure Gospel (without such modifiers as “real”, “true”, and “genuine” referring to our faith) is the reason that the horrors of the twentieth century, exemplified by the Nazis and the Soviets, were able to happen, and continue to happen in parts of the world with which we are not all that familiar. Nevertheless, we are faced with the enigma that 90% of all the Germans who committed atrocities were baptized.

    The answer to this enigma is that the child of God needs to be fed with the Gospel (including the Eucharist) throughout his life. This must involve parents, teachers, pastors, and friends. Abandoning this responsibility leads to disaster. We can see it coming in our own beloved country.

    But if we preach the Gospel only to avoid disaster, we will eventually preach a Gospel that is not the Gospel. The true, pure Gospel springs from hearts that are reborn by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and filled with the “joy of His salvation.” After all, if God can rejoice over His people, should we not rejoice over our God Who has made us what we are? Who even rejoiced in the cross?

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • SKPeterson

    Our sermon also was on the wedding at Cana and the how the “gift” of the wine was a prefiguring of the gift of his blood and of the abundance of the eternal feast. Sanctity of Life was noted in the prayers and in the announcements (there was a Right to Life march downtown).

  • Hanni

    Awesome sermon, one to read and reread. My sister died of cancer 3 years ago, and a dear friend helped us get into a highly referred oncologist in Dallas. Their treatments extended her life for several years. Friends were astounded that we would get 2nd opinions, travel across the country to a strange place, seek experts. But our doctor said something surprising: many doctors are nihilistic, they give up, don’t press on, look for other treatments, in other words, a death mentality.

  • LAJ

    Thank you for sharing the sermon above. What a relief to hear the Gospel!

  • Abby

    What a wonderful sermon!

    “After making a no-holds- barred attack on the pro-death mentality, our pastor made a turn that we don’t always hear when Christians talk about this topic. . .”

    I am wondering how to speak Law/Gospel in the public square. We cannot bring Christianity into it when determining secular laws because of the “separation of church and state.” Are we relegated to only speaking this way “in church?” Also, as a laywoman, I really don’t know how to do this very well—lack of being trained.
    “The Word of God is not properly divided: 4) when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.”

    Is this the pastor’s job or everyone’s? In secular society does saying “God says this” mean anything? The strong abortion stance is coming from people who are “living securely in their sins.” Abortion is “legal.” So you say, “God says this” – but the “government says that.” If you talk to someone about to have an abortion you can try to persuade them—with Law or Gospel? Which would come first? Do you present Gospel to those living securely in their sins? To those who don’t want to hear what God is saying?

    I think we Christians fall down when we are failing to bring “outsiders” in. Our job is to make unbelievers into believers. It doesn’t seem very possible if we don’t invite/bring people to church. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” That is how the Holy Spirit works. In church, they can hear the whole Word of God. If they reject this, then we can do no more.

    The other problem is how the church reacts to these strangers who may come in. Can we welcome them, pray for them, and support them in any way possible without compromising God’s Word? Can we give them TIME? Let the Spirit do His work without us descending on them with moralism or legalism?

    “It is not merely Law and Gospel, but the predominance of the Gospel preached to God’s people, because we are not under the Law.” George @158

    Here again, this is done in church. “. . . the predominance of the Gospel preached to God’s people. . .” How are “God’s people” made?

    “The Law is intended to serve as a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ, as dynamite to blast the hardened sinner out of his security. But appearances are often deceptive. Apparent hostility to Christ and to the Gospel may be the mask of a terrified heart, while a pious “front” may conceal the heart of a Pharisee. Following the example of his Lord, the evangelical pastor or teacher must know when to speak forgiveness to publicans and harlots and to denounce the sins of scribes and Pharisees.”

    “The Word of God is not properly divided: 21) if the Gospel does not generally predominate in one’s teaching.”

    “It is no longer death that speaks the last word, but resurrection and life. The Law, as the proclamation of death, is assigned its place by the resurrection victory of Jesus Christ. The Law does not stand above the Gospel, nor even parallel to it. It is always subordinate, the servant. Hence, as Walther says, “The ultimate aim in our preaching of the Law must be to preach the Gospel.”

    How can Christians reach society? Pray, speak, bring. I think coming and belonging to a church is essential even for an unbeliever. Hopefully, the people there are wise enough to handle people who have never experienced this before. Jesus never finished the story of the Prodigal Son. I have always wondered how the two brothers fared together because the elder brother was so resentful of the younger brother’s coming home.

    (Quotations from: http://www.crossings.org/archive/ed/CFWWalther.pdf)

  • George A. Marquart

    Abby @8
    You write:
    “Here again, this is done in church. “. . . the predominance of the Gospel preached to God’s people. . .” How are “God’s people” made?”

    God’s people are “made” in the same way they have been since the Church was born on Pentecost, Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    Yes, it is preached in church, but it is lived in every day life. The reason we need to hear it in church is that the Devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh continue to yearn for the Law. Only because the Holy Spirit lives in us and sustains us are we able to believe the absurd truth that God had done everything for us and there is nothing left for us to do. If anyone wants to start the next sentence with “except”, let him be anathema. Anything we “do” is not to ensure our salvation, not to complete whatever may be lacking in us, but only because the Holy Spirit has given us the will and the desire to do what pleases God. It is simply our new nature, for, as St. Paul writes, 1 Cor. 2:15, “…we have the mind of Christ.” But inasmuch as this new nature is not perfect in this life, we are given the Law to remind us what the will of God is. The Third Use of the Law is Law without condemnation, because, Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And we are in Christ Jesus because that is what God does for us in Baptism.

    Only because of that, we can have

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • Abby

    @9 Thank you, George. I tend to ramble too much (I wish I would have had some “higher education!”) I can’t figure out how to use Law/Gospel with unchurched/unbelievers. Or don’t you? Is Law/Gospel only for us in the church? I try to exhibit my faith to people by love and sacrifice. If I can engage conversationally I try to tell the truth lovingly and compassionately. But when I am met with hard hearted, hard headed hatred for the truth (or what they think is opposition to their desires), I don’t know what to do other than go away and hope they will learn from their consequences. And, pray.

  • Abby

    Also, I know Grace/Grace is wrong too.

  • George A. Marquart

    Abby @ 10. You do well in what you do. About Law/Gospel, you need to remember that it is not one of the Biblical axioms, like “the soul that sinneth, it sall die,” or “by grace are you saved, through faith …” It is something intuited by Lutheran theologians at a time when the Gospel suddenly made its appearance after having disappeared for centuries. So it went to some people’s heads, and they didn’t want to have anything to do with the Law at all. But it has become somewhat of a problem, because some people today think that if, when speaking to a particular individual, they do not speak enough Law, that person may be doomed; or if they speak too much Law, or if they speak about the Gospel too soon, or too late. My brother was a respected Missouri Synod Lutheran theologian and a student once asked him if it is absolutely necessary to start with the Law when preaching. My brother’s response was, “No, St. Paul started with the Gospel quite often.” We should try to gauge what is in the heart of the person with whom we are speaking, and make our response accordingly. Our Lord was good at it, because He knew what went on in peoples’ hearts. So when He spoke to the robber crucified next to Him, He spoke only Gospel, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be in Paradise with Me.” Similarly, the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son does not accuse His returning son, but runs out to meet him, kisses him, dresses him, and gives him a ring.

    We have to remember that ultimately God’s Word will accomplish what He intends, and God guides each of us to speak what His prodigal child needs to hear.

    Finally, C.F.W. Walther’s “Law and Gospel” is probably the definitive work on this subject. You can find it on the Internet. But as much respect as I have for Walther and this particular work, there are spots when his pietism seems to get in the way.

    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  • Abby

    @12 Thank you again, George. It is really amazing and puzzling that God trusts us with doing the work He needs to get done. I heard a preacher recently say that it seems like it would be better if God would send His angels to preach to us. But, then again, according to Paul — even angels could be guilty of preaching the wrong Gospel, and if they do we are to reject it. And they are limited in their understanding of the mystery of God’s redemptive work for mankind. They “long to know” what we know already. Still, we mess up so much it is a wonder God can get anything done that He needs to. But as you remind me, God’s Word will do what He intends. No matter how faulty we think we do it. The really hard part about it is, we can’t read people’s hearts like He can. So we don’t know what to do sometimes.

    Thanks again for deciphering what I was trying to say! Blessings to you.


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