The Purpose-Driven Knife

The sermon I preached this past Sunday was on a text that was almost completely law. Matthew 5:21-37 is a part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount saw Jesus expanding on a few of the Ten Commandments. He showed that God wants us to obey not just the letter of the law, but to obey the law in our thoughts, words, and actions. In some ways, this is a very uncomfortable, even painful, message.

So that’s how I wanted to preach it. I wanted it to be a knife to my hearers’ hearts. After all, that’s what the law is supposed to do. It’s supposed to destroy our excuses, shatter our pride, and leave us defenseless before God. The law isn’t meant to give a slap on the wrist; it’s meant to kill.

Only then do we truly grasp how much we need Christ to bring us to life. Without the full force of the law, the gospel cannot have its full force. Without knowing we are lost and dead in sins, we can’t ever understand how Jesus found us by faith and brought us to life in the gospel now and forever. Without the law killing me and making me see I have nothing to offer to God, I could never see that it’s what Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection that counts for me — not what I have or haven’t done.

I guess I can’t say how successful I was at trying to preach the law like this last Sunday. (Though I’m confident that God’s Word was successful!) But I do want to purposefully preach the law like this in the future. Shame on me if I don’t! God’s given me a knife to use to kill the sinful self in all my hearers, so that the Holy Spirit can bring them to life in the gospel. May God help me to do this!

The Higher Judge

Christians may feel the accusation of their own heart, that is, their conscience, and when they try to calm their heart, they may hear a voice telling them that they are condemned, that they have no forgiveness of their sins and no grace, that they are not children of God and cannot hope for eternal life. To such people the beloved John says, “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” That is to say, our heart is indeed a judge, yet only a local judge. There is a higher Judge, namely God, presiding above our heart. I can say to my troubled heart: “Be still, my heart! Be still, my conscience! I have appealed to another Judge to determine if I am free of my sins. That Judge is the great God, who is greater than you. That is a higher court.” A higher court can always reverse the verdict of a lower court. When we hold fast to the Word, then the higher Judge speaks to us: “Your sins are forgiven.”

~C.F.W. Walther, “Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible“, CPH, 2010, p. 219


You Must Become Sick

I’ve been reading the new “readers’ edition” of C.F.W. Walther’s “Law and Gospel.” This book has always been excellent, and this new edition finally makes it more readable and usable in English. I highly recommend it.

I just had to share a particularly choice quote that I came across while reading this morning.

If you wish to believe in Christ, you must first become sick, for Christ is a doctor only for those who are sick. You must first be a lost and condemned sinner, for He came to seek and to save that which is lost. First you must be a lost sheep, for He is the Good Shepherd who goes in search of lost sheep.

~C.F.W. Walther “Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible,” p. 104,  CPH, 2010.

The Weeping Pastor

Every once in a while a section in my daily Bible reading slaps me in the face. That’s what happened recently with Jeremiah 20.

Jeremiah is often known as the “weeping prophet” because God gave him so much doom and gloom to proclaim. His ministry came in the very last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. He dealt with mostly wicked kings who did not want to hear God’s message to change their idolatrous ways. They didn’t want to hear that Jerusalem would be destroyed, that God was finally going to punish them for turning away from him. (And of course that’s exactly what ended up happening.)

In chapter 20, Jeremiah has gotten a bit fed up with it all. He complains to the LORD about what is happening to him. He said, The word of the LORD has brought me reproach and insult all day long. (Jer. 20:8) He realized that if he didn’t speak what God told him, things would go better for him in a wordly sense. People would like him more. He’d be less likely to be beaten and locked up (as had just happened). This frustrated him!

But still, he wouldn’t stop proclaiming God’s Word. His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jer. 20:9) Despite all  his troubles, despite his anger and frustration, nothing was going to keep him from proclaiming God’s Word as his prophet.

I mentioned that this section slapped me in the face. Why? Because I’ve been called to proclaim God’s Word, too, not as a prophet, but as a pastor. Sometimes I, too, have a message that will make people upset, that not everyone will want to hear. I get frustrated at myself when I hold in that Word or hesitate to proclaim it, because is might make me uncomfortable or unpopular. Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned for speaking God’s Word, and I can’t proclaim it for a few seconds of discomfort? Pathetic.

But then I look at the rest of this chapter, and Jeremiah is still able to rejoice! Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked! (Jer. 20:13) Jeremiah knew that God would conquer for his people, that he would be rescued eternally. I know this, too.

I know that despite my shortcomings and fears, I have  a Savior! He even forgives pastors. He’s won me eternal life in his Son. And isn’t it funny, when God’s Word hits me with that, suddenly I want to proclaim it! Suddenly I can’t hold it in! Then I realize that proclaiming all of God’s truth isn’t just my responsibility, but it’s my privilege. Even when it’s unpopular, God has given me the high honor of proclaiming his law and gospel to souls that need them both.

And all the while he still proclaims them both to me in his Word. Keep growing in that Word, friends!