Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How can I be sure that I am receiving the pure Gospel?


I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  Luke 12:50

THIS morning we will hear about God the Father and about our Lord Jesus Christ, and the salvation they provide for us from sin, death and the devil.  These are the three worst enemies that we have.  Apart from God's Word we don't know who the true enemy is.  We think it is other people:  our children, parents, or in-laws, but they are not the real problem.  Rather sin, death and the devil are, and Jesus endured a bloody baptism in order to bring their dread power to an end.

Now you may believe that your trespasses are not really sins.  You may call them flaws, or weaknesses.  You may have a good reason for your sinful choices, people always do!  Or you may comfort yourself by choosing one of the popular justifications of the day:  no one is perfect.  I'm only human.  I try my best to live a good life; but none of this helps you, not in life and definitely not at the final judgment.

You might object to the notion of a divine law that is binding on all people, those who believe it and those who do not.  You may bristle at the thought of an all-knowing God who sees everything, and who can read your heart as easily as Google can read your email.  You may be distressed by the divine decree that every person will be brought to trial before the bar of divine justice to answer for his life, and that whatever "went around," will finally "come around" to you.

Yes, people have many ways of avoiding repentance, which is the first part of the Christian message, but by so doing a person never gets to the second part: the healing, saving and ever-comforting Gospel that cleanses you from your sins.  That divides you from them and them from you, and that renders you "not guilty" before the bar of divine justice, not by good works, but by faith in the "baptism" that the Lord endured for you.

The solution to our spiritual anguish is one so surprising that the Bible calls it a "mystery kept secret through the ages, but now revealed."  We read of it throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation, but we hear it most clearly and participate in it most fully whenever we receive the holy supper of our Lord.  When we hear the words "on the night in which He was betrayed," our thoughts naturally turn to Judas the Betrayer.  His actions were no small part of our Lord's distress.  He was a dear and personal friend -- a disciple -- one of only twelve men chosen by Jesus to spread salvation's story to the world, one in whom our Lord invested so much love, so much devotion, but who in the end betrayed Him.  However, our focus should not be on Judas alone.  He was the human agent that set the process into motion.  His evil deeds were then taken up by the Jews who handed over the Lord to the Romans so that He might suffer the most horrifying fate possible, death by crucifixion.  No, Judas is not the main actor here, rather God the Father is.  He is the one who, moved by great love, and profound wisdom, "handed over" His Son for our redemption.  St. Peter makes this clear in his Pentecost sermon when he says to the Jews that Jesus was handed over according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23).  And Jesus does the same when He says in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Yes, it is none other than our gracious God and Father who gave life to the world by giving His Son, the only acceptable sacrifice there is, to answer for our sins on the cross.  St. Paul says it best in Romans 5:19   "For as by the one man's disobedience (Adam's) the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous."  Jesus is the One, and we are the many made righteous by faith in Him.

This gospel is the Great Divide between men.  There are those love it and those who hate it, those for whom it is life and breath, and those to whom it is the highest possible offense, but the seeds of the Gospel's destruction do not just come from the outside.  It comes from the inside when the church teaches you to have faith in anything except the Lord's atoning death, anything except the Word of God and the Sacraments our Lord instituted to distribute the saving benefits to us.  Today, as in Jeremiah's day, and as in our Lord's day, it is those on the inside that cause the most trouble:  those false prophets who preach their own dreams instead of the doctrine of God; lying tongues who justify unspeakable sins, bless them, and import them into the church; wolves in sheep's clothing who feign a love for missions, but secretly want to destroy the reverence and practice that are inseparable from the faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

What about us?  Which side of the Great Divide are we on?  Are we thoughtless, hapless Christians led astray by every wind of doctrine?  By every smooth talker?  Every fashion of the world?  By the religious right or religious left?  Or are we intelligent, thoughtful Christians who know our faith and who are dedicated to grow in in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?

By grace we stand with God the Father who gave His Son to be our redeemer from sin, death and the devil, so let us do what we pray for in today's collect: Let us receive the fruits of His redeeming love with thanksgiving, and daily follow in his way.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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