Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Onslaught Against the Gospel

Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2009
John 15.9-17

You may not have noticed it. There comes a certain point where people don’t notice what is commonplace. So you may not have noticed that there’s an onslaught against the Gospel. Further, you may not have noticed it because you’re a part of it.

Now, you may be thinking I don’t know what I’m talking about. That I’ve got a lot of nerve. You love the Gospel! You’re not against it, you’re for it! Who am I to tell you that you’re against the Gospel? I am one who is part of this onslaught against the Gospel as well.

Don’t we latch on to the words of Christ of what we must do? Don’t we tend to take for granted the parts He has done for us? Don’t our ears hear the parts that command us as what must come first before He will bless us? This is the onslaught against the Gospel.

We can’t help it. We are by nature stuck on ourselves. We say we love the Gospel, but what we really love is some sort of command of Jesus of what we have to do to content ourselves with. Our sinful nature is so corrupt that we twist this into thinking that that’s the main thing, that we should not only want to do what Jesus has commanded but also focus on it. We feel better when we have a certain amount of control to being in God’s favor.

Why are we in an onslaught against the Gospel? Because by nature we are turned in on ourselves. The Gospel comes from outside of ourselves. Jesus brings this out in the Gospel reading. His words are dripping with Gospel. But it doesn’t seem that way to us because there are those words in there where He points out to us what we must do. These are the ones that really seem to jump out at us.

You hear this all the time in Christianity. You must obey God’s Law. You must believe and have more faith. The people who say these things are the ones who latch on to these phrases in the Gospel reading: “Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” “This is My commandment, that you love one another.” “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” “You should go and bear fruit.” “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Many Christians hear these things and the case is closed. They hear Jesus saying what we must do and then they set out to do it. And they set out to exhort other Christians to do them as well. And they lay a guilt trip on those who say we can’t do anything to gain God’s favor, that we’re saved by grace. And don’t we ourselves feel pangs of guilt that we’re not doing enough for God?

This is the assault of Satan and the world and our own sinful flesh on the Gospel. It is an onslaught, because until the day we die we’re going to gravitate toward those things that say to us what we must do rather than those things that tell us who Christ is and what He has done and what He continues to do for us.

What is more relevant to you in your eyes: being exhorted to live in a godly way in the coming week or being exhorted to come to this altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in His Holy Supper? Are you looking for some way to get a handle on how you can bear the fruit Jesus calls you to bear or are you realizing that you have nothing to offer God but your sin and need the forgiveness of your sin He delivers to you in and with His Body and Blood in His Supper? Do you think that what is done here in worship is all well and good but where the real work of being a Christian is done is in living out the Christian life during the week, the bearing of fruit Jesus was talking about, the keeping of His commandments He was referring to? It seems subtle, but this kind of Christianity is nothing else than an onslaught against the Gospel.

Now the words of Jesus are plain. No one can deny them. Jesus is clear as to what He is saying. The problem is that we are taking them on their own and ripping them out of the context in which Jesus is giving them to us. We do this because we want the starting place to be ourselves. That’s why and how we go against the Gospel. We convince ourselves that we know we’re saved by grace, but that faith without works is dead, so we still have to do something. We can’t just sit around and bask in grace.

But that isn’t the way God works. And it isn’t the way He speaks. We just think He does because we impose our own sinful flavor on His words. This is all part of our relentless onslaught against the Gospel. We want to take the good things of God and turn them into the things by which we can feel good about ourselves.

So do we obey? Yes. Do we bear fruit? Yes. But is that what Jesus is really getting at? Isn’t He getting at how these things are accomplished? And it’s in the words themselves that they’re accomplished. It is by His very speaking them to us that bring them about. You see, God has this little onslaught of His own going on, and it’s an eternal assault against the devil. The devil’s voice is the voice we like to hear because his voice tells us to latch on to those things that tell us what we are supposed to do. But God has given us His Holy Word to tell us about what He has done.

The eternal Word of God breaks through the void and brings into existence the universe. The eternal Word of God creates life, living breathing beings who are fashioned in His image and who enjoy the eternal fruits of His blessings. It’s when His creation seeks what they have been told not to do that all hell breaks loose. Why is this? Because they want to do something. They want to be able to control their destiny. They’re not content with just basking in the glory and grace of God. They see the green grass on the other side and think God is holding out on them. They had everything but it wasn’t enough for them to enjoy the eternal blessings God poured out upon them.

But God is all about grace. He is all about mercy. He is all about love. He didn’t let them go their own way but reached out to them. His work of creation has turned into His creating work of redemption. All our attempts to gain favor with God are attempts in the same vein as Adam and Eve’s attempts at going against the pure grace of God. Had Adam and Eve done anything in the Garden of Eden to gain God’s favor? No, they simply enjoyed all His blessings. That’s what He loves to do and that is why He has called us to eternal salvation. Everything we do flows from that.

All His commands and exhortations are in light of the fact that He has created us, that He has redeemed us, that He sustains us. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.” Love is never about what you must do for another, otherwise it isn’t love. Love is pure unconditional grace given to another, because the one who is loving wants to, not because an obligation has been fulfilled. We are able to keep His commandments because He gives us Himself, the one who alone is able to keep them in the only way they can be kept—perfectly. He speaks His Word of cleansing to us so that His joy may be in us and that our joy may be full. We who consistently attack the Gospel with our notions of attempting to turn His Word into a morality lesson are the recipients not of rules and commands but of Him laying down His life for us. He calls us His friends. We did not choose Him, He chose us.

All this He has done so that we may live in the way God created it and planned it: to enjoy His eternal blessings and bear the fruit that naturally comes from being connected to the Vine, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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