Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Eternal Gospel

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 25, 2009
John 8:31-36

A historian once said that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. We all need to be historians. Because it’s true. If you do not know history you are a slave. You have no freedom. If you’re behind bars, it’s clear to you that you aren’t free. But if you go through life ignoring reality and truth you think you are free when in fact you more of a prisoner than one who is behind bars. We are shortsighted. We often see what we want to see. Jesus has an everlasting perspective.

He proclaims an eternal Gospel. That’s what the First reading from Revelation says, an eternal Gospel is proclaimed. But doesn’t that sound odd to us? Why should there need to be an eternal Gospel? Doesn’t the Gospel only come into play when Adam and Eve fall into sin? Why would the Gospel need to be in existence from eternity? And isn’t there no longer a need for the Gospel when Christ returns in glory and puts an end to this world and we reign in heaven forever without sin and condemnation? Why does the Gospel need to remain for eternity?

Jesus answers that question in the Gospel reading. It’s something along the lines of, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. The people Jesus was speaking to had short memories. Never had been enslaved to anyone? Had they forgotten the Egyptians? And the Babylonians? And what about the Roman occupiers in their own day? But even all of this misses the point, which is why Jesus doesn’t bring it up, as obvious as it is. Their refusal to learn from history is to not acknowledge their slavery to sin.

Paul is forced to make this clear in his letter to the Christians in Rome in our Epistle reading. The Law of God breaks through in this life so that every mouth may be stopped. That doesn’t keep us from talking though, does it? Me, a sinner? Well, yes, but I’m not really that bad. I don’t sin all the time. And the sins I commit don’t really hurt people that much. I could be a lot worse.

By this way of thinking we have shown ourselves to be slaves to sin. We’re so convinced we’re not that bad of sinners we forget the root problem: Original Sin. Yes, you don’t always do really bad things. And some of the really bad things you do don’t come close to comparing to the heinous acts that some, even many, people commit. But you are bound up in your sinful flesh—you are a sinner not just because you sin, but because you are born in sin and are enslaved to it. Those who ignore this are condemned.

Since our memories are so short, God has a way of dealing with this that is outside of our realm of dealing with time and figuring out which sins are really bad and which ones aren’t as big of a deal—it’s His eternal Gospel. It’s the truth that will set you free. If His Gospel is from eternity and lasts for eternity there’s no way you can wonder if your being bound up in your sinful flesh is not covered by His grace, His mercy, His love. It is. It’s eternal. He always had in view, from eternity, loving you and being in relationship with you.

You are free by what God has done in His eternal action of the Gospel. Believing in Christ is abiding in this eternal Gospel, something that is outside of yourself, from before you were ever around and that will last forever. When the people talking to Jesus wanted to place the ground of their faith in themselves He insisted that it must be grounded in Him and His eternal Gospel.

Jesus says those who commit sin are slaves to sin. He doesn’t go down a list to help them sort out whether they’re really bad sinners or sinners who just do some bad things now and then. Those who commit sin are slaves to sin because they are born in sin and are wrapped up in their sinful flesh. To be freed from this you must be freed from it. You cannot free yourself from it. You must be freed from it by something outside of you. By someone who is not bound by sin. You are set free by the Son who from eternity is your Savior.

It’s not easy to abide in Jesus’ Word. It means doing what we do when we confess our sins. That we are by nature sinful. That there is nothing good within us and nothing good we can do in the sight of God. That we deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. There’s nothing easy about this.

But there is something freeing about it. There’s something amazingly revolutionary about it. Standing before God and not making a case for yourself. Not justifying your sinful actions or rationalizing them away. Simply confessing them. Simply saying, God, what you say is true, I am a sinner, condemn me because it’s all that I deserve. There’s something freeing about this, because as we stand before God in this condition—sinful, unworthy, condemned—we are standing before a God who tells us to lift up our head. To turn our gaze to a hill that stood just outside of a small city. A hill upon which was another sinner. A sinner who was crucified on that hill. A sinner who is God the Father’s very own Son.

But this is all wrong! He’s not the sinner, I am. How is it that God points us to the one on the cross as the sinner when we are the ones? How it is is the eternal Gospel. Jesus becomes the sinner so that we may be set free. Free from sin. Free from the condemnation of the Law. Free from any notions that we’re not that bad and only need to keep trying a little harder. And even more, freed from the Law that is constantly beating us down that we haven’t loved enough, shared the Gospel with enough people, haven’t been in the Word of God as much as we should be. Freeing us up from this condemnation to simply live in His grace. To be freed to serve in our simple, humble, often awkward ways. Even our sometimes faltering ways.

That’s what the eternal Gospel always does. When you are freed you are not then put under a new Law in which you must now do stuff for God. When the Son sets you free, you are free indeed! He has had this in view from eternity! Jesus is your Lord eternally. He is your Savior eternally. You are free eternally. You are not condemned. You are not bound. You are Baptized. You are fed by Your Savior Himself. His very Body, His very Blood, placed in your mouth for you to eat and drink and be filled and refreshed and forgiven and freed.

This is not of anything you do. Thank God! It’s everything of God and by God, eternally, for you. Amen.


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