Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hard Words from God Are Good Words

Second Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Jeremiah
June 26, 2011
Romans 7:1-13

We want to hear good things from God. We don’t want to hear bad things from Him. The good news is that what we hear from Him is good. He doesn’t tell us bad things.

But if you open the pages of the Bible and read for any length of time you will hear words that are hard. If you come to terms with what God says in the Bible you will see that He doesn’t give a message that can be reduced to “I love you.” He most definitely does love everyone. But for Him to say He loves us and leave it at that wouldn’t be real love.

If a person commits a crime and society decides it’s going to respond to him by saying, “We love you, continue on with your life as you were,” that would not really be loving that person. He would receive the message that what he did was okay, even good, and is free to do it again. It certainly would not be loving toward the victim of the crime. The victim would not be receiving justice, and that is not good.

Loving others not only means the words we love to hear, like “I love you,” but also the hard words. These are words such as to the criminal, “You are found guilty.” The criminal may not hear those words as good words. Society as a whole will recognize these words as good words. Society works well in a structured environment. Paul even uses the example in the Epistle reading of the woman who goes against the law if she commits adultery. In fact we see in our society how God’s good creation of marriage is rapidly eroding in our society. It is becoming acceptable to go against marriage as between one man and one woman with homosexuality, heterosexual adultery, living together apart from the bond of marriage, and a host of other perversions.

These are hard words that many people don’t want to hear. Not only in society do people want to hear that it’s wrong and not good to go against marriage of one man and one woman, but even many Christians don’t want to hear this. This is one example, there are many others we could address. To us good words are words that we want to hear. Hard words we hear as bad. If we recognize that God is good and He loves and that what He tells us is for our good and because of His love for us then we will see that even His hard words are good words. That may not make them easier to hear though.

Why is it so hard for us to hear God’s words that are hard words as good words? When things started out there were no hard words. There was simply, “Everything that is before you is for you and for your good. There is only one thing that is not for you and that is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Now that sin and evil are in the world there are a lot of things that are kept from us. We don’t like that. What we often fail to realize is that God keeps those things away from us for our own good. It was for Adam and Eve’s good God kept the one tree away from them. It is for our good that He keeps, for example, adultery away from us. When we desire and take those things God keeps from us it harms us.

Here’s what God wants, He wants to say to us, “Everything I have created is yours, it’s for your benefit.” With sin and evil in the world, and with us being sinful ourselves, He brings in a new word. It’s the word of the Law. It’s a message of commandment. It deals in restrictions and judgment. It deals in words that are hard words. But these words are also good. They are also beneficial to us. They are not words that are words of hatred as opposed to words of love. It is out of His love for us that God speaks His word of Law to us. Without it we would be lost in our sinfulness and separated from Him forever. With His word of the Law we see how much He loves us, that He is calling us to repentance so that we may be restored to Him.

Does this mean we’re going to be excited about hearing it? No, usually not. More than likely, we’re going to recoil at hearing this from God. God’s people weren’t all giddy when Jeremiah told them that God’s message to them wasn’t peace but rather judgment. Since they refused to repent, Jeremiah had no choice but to give them God’s message of the Law. It’s even harder to hear when it’s coming from a fellow human being. Who was Jeremiah to think that he could talk to them that way? Did he think he was better than they were? We often don’t want hear hard words from others because it seems like they are putting themselves above us. But Jeremiah knew that he himself was under the same judgment he was proclaiming if he himself did not repent.

But let’s be honest, it’s not just that we don’t like hearing the hard words from God just because they are spoken by another human being. We don’t want to hear them from God Himself. Who listens to the words of Jesus, God in the flesh, in today’s Gospel reading and does not squirm? “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” “I have come to set family members against one another.” “If you do not love Me more than your family you are not worthy of Me.” “If you do not take your cross and follow Me you are not worthy of Me.” “If you find your life you will lose it, if you lose your life for My sake you will find it.”

The words from Jeremiah are God’s words, simply spoken by a man. The words of Jesus are God’s words as well, spoken by God in the flesh. They’re all hard words. They are words intended to cause us to squirm. They are words to bring us to repentance. Do you seek what you want or what God gives to you? Do you desire things that God keeps from you or what God freely bestows on you? Do you hear His hard words as bad words or as the good words they are? Do you see that if you seek what you think is important and it takes you away from fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things then you have made something else your god?

This is the hard work of God. He doesn’t want to do it but He does it because He loves us. He doesn’t want to judge us and condemn us but He does it in order to restore us. If we think God’s hard words to us are hard for us then we should think about how hard they are for God. Parents only want to love and hug and care for their children. They don’t want to discipline and punish and lay down the law. But out of love they do. If the kids think it’s hard, it’s even harder for the parents. This is the way it is with God’s hard words to us.

Paul talks in the Epistle reading about the role of the Law in the life of the Christian. We don’t live by the Law. We are freed from God’s Law. The Law brings us death. But Paul is adamant in pointing out that it’s not the fault of the Law. This is important because to say it is the fault of the Law is to say it is the fault of God. That’s why Paul makes it clear that the Law is good. God’s words are good, they are good in and of themselves and they are good for us. Sin is the problem. We are the problem. We don’t like to hear God’s words to us in the way He gives them to us because we want to hear what is pleasing to us rather than what is actually beneficial to us.

How is it this way? Because the problem is ours. The problem is so much our problem that we can’t get ourselves free from the problem. Only God can and He does it by hammering us with His Law. The Law is good but it brings to light our utter sinfulness. We can say that it’s okay to have homosexuality or heterosexual adultery or living together apart from marriage, but not only are we harming ourselves, we are killing ourselves eternally. We can hold on to our grudges and our hatred toward others but we are removing ourselves from God’s love and grace for us. We can go right down the Law and see how God shows us what is good and how going against His Law is harmful. If we look at the Ten Commandments and think that we’re doing okay with any of them then we are ignoring the hard words of God to our eternal peril.

But there’s another thing about the hard words of God that are hard for us to come to terms with and that is what He Himself does with them. God doesn’t just dish out His words of Law and judgment and condemnation. Parents aren’t just going to discipline and punishment their children and leave them in that state of guilt and sorrow. Afterward there are soothing words and hugging. The hard words of God are seen most clearly at the cross. If we hear the hard words of God and we can’t bear them then we are not hearing them in the way He has given them. He says them to us in light of His action at the cross. His word of Law was spoken to His only-begotten Son on the cross. His judgment and condemnation was handed down on His beloved Son at the cross. God draws us to repentance so that we may see His love for us and the way we see His love for us is by seeing how He loves us in His Son suffering and dying for the sin of the world.

That’s really why we don’t understand the hard words of God. We want to see them in some unattached sense. Rather, our Lord draws us into His Scriptures by showing us His Son. He speaks to us His Scriptures in light of and on account of what He has accomplished at the cross and the empty tomb. We can only understand God’s words to us through that lens. His words to us at the cross and in the empty tomb can be summed up in two words: For you. All He has done has been done for you. He gives His Son for you. He Baptizes you for you and your eternal salvation. He gives in the Holy Supper of His Son His Son’s very body and blood for you for the forgiveness of sins. These are not hard words but flow easily and naturally from His mouth to you. By His grace He gives you ears to hear. Amen.


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