Advent 3, 2021

The audio did not function properly on this Sunday, so we are not posting the YouTube recording. Here is the sermon manuscript instead for that day.

Law and Gospel: Moses/Christ

Dear Lord Jesus, show us the Father. Amen.

God’s grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

We find the patience and comfort of Holy Scripture when we hear and read God’s Word in faith. It stays with us when we meditate and ruminate on the parts we keep in memory, like our Small Catechism. As we think about Holy Scripture, we quickly find that there are two messages that seem to compete with each other, and they are found in various places throughout the Bible. Worldly critics of the Bible can also see this, and they conclude that the Bible is full of self-contradictions. Christians who try to harmonize these two teachings using their own powers of reason end up distorting and corrupting the faith. But those who humbly allow Scripture to explain itself and prayerfully ask for the illumination of the Holy Spirit find that the harmony of these two teachings is the key to understanding and using all the Scriptures. It’s even the basis for correctly believing and teaching the Christian faith. By paying attention to this harmony in our lives of faith, we may live at peace with God and with peace in our hearts toward our fellow human beings. Earthly troubles will always find us, but the correct harmony of these teachings provides the patience and comfort that we need to retain joy in the midst of great sorrow and pain, and confidence in the face of anxiety and fear.

John 1:15-18

(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

This is God’s Word. Sanctify us through the truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.

The two main messages in Holy Scripture are called the Law and the Gospel. God’s law is mentioned in the Bible text that I just read. “The law was given through Moses.” By itself, this statement means that Moses wrote the Word of God for the Israelites, because the word “Law” can refer to everything God has revealed. But our text continues, saying “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This sets up grace in comparison to law. That’s our clue that here the word law means something more particular, something different from the word “grace.”

Law in this case means God’s righteous standard of expectations for us and for our lives. As our Creator, He established the Law as the blueprint or architectural drawing for us, His creatures. It describes us: what we are, and also who we are in relation to Him and each other. It’s part of Creation’s order, for it shows how we fit into it. The law of God establishes reality in Creation, which God pronounced “very good.”

The Law becomes a negative thing for those who reject it. Rejecting the Law as God’s will and design means rejecting God as God. Once a creature does that even a little, this rebellion spreads like a virus through a healthy body, causing death. The creature becomes unable and unwilling to be reconciled with God. That’s what happened when mankind fell into sin, and it has passed from parents to children ever since.

The fears and anxieties directed toward a virus like SARS-CoV-2 may have been well-founded. But any earthly virus is only a dim reflection of the deadly infection that has spread through humanity, with a mortality rate of 100% where death does not end the suffering, but increases and continues it forever. This is the infection of rebellion against God’s order, against the Law. If only humanity took this as seriously as it has taken earthly pandemics. If only we would take it so seriously. Any cure for this will also end our suffering, fears, and anxieties. A cure for sin must also cure earthly sicknesses and reverse death.

Our text includes the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus. Though Jesus came after John, Jesus was greater because He existed first. He existed before John and before everyone and anything else in Creation, because Jesus is God in the flesh. Now, this could be really bad news for rebellious mankind. Any encounter with God or His messengers brings His Law to mind, and our rebellion against it.

That’s what you expect when you come to church, right? To hear God’s Law? His commandments define a righteous life as a part of His Creation. But they also show you how many ways you fall short. You fear other things more than God, and trust in some things more than His Word. You have little regard for His holy name and your actions prioritize other things above hearing His Word. St. Paul describes such people in 2 Timothy 3: “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” This deserves death.

We expect such bad news at church, and wherever we encounter God or His messengers. But sometimes we can deceive ourselves into ignoring most of our sins. “At least I’m better than so-and-so.” Our society is filled with self-righteousness like that. People focus on one thing, like the way you vote or how you treat the homeless, or the unborn. With a self-righteous check in those boxes, all the other sins can be ignored. This is evil. It continues the rebellion of fallen mankind by replacing God’s standard with our own. If you examine your life under the lens of God’s Law, you see it in action.

Since sin entered the world, that is the purpose of the Law: to pinpoint it, make it clear and unmistakable. That’s why “The law was given through Moses.” And a side-effect is that it also limits the spread and intensity of evil in the world, since all people want to think of themselves as good.

But grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” When the eternal Son of God entered the world, He did not come to condemn it. He came to save it. The word grace means “love.” The Law reveals God’s wrath to sinners, but Jesus reveals God’s love by absorbing that wrath through the cross as our substitute and exchanging our sins for His righteous status as God’s Son. He sends the message to you that your sins are forgiven. That’s the effect of God’s grace. That’s the gospel.

Even before the coming of Jesus, the gospel took the form of promises. It was there in Genesis 3, when God spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden. The promise was repeated to Abraham, a forefather of the Savior. It was repeated to others all the way to Mary, when the angel Gabriel said she would have a son. Trust in that promise was faith in the gospel.

Now Jesus has fulfilled the promise, kept the Law, and also paid the price for all the sins of the world. Where the Law reveals our sinful condition without any comfort, the Gospel shows that the heart of the Father is full of grace. Love. God loves you in Christ, and forgives all sin. You are forgiven! God gives you a new, eternal life by attaching His promise to you in Holy Baptism. He wants to feed you with the fruit that comes from the tree of life, the body and blood of Jesus. All of this contains and gives the Gospel. By these signs and gifts, you are released from sin and the condemnation of the law to live as God intended. If you struggle, no matter. God forgives and will support you with His Word.

This is the treasure of Law and Gospel. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria!