This article should be arriving about the time the Lenten Season comes upon us. Lent is a season of penitential reflection and falls well within the theme of my last article on preaching and the application of the Law of the text.
While this is timely I wish to remind you that Sundays are not a day of Lent but a day in the season of Lent. There may then be a distinction between the sermons preached in mid-week Lenten services and those preached on Sunday in Divine Service. During the week the focus can be on the strengthening of faith and what the life of a follower of Christ looks like. The Sunday texts will grant the opportunity to preach of the rebirth given in baptism and the unadulterated gift of the Gospel.
All preaching of the Gospel flows from the font through the pulpit to the table.
What is the Gospel?
It would be good at this point to hear from the Lutheran Fathers what the Gospel is. From the Formula of Concord:
The content of the Gospel is this, that the Son of God, Christ our Lord, himself assumed and bore the curse of the law and expiated and paid for all the sins, that through him alone we re-enter the good graces of God, obtain forgiveness of sins through faith, are freed from death and all the punishments of sin, and are saved eternally… God wills not to punish sins but to forgive them for Christ’s sake. (Article V pp. 20-21)
Is there any more beautiful exposition of Jesus words to Nicodemus from John 3:17 when He said “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.”
This explains why it is so important to have at least one application of the killing power of the Law in the sermon. The Gospel is the comforting word to the hurting soul. It does not excuse sin, it does not ignore sin, nor does it wish it away. The Gospel saves you from the consequences of sin by rescuing the repentant heart from death and darkness.
The fear created by recognition of failure concerning the Law is covered and removed by the soothing promise of Jesus’ atonement for every sin of every sinner. Yes, every sin of every sinner. From the worst dregs of an immoral society to the secret sins which no one knows but the Omniscient Lord, the Gospel is what the Confessions say it is: “God wills not to punish sins but to forgive them for Christ’s sake.” It is the responsibility of the preacher to bring the saving Christ to each and every malady and let the broken heart know that Jesus became that malady for you and paid the debt in full.
The Gospel does what it promises
For the preacher who thinks this is too cheap and may give cause and liberty to debauchery let him read the words of Paul in Romans 1:17 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe it.” The Gospel will do what it promises without our prompting it or efforts to make it more effective. If the Gospel is the power of God we can’t make it more effective. In and of itself it is efficacious. It only asks us to preach it without hitching a human help wagon onto it. Preach it for what it is, grace.
Rightly preaching Law with application allows us to preach pure and lovely Gospel with rescue certainty. A disturbed conscience with a frightened soul is waiting with bated breath for relief. It is waiting for the Good News that God is not against us but He is for us in Christ Jesus. I pray the Holy Spirits blessing onto you all as you prepare sermons and studies in this upcoming season of Lent. Glorious is the Gospel. Amen.