Law and Gospel

Reformation 2018 Ruma/Evansville Matthew 11:2-19

Matt. 11:17-19, Jesus said “We played a tune on the flute for you, but you did not dance.  We sang a funeral song, but you did not mourn.  John the Baptizer does not eat or drink, and people say, ‘There is a demon in him!’ The Son of Man eats, and drinks and people say, ‘Look at the glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”

Jesus words reminds me of the old joke about a pastor and a parishioner.  One day a man comes into church. He asks the secretary, “I wanted to see the pastor, where is he anyway?”  The secretary answers, “He’s out making hospital calls.”  “Ach, says the man, “He’s never in the office.”  A few weeks later the man is in the hospital, he calls up, “Where’s the pastor anyway?  He hasn’t been here to visit me.”  The secretary says, “He’s in his office working on his sermon for Sunday.  I’ll let him know you are in the hospital.” The man responds, “I should have guessed, always sitting in his office.” Some people are never happy.

In fact, that’s what Martin Luther said in the 1530’s when he preached on Matthew 11; “For if one preaches the Gospel, it does no good; if one preaches the Law, it does no good.  You can’t make people either really happy or really sad; they do not want to be made sinners.  Nor do they want to be comforted from their sin.”

This morning we see in John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ two distinct ministries with the same purpose in mind.  Both proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was right on the threshold of breaking out in the world.  John as the forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah, came preaching repentance, calling the people to their lives around for Lord is coming.  John was a rough tough prophet, living out in wild countryside of the Jordan River.  If you had invited John out for dinner he would have come in a camel’s hair robe, hair down to his waist because he was never supposed to cut it.  When the restaurant server came and asked if she could bring something to drink he would said, “I didn’t drink,” and he would have ordered a plateful of grasshoppers and a little honey on the side.  He wouldn’t hang around for dessert, he had get back to preaching against people’s sins in no uncertain terms.  Pharisees and Sadducees, he called a tangle of poisonous snakes.  He preached that the Messiah would come the Holy Spirit and fire.  With his winnowing fork he would separate the chaff from the g=rain. The chaff would be tossed into an unquenchable fire.  The people had every reason to mourn over their sins as if they were at a funeral.

And now Jesus came also preaching that the kingdom of God was near, but he didn’t come with fire and brimstone.  John was sitting in Herod’s prison and he likely had a pretty good idea how things would end up for him.  He wondered whether all his work had been useless.  We have those thoughts, “what did accomplish today, or this year or maybe in my life?  When I look back did I really make a difference in all my work and effort?  So, John sent a delegation to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one?”

John came with the law. Martin Luther said the purpose of the Law is “to reveal sins and to pronounce guilty those who were righteous in their own eyes.”  On New Year’s Eve of 1532 he preached, “Law” is nothing but God’s word and command in which he commands us what we are to do and not do and demands our obedience and service.”  In explaining his 95 these he wrote that “The Law is the word of wrath, the word of sadness, the word of pain, the word unrest, the word of a messed-up condition.”  Later he wrote, “The Law gives nothing but demands of us indeed it demands impossible things.”  Wow, who wouldn’t want to get out from under John’s preaching of the law.  The law is God’s Word, but it will demand, demand, demand and not lift a finger to get you out from under it.

Like Jesus, Luther loved to socialize and converse with people.  There were always several guests enjoying a good meal and some beer at Katy and Luther’s table.  On one occasion when he was coming near the end of his ministry, He wondered at how people could take offense at Christ.  “Christ wants to give the kingdom of heaven, while the world wants the kingdom of the earth.”  In Jesus the kingdom of God walked on the earth socializing, eating and drinking in the homes of Tax Collectors and Pharisees, it made no difference to Jesus who you were.  He would even go out to a restaurant with the likes of us.

So, he sent back the messengers John had sent: “Tell John what you hear and see: Blind people see and those who were lame are walking; lepers are made clean and deaf people hear; those who are dead  are raised and poor people hear the Gospel; and blessed is anyone who does not stumble in his evaluation of me.”  Jesus came with the Gospel, he was the Gospel.

For Luther, the gospel was Christ giving his body and shedding his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.  It’s the “good message, good tidings, good news, good report, which one sings and tells with rejoicing.  It tells of Jesus who fought sin, death and the devil, overcame them, and thereby delivered, without any merit of our own, all those who were captive to sin, were. plagued by death and were overpowered by the devil.  Of this we sing, thank God, praise Him, and are happy forever if we only believe and remain steadfast in this faith…. the gospel exacts nothing from us but gives freely and pleads with us to hold out our hands and take what it offers.”  What will we be doing in a few minutes but holding out our hand taking the gospel in the bread of holy communion and drinking the gospel in the wine.  Jesus came eating and drinking and he wants us to do the same “Take eat,” he said.  “Take drink.”  The church becomes a restaurant offering a menu of food which nourishes with the forgiveness of sin and sustains us unto life everlasting.

Luther puts it this way, “The Gospel tastes best to those who lie in the straits of death or whom an evil conscience oppresses, for in that case ‘hunger is a good cook’ So Mary speaks in her song: ‘He filled the hungry with good things’….

The Gospel is the wisdom of God, beyond reason, beyond our wisdom.  We shall never grasp it sufficiently.  There is nothing left for us to do but thank and praise, serve and obey.  This is most certainly true.





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