Wednesday Lent Four
March 25, 2020 - Genesis 44:1-18, 32-34
God teaches that His Law – what He commands – has three uses for our lives. First, the Law curbs outward acts of sin. The command “do not steal” will stop stealing to a certain degree. Third, the Law is a guide. The commands “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” show Christians what is pleasing in God’s sight. This evening, we’ll focus on the Holy Spirit’s second use of the Law – it shows us our sin. You see…
GOD’S LAW READIES SINFUL HEARTS FOR THE GOSPEL
God’s Law in relation to sinners primarily functions to accuse. Our Lutheran fathers declare, “The Law always accuses.” Even though it doesn’t only accuse, God’s Law does always accuse, because all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. A quick example – just a bit ago I said that the Law is a guide, “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Those three commands guide you into what God wills. However, many of you like me also heard those as accusations. For I don’t rejoice always. I don’t pray without ceasing. I don’t give thanks in all circumstances. For me – and many of you – those words are accusatory. The Law says “do this” and my conscience is stricken because I have not done it perfectly.
This very thing happens to Judah, Joseph’s older brother. Joseph commands his steward to accuse his brothers of theft. Sure enough, Benjamin is found to have the silver cup. Benjamin – who is loved most by Jacob – must become a slave. Those words haunt Judah. He cries out, “God has found out the guilt of your servants.” He doesn’t admit that they stole the cup. The threat of slavery becomes in Judah the utmost of accusatory Law. Flashbacks strike him from many, many years before in his dealings with Jacob’s then favorite son – Joseph. Judah’s own words that dreadful day play over and over again in his mind, “Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites. Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites.” Judah – who desired to sell Joseph into slavery and finished the deed with his fellow brothers is now stricken in his conscience, accused by the Law for his own sin. He realizes the gravity of what he’d done.
When you do wrong – and surely you do! – the pangs of guilt you feel in your conscience – just like Judah – is God’s accusatory Law. You are brought face to face with your sin as if staring at it in a mirror, and that pang of conscience will not let you go. It robs peace; it robs joy; it robs sleep; you can’t eat, but it sure eats away at you.
This is the main role of God’s Law toward sinners. He wants it to accuse you and me. He wants us to come face to face with our transgressions. Paul Speratus writes, “The Law reveals the guilt of sin and makes us conscience-stricken.” God desires that we stare at the magnitude of our sin and realize that “the wages of sin is death,” that “lost is our condition,” that, “we all like sheep have gone astray,” that, “it is appointed once for man to die and after that comes judgment.” God desires to make you despair of yourself and your worthiness, because then He’s made you ready through His accusatory Law. The Holy Spirit – through the Law – drives us to say with Paul, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Having been accused of deserving death and damnation – having been shown there’s no comfort for you except the gracious mercy of the Judge Himself – God has readied you for His Good News, His Gospel. So now He delivers the goods: “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” That’s it. God’s free gift to you is eternal life in Christ Jesus. “But – Pastor – that can’t be it. Surely, I have to do something.” Nope, don’t you understand what a free gift is? It’s God’s gift to you… and it’s free. “But – Pastor – don’t I at least have to believe?” Yep, and that’s not even your own doing: “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Even faith itself is a gift of God. You are saved by God and God alone. If you think there’s something you can contribute – even in the smallest measure – God’s Law is going to hound you and hound you until you realize you’re saved by “grace and grace alone.”
The grace of God means that your sins are forgiven and this was accomplished by one man and one man only – the God-man – who shed His blood on the cross, a precious, precious ransom price for the sins of the world. Jesus came as your pledge of salvation and He bore your guilt upon the cross. What Judah determined to do in order to deliver Benjamin from slavery, God in Christ has done for you even more fantastically. He has reconciled the world – which means you – to Himself, not counting your trespasses against you.”
Those sins that accuse you are gone – all because of the blood of Christ. They’re wiped away. The slate is clean. They’re washed from you. As far as the east is from the west so far are they from you. God remembers them no more. “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Jesus is the answer, the only answer, the blessed and praise-worthy answer!
Dear friends in Christ, God’s accusatory Law has a very real and very important purpose – to drive you to Christ where forgiveness has been won; to send you fleeing to Christ for hope, peace, comfort, and joy. For through His Law, God makes your need of a Savior known to you. And through His Gospel God shows you your Savior and comforts you with forgiveness, life, and salvation in name name.
So again, Paul Speratus writes, “Baptized into Your precious name, My faith cannot be put to shame, And I shall never perish.” Go in peace.