God Forgives Us Just as We Are!

Third Sunday in Pentecost, July 3rd, 2011
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Rom. 7:24-25a] 

Wretched man and woman that you are!  You are trapped in a body of death; a body that produces nothing but death and sin, and you deserve death, and that is exactly what you will receive, unless… unless God intervenes!  And He has; He has come to you as your champion, as a humble carpenter, mounted upon a donkey, and not as a mighty warrior armed for earthly combat.  Because you see, this is a spiritual battle that was waged for your very soul!  The good news is that Jesus suffering and death upon the cross has assured you certain victory against your enemies who are sin, death, and the devil!  Your baptism freed you from being a slave to sin and it has transferred you instead under the rule of your kind and gentle King.  So rejoice!  Give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

But there is some news that is not so good to our ears; you see we still find ourselves engaged in the battle against sin; our sin and the sin of our neighbors and community!  While the war is over, the battle rages on!  Where must we fight?  Unfortunately, the very first theater of combat is within our very hearts!  We must continue fighting the evil that is common to every man, woman and child who ever lived and ever will live on this sinful earth.

 On March 5, 2001 at 9:20 in the morning, something terrible happened; something that would forever mar the psyche of San Diegans.  A student at Santana High entered that school with a gun in his hand and hate in his heart and he gunned down 15 of his classmates.  When the smoke cleared, 2 students were dead and 13 were wounded.  Police found the person who personified evil that day hiding in a bathroom!

 On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of explosives near the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He walked away and detonated the bomb killing 168 people.  To this incident, the Santana High School shooting and many others, people ask in anger and fear, “Why did they do this?  Were they insane?  Were they totally evil?”

In an attempt to answer these types of questions, psychiatrists by the dozens are sought out by T.V. reporters for some clarity.  There answers very, but the most consistent message is something you and I already know from God’s Word: “All of us have the capacity for horrific evil.  Within each of us are the roots of evil!”

In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us this: “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, (and) slanders.” [Matt. 15:19]  But you dear Christians know this, don’t you?  You know it is true because you know the evil that lives in your own hearts.  But thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  He has assured you of His constant presence within you, as His Holy Spirit is daily fighting the sin within you that so easily entangles and traps you!  Thank God through Jesus Christ that God forgives us just as we are and that He has assured us that He won’t leave us that way!  Thank God through Jesus Christ, that He also assures you that upon the cross, Jesus has defeated your enemies, and because of this victory He can assure you that one day you will be free of your body of death and you will receive a new glorified body that is free of sin!  But as I stated already, the challenging news is that we must remain in our bodies of death and fight the enemy within.

St. Paul declared this very message in verses 22 and 23 of our epistle lesson with these words: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”  These words sound like they come from a noble knight who lives and fights for an even nobler kingdom, under the leadership of the most noble king.  As a warrior of the noble king, Paul is looking out at the battlefield, which is his own body and he sees his entire body engaged in a battle.  His spirit and mind, which forever follow God’s perfect law, are engaged in a bloody battle against a different kind of law, a law that was put in place by an evil ruler; the law is sin and the ruler is the devil!  Paul’s mind knows that through Jesus Christ victory is certain and in fact already proclaimed, and yet he must still engage the enemy!  But make no mistake, this is no mere mopping up operation; you see Paul knows that if He fails to follow His King Jesus, His soul will be lost to the enemy that is within!

How do we and Paul stay close to Jesus?  Scripture makes that clear; we must continue to trust in God’s means of grace, the very things He gave to us, which assure us that Christ’s victory upon the cross is our victory!   St. Paul and all of the apostles knew that the only way to be assured of victory was through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  We receive both of these things in God’s Word, our baptism, and the Lord’s Supper!

You see, when God through His miracle of baptism united you to Jesus, He also united you to His death.  You see, through His death on the cross, Jesus broke the back and proclaimed victory over sin, death, and the devil.  In your baptism, you were united with Jesus and you received those same blessings.  So Holy Baptism for you broke the back of all of your enemies!  But Paul wants you to remember that just because you are saved from your enemies, it doesn’t mean that you are exempt from joining in the fight!  You must remember that sin can still tempt you, but if you are resting in God’s Word and your baptism it can’t control you! 

I suppose another way we can think of this battle that is being waged within us is like a spiritual cancer!  The good news is that it is curable.  The cure was given to you in God’s Word and within your baptism, and it is already destroying the cancer of sin within you and eventually you will be completely free of its presence.  But in order to experience this cure you must die so that you can live the new and eternally happy life, which God has prepared for you.  But you must follow God’s treatments until He has determined that it is time for you to be free.  What treatments are those?  Faith and forgiveness!  How do we receive this medicine that brings eternal life?  By remaining in God’s Word and by receiving yet one more means of grace… His Holy Supper!

In our Lord’s Supper, He gives us the ability to not just believe that we are saved from our sins but the ability to continue following that belief.  In His Supper, our Lord pleads with us to come to His Holy Table with a holy appetite for forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith!  Martin Luther once wrote this to those who thought that receiving Holy Communion to often was inappropriate because they didn’t always feel a need for it.  He said, “For those in such a state of mind that they cannot feel (a need), I know no better advice than that they put their hands to their (hearts and feel their heart beat in order) to determine whether they are made of flesh and blood.  If you find that you are, then turn to (scripture) and hear what (the fruits of your flesh are): adultery, fornication, impurity, immorality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”  For this reason, if you cannot feel the need (to come to Holy Communion), at least believe the Scriptures.  They will not lie to you, since they know your flesh better than you yourself do.  Yes, and St. Paul concludes, “For I know that nothing good dwells within me that is, in my flesh.””  So why come to the Lord’s Supper often?  So that your faith may be strengthened and you may believe that Jesus removed the penalty of every sin, even your many sins!

 Then what about doing good?  Aren’t each of us required to do good?  Well it isn’t so much a requirement as it is a reality.  In your baptism you were given a new nature, a perfect nature, and that nature can’t help but love God with all of its heart and soul and love its neighbor as itself.  You see doing good just comes natural to your new identity.  The struggle is living out this new nature.  This is what we call our cross.  Just as Jesus died upon the cross to save you, you too must die daily to your old sinful nature and embrace the goodness that lives within you.  And it is that goodness that loves God and serves its neighbor!  Just as Christ bore the cross for others, to deliver them from death, so too, we His people bear not just our own cross of defeating the sin within us, but we also bear our neighbor’s crosses.  We give them support as evil surrounds and attacks them.  Christ bore the cross to pay for the sins of His people, and His people bear crosses to relieve the sufferings of their fellow man.  In our homes and at our jobs, in our community and in our church, our calling to bear our cross and suffer with Jesus is a calling to fight the sin within us and around us!  Christ call us to stand next to those who are suffering and help them bear their own afflictions. 

So the next time you hear of horrible events such as the Santana High shooting or the Oklahoma City bombing, don’t just look at the sin within those people, look at your own sin and remember your own potential for horrific evil that exists within your own heart!  And then remind yourself that God forgives us just as we are, and he continues to not just forgive us but help us to destroy the sin that is within us!  And when you fall to sin, do not think that God has given up on you, but remember to say with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (who has given us the victory)!  AMEN!

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