O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
How to Read the Bible Part IV: Law and Gospel Continued...
How to Read the Bible Part IV: Law and Gospel Continued...
Based on Mt. 15:21-28
Preached on August 17, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, do you like survival stories? True ones? Flying low over the dangerous and impenetrable Laotian jungle on a bombing mission against the Viet Cong, U.S. Air Force Colonel Eugene Deatrick saw a lone figure waving to him from a clearing below. He continued on his flight path, but ten minutes later - puzzled that a native in this hostile terrain would try to attract his attention - he decided to turn back for another look.
This time, he saw the letters SOS spelt out on a rock. Beside them stood an emaciated man dressed in rags, waving the remains of a parachute over his head. Helicopters were sent to retrieve him, and when they got him on board, almost beyond speech, the man whispered: "I am an American pilot. Please take me home."
The pilot was Lieutenant Dengler. The year was 1966. He was the only American to ever escape the Laotian jungle torture camps. And he became the lone ray of hope amidst the darkness of the Vietnam War.
S.O.S. Save our Souls! It is the international signal for distress. S.O.S.
We're back again with our summer sermon series "How to Read the Bible." Where we've been listening to what our dear Lord has to say about how to understand His Word. We've learned that every verse in the Bible is ultimately about Jesus - who He is and what He has done. We've learned that Scripture interprets Scripture, that what God says in one place is understood by what He says in another. And we've learned that God works in two ways, His Word of Law and His Word of Gospel, and that only by properly distinguishing these two teachings can we understand the text.
This morning we too are going to lay the letters S.O.S. out on a rock, because in a very real sense those of us who trust in Christ are like prisoners of war who have escaped the devil's torture camps and wait in the wilderness for the helicopters to pick us up. All we have out here is our S.O.S. Check it out.
S.O.S. Yeah, it means save our souls. But it is also the perfect acronym for remembering the distinction between Law and Gospel. Have you heard this before? The Law - SOS - Shows our Sin. The Gospel - SOS - shows our Savior. God saves our souls by showing us our sin, so He can show us our Savior. I know, its almost cheezy - but it really helps.
You need to read your Bible to survive - true story. And SOS is your only hope in understanding it. As you're reading you need to ask yourself, does this verse Show me my Sin, or does it Show me my Savior?
The Law is God's way of showing you how much you need Him - because without it we tend to think we can survive on our own. But the Law says you deserve to die - and there is nothing you can do to change that. The judgment is made - the sentence is spoken. But then the Gospel comes in to save you! It is God's merciful declaration that what should have fallen upon you - Christ has taken. He has suffered your punishment. He has died your death. And all the things you should've done but failed to do - He did them for you. You get His perfect life to your credit, even as He has killed your imperfect one on the cross. And all of this for free - His gracious gift - without any merit or worthiness on your part - without any expectations or conditions of you. Why? Because that is who He is! Your Savior! SOS. Dear Lord, Save our Souls! Show us our Savior!
But you can begin to see, can't you, that if you mixed these two teachings up, you could begin to get pretty confused as to how you are saved? If even a smidgen of the binding, condemning Law is mixed with the Gospel - it is no longer free. If any condition or expectation whatsoever is connected to the pure, grace and mercy of God in Christ - it is no longer pure, nor grace, nor mercy. It is Law and Christ is not being preached. The Gospel is not being preached, because in some small way - you're still your own savior. So it is the Christian's primary concern that the Gospel remain free - that the SOS is seen clearly on the rock. I don't deserve to be saved, but my Lord gives salvation to those who don't deserve it in Jesus.
Now, normally, and certainly in every sermon, both Law and Gospel are preached. But any parent can tell you that there are times when their children specifically need a Word of Law, and when they specifically need a Word of Gospel.
Let's look at an example. A boy is touching a lamp he has been told not to touch. It falls off the table and breaks. Stricken with guilt he goes straight to his mother and confesses what he has done wrong. Which Word does he need? That's right, a Word of Gospel - no matter how angry you are…hehe… He is already guilty - already in prison. Mom gets to set him free with a promise of mercy and forgiveness, and not a hint of anger or disappointment. In fact, piling Law on this child in this moment will only exasperate him and teach him to flee from his parents because he will not receive mercy. Mom shouldn't even say "I told you not to touch that lamp - or - Awww, that was my favorite lamp." Otherwise, she has confused Law and Gospel and left her child in uncertainty about where he stands with his mother.
Ah, but what about the opposite scenario. The lamp falls off the table and breaks, but the boy tries to cover it up - or runs away - or fibs to blame it on someone else. Now, which Word does he need? You got it - a Word of Law - anger, disappointment, and not a hint of mercy or forgiveness. The boy is secure in his wrongdoing - he is trying to justify himself - trying to maintain his own righteousness in the face of breaking his parent's rules. He doesn't see what he has done as sin. In fact, offering any Gospel here - any way out - any favor - will only teach him NOT to take responsibility for himself, and that his parents don't actually mean what they say - their rules are not rules at all - merely a game he gets to play when he breaks them. Certainly when the Law does its work, and sorrow surfaces, Mom gets to free him from his guilt with a free promise of Gospel. This is always the goal, but as you can see, which Word is spoken depends entirely on where the boy is at inside.
But don't you think this is true of every relationship you have? Think about it. Your ability to listen to your friends or family members, and understand where they are coming from is your opportunity to really connect with them. For as you listen to them, you will hear if they are secure in their sin, and need a Word of Law, or if they are broken by their sin, and need a Word of Gospel. This is what makes you a friend and not a "yes man." In fact, your best friends are those who know you, and know when you need a Word of Law, and when you need a Word of Gospel. Law and Gospel is how we give certainty and peace to those around us - in our words, and in our actions. We said it last week, but it is still true today - Everything is Law and Gospel!
Well, let's take a quick look at our text and put what we've learned to work. Let's assess where this crying woman is coming from, and see what kind of word our Lord speaks to her.
Behold, a Canaanite woman - that is, not a Jew. Not someone who knows the Scriptures. How did she hear about this Jewish prophet named Jesus? We don't know, but she obviously has - she seeks Him out and begins crying to Him "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." And again, "Lord, help me." What do you think? This woman is broken. She understands her sin, and the sin of her daughter. She knows she doesn't deserve anything from Jesus. She even confirms this with her incredible statement of faith - "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." I am nothing but a dog. I don't belong at the table, yet if you but throw me a crumb it will be enough. If you throw me a crumb it will be everything. Because stronger than her brokenness is her faith - her faith that this Jesus, this Son of David is merciful. That He alone is able to provide what she needs. That He alone has the crumb of mercy that will heal her daughter. She already believes the Gospel - and she calls out for more. It is as if she said, "I've seen my sin, and you are my Savior! Show me the salvation you promise." To which Jesus answers, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Jesus is saving our souls by showing us our sin, so He can show us our Savior. His SOS is all we have as we wait for the helicopters to pick us up. So dive into your Bible looking for Law and Gospel. Speak to your friends and family listening for Law and Gospel. Gladly hear preaching taking in Law and Gospel. Then you will know you are forgiven, and that Christ is coming to deliver you from evil. In His Holy Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr