St John Lutheran Church,
Champaign, IL


Law or Gospel? You Decide

Third Week of Pentecost
June 17th, 2007

2 Samuel 11:26-12:10
Luke 7:36-8:3

Other Service Readings:
Galatians 2:15-21,3:10-14

Rev. Dr. James Wright

On some Sunday’s it’s a big decision what to preach. Today we have two great readings, so today’s sermon has two texts. That doesn’t mean it’s twice as long a sermon.

Movies on DVD sometimes have alternative endings. Lives can have alternative endings too. Depends on applying law or Gospel at right time.

What is law? What we should or should not do. God’s commands.
What is Gospel? What Christ has done for us, offering himself in payment for sins.

God’s law is good. It keeps world from destroying itself before the time God has appointed. All cultures have moral absolutes, like Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not cheat with someone’s spouse. Punishments from death to no punishment at all.

The law of God also has amazing ability to show our sin, if we let it. Sometimes we are hardened.

David was this way when he sinned with another man’s wife. He found out she was pregnant and tried to fool the husband to think the baby was his. He called him home from war, but he wouldn’t go to his house. Then, hard as David was, he had him killed rather than admit what he had done. To top it all off, acted like the benevolent king, taking the widow into his house.

Did David need to hear law or gospel? You decide.
When Nathan prophet comes, do you think it would do any good to tell David that God was going to send him a savior? He would have said, “I don’t need a savior, I’m the king of Israel. Why don’t you tell God to send a savior over to those Ammonites we’re fighting. They are gonna need God’s help when my army gets through with them!”

David needed the law. He was hardened to God. But Nathan had to be careful how to give it. Knows David was shepherd at heart, so tells story of poor man’s sheep. ..
David was enraged. “The person who did this deserves to die.” He did it when he took Uriah’s wife and had him killed.

The law worked. David was cut to the heart, said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” That’s a lot for a king to admit.

Nathan could then tell the Gospel, “The Lord has taken away your sin.”

Do you need to hear God’s law? What sins are you holding on to, thinking that God will over look them because you are a special case, too needy, or too accustomed to living with that sin that you can’t change? This is hardness. Be careful, or you may be headed for a strong dose of God’s law to work repentance in your heart and turn you from your sin.

II. Or how about the woman who anointed Jesus feet? The host was all but embarrassed that Jesus allowed her to touch him. Everybody knew she was a sinner. She knelt there, crying all over his feet, and drying them with her long hair, which should have been covered in the dress code of the day. Then she dumps this expensive perfume on him, right in front of everyone.

What does a person like her need to hear, Law or Gospel. You decide.

What would have happened if Jesus told her something like, “Hey, I’m uncomfortable with what you’re doing. What will people think if I let a woman like you touch me in this way? You need to go back home and try to live a better life. Then, after you’ve improved yourself, you can come back and we’ll discuss how you can serve me”?

This is law, which, no matter how we sugar coat it, says, “you aren’t good enough, you have sinned, and you are unworthy.” Now the difference between this woman and King David is that she already knows what a big sinner she is, and king David doesn’t.

King David needed to be turned from his sin, confess it to God, and ask forgiveness. He wasn’t there yet, so he received law. This woman is already aware of her sins, is sorry, and has come to be forgiven. What does she need? (gospel).

It’s like a kid who grows up poor. His chances are low just getting a job. He doesn’t think about going to college.

And there’s another young man who belongs to a wealthy family. They visit several colleges, and he expects his parents to pick up the bill at the most expensive..

Imagine how surprised the poor boy would be if someone paid for his college bills for him!! He would be so thankful. The rich boy merely expects it.

That’s what Jesus teaches the guests at the dinner with his story about the man who cancelled the debts. The one who was forgiven more loves more.

So what does he say to this woman? Pure Gospel! “Your sins are forgiven.” The guests are surprised he would say this, for only God forgives sins. That reveals to us who Jesus really is. Only he can forgive sins, because only he is really God in human form.

Only Jesus lived a perfect life. Only Jesus offered that perfect life for your sinful one. Only Jesus can say, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give your rest.”
Only Jesus died and rose again, showing himself to the world as a living miracle, so you can be sure your sins are covered by his blood and removed far away from you.
Only Jesus can speak to you today through his ministers, so that when you confess from the heart that you are truly “a poor miserable sinner, confessing all your sins and iniquities, deserving temporal and eternal punishment” the pastor speaks for Jesus and says, like Nathan did to King David, “In the stead and by the command of My Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins, . …”
Only Jesus . . .

Law or Gospel. What do you need to hear? That depends on the condition of your heart. If you think you are living such a good life that God owes you something, you need to hear the law.

If you think that you are far below the level of God’s expectations, and that he has every right to deny any good to you, then you need to hear the Gospel of God’s love and forgiveness for Jesus’ sake.

Knowing when to apply the Law and the Gospel one of the most important things about caring for the spiritual needs of others. Jesus shows us it doesn’t follow popular opinion, but makes all the difference in caring for souls. It provides an alternative ending for those who take it to heart.


June 17th, 2007

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