Thank God for the Gospel! As we celebrate this day of Thanksgiving, it is meet, right, and salutary to give thanks to God for the Gospel. You’re probably thinking, Of course! I know that, preacher! Let’s get on with it, tell me something I don’t already know. Fair enough. But what did you expect to hear from a preacher of the Gospel on Thanksgiving Day? Don’t be thankful for the Gospel? Of course not! So now that you know you’re going to get another routine Thanksgiving sermon, you can safely go back to letting your minds wander of doing whatever you usually do during sermons. Right?
In fact, God’s Word teaches that you are not always thankful for the Gospel. Far too often, you have been ashamed of it. Surely you don’t want to be ashamed of the Gospel, but you nevertheless have been. If you really think about it, it’s just not rational. Now that doesn’t mean you need to check your brain at the door when you come to church, but at the heart of the Gospel lie some things that lie totally outside of your daily experience.
Nobody has to be ashamed of a common, speculative belief in God.In God we trust. That sounds okay, and short of the militant atheist, nobody’s going to have a problem with something like that. Heck, we can even put words like that on our money or in our pledge! It can even be kind of fun to speculate about this divine being we call “god.” Makes for interesting conversation. But that’s not the Gospel.
The God we confess is Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, not some generic god from the holy scriptures of moralistic deism, which pays lip service to “one nation under god”, but endorses all sorts of gross sin like the murder of the unborn and same sex marriage; neglecting to care for the weak and a Victoria’s Secret culture that glorifies sexual impurity.
Our culture rejects the Gospel and far too often, Christians have followed suit. As our culture attempts to redefine sin, it becomes more and more unpopular to speak out against it. This is to be ashamed of the Gospel. On the other hand, there may be those times when you’ve spoken out against sin, but failed to remain compassionate. We do not delight in beating people up with God’s Law, we speak the Law in its full sternness because like God, we desire the salvation of our neighbor. To water down the Law or to delight in crushing others by it is to ultimately to be ashamed of the Gospel.
The Gospel is not logical.That God would send Jesus to die on the cross for our sins is something that we could not have been able to imagine. That God is just and doesn’t tolerate evil is logical enough. The Law is written on our hearts. But that He Himself suffers the death and hell you deserve, that isn’t something we could have known apart from divine revelation. And believing in divine revelation isn’t all that popular these days, at least when it comes to the Christian Scriptures. Paganism’s fashionable enough, but if you believe in Christian revelation, people think you’re living in the dark ages. If you seek divine guidance from crystal balls or tarot cards, you’re considered modern. If you look to God’s Word, you’re an idiot. What’s wrong with this picture?
The Law is written on your heart; the Gospel is not. But even the reflection of our sin in the mirror of the Law is not quite as clear as it should be.God’s Word teaches that even your “small”, everyday sins are so severe as to completely separate you from God. Anger with another, in God’s eyes, is as bad as murder. Lust is adultery. Your only way back to God is through sacrifice, but there’s no sacrifice perfect enough that you could make to atone for your sin.
But Jesus can, and He has. As it is written:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1Pe 3:18).
You couldn’t offer a perfect enough sacrifice, but Jesus has. Again, as it is written:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb 9:24-28).
To delight in the Gospel does not come naturally. It’s a gift of God through the Holy Spirit. It’s something that comes from abiding in God’s Word and Sacraments. To delight in the Gospel is to pray the catechism daily, to know it inside and out, not for the sake of getting confirmed, but because, as the years go by, we want to Gospel to become such a part of us that it constantly fills our being and controls our thoughts and deeds.
Make no mistake about it, you are controlled by something, you lack free will. Convincing Christians that we have free will is just about the biggest joke Satan has played on the church today. Those who commit sin are a slave to sin (John 8:34). But to be a slave to righteousness, to be a slave to Christ is a blessed slavery indeed. To let God’s Word dwell in you richly, to memorize hymns and the catechism is to let relinquish control of your thoughts to God’s Word. It’s to live under Christ in His kingdom, to let God’s Word inform your life.
The Gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). You need not be ashamed of the Gospel. What the Church needs today is not to become more acceptable by preaching good morals or by adapting itself to society by looking and sounding less like church and more like a place for entertainment.
What the Church needs, and what you need, is Jesus: to delight in the Gospel, to be faithful in hearing God’s Word and in devotions at home, to live in daily contrition and repentance when the Law strikes at your own failings, to remain willing to bow before the Sprit’s chastisement and ask both God and man for forgiveness, and to constantly cling to Christ. This is what it means to not be ashamed of the Gospel. Jesus is not ashamed of you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Adapted from Bo Giertz, “Ordination sermon for December 20, 1960: The Gospel, the Power of God” (from Then Fell the Lord’s Fire: New Life in Ministry, tr. Bror Erickson. Saginaw: Magdeburg Press, 2012; 56-59).