A Year of Law & Gospel Preaching:
Postil of Sermons on the One-Year Lectionary
by Rev. Rolf Preus
Being called to write this foreword is among the highest honors of my life. The call came to me because I am a parishioner of Pastor Preus. The Holy Spirit preaches Law and Gospel to me by means of the mind and voice of my pastor. I have heard his preaching within the texture of the historic liturgy and in combination with the Sacraments. Pastor Preus’ lips move, his tongue articulates, his lungs exhale, and his vocal cords vibrate. My eardrums resonate with the sonic airwaves. Yet, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks the Word of the Living God and gives me ears to hear.
Why is preaching a big deal? Why do sermons matter? Why produce a postil of them? Why pay good, hard-earned money for a postil and then spend time and thought reading it?
What kind of preaching is best? Why a whole book of Law and Gospel sermons?
Why a postil of sermons by Pastor Rolf David Preus?
Preaching is a big deal because God himself made it so.
“John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” (Mark 1:4) What just happened? Here is what: the chief elements of Christian ministry, which God instituted so that we may obtain faith.
Note especially these words in that text: preaching, sins, remission, baptizing, baptism, and repentance. From these words, we see that through John, God used Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel. John preached. Preaching proclaims the Word. He preached the Law. That is what proclaimed sinners guilty of sin. He preached the Gospel. That is what proclaimed remission of sins and a baptism of repentance. He came baptizing. There had been baptisms before, but this baptism was sacramental because it was for the remission of sins.
This ministry of Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel is necessary so that we may obtain faith.
So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. (Augsburg Confession, Article V)
When John had closed the Old Testament and prepared the way of the Lord, then the Lord Himself came, and what did He do? Jesus preached.
“From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:17) “He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.’” (Mark 1:38) “He said to them, ‘I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.’” (Luke 4:43)
Jesus was sent to preach. He came forth to preach. After beginning to preach, he went to the next towns to preach, and he went to the other cities to preach.
When He had preached for a time, Jesus then “appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14) “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: … ‘As you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”’” (Matthew 10:5, 7) Jesus commanded them, “What you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27)
Once He had trained and sent out the Twelve to preach, what did Jesus do? Did He retire or move on to some other ministry? No, He kept preaching. “When Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples … He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.” (Matthew 11:1)
How important is preaching? “Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:59-60) Any devout, catechized Jewish man would have heard quite a clash between that and the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” That is a measure of the importance of preaching.
Following his resurrection, Jesus ratified his ordination of the Apostles in Word and Sacrament ministry. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’” (Mark 16:15) Let the dead bury the dead, but you go preach the Gospel, because whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned. That is the importance of preaching.
So the Apostles preached. “Daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:42) By the work of the Holy Spirit through all the Apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11), “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)
We take preaching for granted, but consider that sometimes and some places the Word and preaching are not sent. “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in [the Roman province of] Asia.” (Acts 16:6) But you are holding a year of Law and Gospel preaching in your hands.
The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of rightly dividing God’s Word and properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles. We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other, or a law be made out of the Gospel. When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely. For by the Gospel they can support themselves in their most difficult trials against the Law’s terrors. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V)
Paul instructed Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Law and Gospel preaching is the best kind because it rightly divides the Word of truth. Law and Gospel preaching delivers Christ, his merits, and the redemption we have in Jesus.
With all the preachers in the Preus family, it might surprise you to learn that Pastor Preus had not always planned to become a preacher. He quit college and didn’t know what he wanted to do. For what would have been his spring quarter in 1974, he took a job as a bellhop at an inn and lodge. In that job, he had time to read. He read Sherlock Holmes and a copy of Carl F.W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel that his father, Dr. Robert David Preus, had given him for Christmas in 1973. Reading that book changed Pastor Preus’ life. Seeing that “particularly brilliant light,” he thought, “That’s what I want to do. I want to preach Law and Gospel.”
So preaching is important, it is important because God Himself made it so, Law and Gospel preaching is the best kind, and this volume contains some of the best contemporary Law and Gospel preaching you can find. Pastor Preus has immense theological capacity, but he has a pastor’s heart from which he preaches simply and directly. You will find him frequently pausing to give a simple definition of an important theological word. Ever after, you will have a clear grip on the important truth conveyed by that word.
Pastor Preus does not preach in long sentences with lots of punctuation and dependent clauses. He breaks things into bite-sized pieces. But the simplicity never makes the message trite. It always is weighty. The simplicity serves not to dumb down the message, but to direct its appeal to the heart and conscience. Simplicity is his tool of soul care, that we may “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help.” (Hebrews 4:16)
We traced the Word and Sacrament, Law and Gospel ministry from John through Jesus through the Twelve and through the Acts of the Apostles. These sermons of Pastor Preus stand in continuity and succession to their ministries. These sermons succeed to the Christ-ordained ministry of the Apostles. This is true apostolic succession, that Word and Sacrament ministry continues the apostolic doctrine and practice.
Hear the Word of God afresh in this postil, this year of Law and Gospel preaching by Pastor Rolf David Preus.
T. R. Halvorson
Feast of Cyprian of Carthage, Pastor and Martyr, 2017
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