God's Chief Works
Friday of Pentecost 21
3 November 2017
When God's law causes true contrition, Christians need not "expect the other shoe to drop." The Christian can experience no greater suffering than the terror that oppresses his conscience under the judging law of God, who is a consuming fire. How could mere physical chastening ever compare to the threat of divine judgment against us sinners? Perhaps you remember suffering corporal punishment from a beloved parent. If you are like me, I suffered much more because of the shame and grief I felt when I became aware that I had disappointed my parents than when I suffered the corporal punishment. Respect for their honor and the evident cost of their love for me struck me harder than the willow switch. Recognition that our sin is an affront to God's honor and His costly love is a much greater blow than mere trouble or physical suffering. We don't want to disappoint our heavenly Father. Some years ago, a man, who was being divorced by his wife, told me he grieved most over it when he thought of his deceased father. He lamented quietly, "I have dishonored my father's memory." How he suffered under the weight of his father's high, yet decent, moral standard.
True contrition brings that kind of suffering into our lives. King David felt this contrition, crying out to God, "A gainst you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Ps 51:4). David was not claiming that he had not sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, or the laws of Israel, but he was sure that the moral universe collapsed to a single point in which he stood accused before God. How terrifying to stand before God with no one else present. No mitigations are possible and there is no one else to blame. The law works the same way for us as it did for David. The law works its just way in our wicked hearts not when we feel "yelled at" by God, but rather when we feel the full weight of disappointing God and failing to fulfill the potential with which He created us. We don't want to dishonor our Father. This is the first chief work of the God who is among us.
That same God also justifies those who have been condemned by His law. This is the work of the gospel and the central teaching of the Bible. The gospel is nothing other than Christ and his work being laid before us sinners in preaching. King David heard the absolution of the preacher, Nathan, "The Lord has put away your sin" (2Sa 12:13). What? Is absolution that easy? We think David ought to suffer something more for what he had done. We expect the other shoe to drop. But what would the "something more" be? What greater suffering could he have experienced than to be a naked sinner facing the holy God? We are offended that God lets David off so easily, by just forgiving him. How extravagant is the love of God that absolves the sinner and writes the cost against His only Son.
No, God will have no part of payments from us. Contrition only prepares us to hear in faith the pronouncement of the forgiveness of sins. The law prepares us for the final word of God, the gospel. In the gospel we must stand against the law's accusation. Our hope is in the mercy of God (Ps 51:1), not in the severity of the law's scourges. When God sets us in that mercy we stand no longer under the law's accusing voice. The gospel is God's second, last, and most important chief work among us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Apology of the Augsburg Confession

"God's two chief works among people are these: to terrify; to justify and make alive those who have been terrified. Into these two works all Scripture has been divided. The one part is the law; which shows, reproves, and condemns sins. The other part is the gospel, that is, the promise of grace bestowed in Christ. This promise is constantly repeated in the entire Scripture, first having been delivered to Adam: 'I will put enmity' (Gn 3:15), and afterward, to the patriarchs. Then, it was still more clearly proclaimed by the prophets. Lastly, it was preached and set forth among the Jewish people by Christ and then spread over the entire world by the apostles. All the saints were justified through faith in this promise, and not by their own attrition or contrition.
"These examples also showed these two parts. After his sin, Adam is rebuked and becomes terrified. This was contrition. Then, God promises grace and speaks of a future seed (the blessed seed, that is, Christ) by which the devil's kingdom, death, and sin will be destroyed (Gn 3:15). There He offers the forgiveness of sins. These are the chief things. For although the punishment is added afterward, it does not merit the forgiveness of sin. We will speak about this kind of punishment a little later.
"David is rebuked by Nathan in this way. Terrified, he says, 'I have sinned against the Lord' (2Sa 12:13). This is contrition. Afterward, he hears the absolution, 'The Lord also has put away your sins; you shall not die.' This voice encourages David, and through faith it sustains, justifies, and enlivens him. A punishment is also added, but this punishment does not merit the forgiveness of sins. Nor are special punishments always added. In repentance these two things always ought to exist, namely, contrition and faith, as in Luke 7. The woman, who was a sinner, came to Christ weeping. By these tears the contrition is recognized. Afterward, she hears the absolution, 'Your sins are forgiven. Your faith is saved you; go in peace' (Lk 7:48, 50). This is the second part of repentance, namely, faith that encourages and comforts her. For all these it is clear to godly readers that we assign to repentance those parts that properly belong to it in conversion, or the new birth, and the forgiveness of sin. Worthy fruit and punishments follow rebirth and the forgiveness of sin. For this reason we have mentioned these two parts so that the faith required in repentance might be seen better, and so that faith, which the gospel proclaims, can be better understood when it is contrasted with contrition and mortification (of the flesh)." 

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, 12.53-58
Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner." And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." And he answered, "Say it, Teacher."
"A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?" Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt." And he said to him, "You have judged rightly." Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little." And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this, who even forgives sins?" And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." (ESV)
Dear Christ, send us the gospel through Your Word, that we who have been crushed by the law might be forgiven for the sake of Your bloody death for sinners. Amen.

For all those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, that they might look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and a joyous reunion in heaven
For Chaplain Donald Ehrke as he serves the troops who serve their country, that God the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over him
For those who are despondent in the face of illness or aging, that God the Lord would send His Holy Spirit to them and encourage them with the certainty of their blood-bought value in His sight
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2017