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"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married," says the LORD. "Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.


"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the LORD, your Redeemer. "This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (ESV)

The Presumption of Innocence

Wednesday of Pentecost 16 

1 October 2014

How easily we worry that we are not doing enough to merit our salvation and be pleasing to God. The law cries out against our spiritual laziness. It echoes in our ears again and again. We feel guilty as though prisoners in the dock. In a study of the Canadian criminal justice system, researchers found that juries presumed the accused to be guilty. Why? They assumed that if the police arrested the person and the Queen's Counsel brought the accused to trial that he or she must be guilty. Even though Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the presumption of innocence, the accusation alone was enough for juries to presume guilt. This is one of the fundamental powers of the law, even in the religious sphere: it accuses us and leads us to presume our own guilt. Of course, religiously speaking it is right in its verdict against us. But that is not the last Word from God.


There is another and entirely different Word of which worldly justice knows nothing: the gospel. The divine proclamation that our sins are not being held against us has been delivered by the prophets and the apostles. This message proclaims what has been merited by Christ, whose all sufficient suffering and death liberates us from the law and its penalty: death.


The gospel is about Christ's work and our listening. It is not our work and must never become our work. For it will be a failure if it becomes our labor and effort. The very gospel demands a quiet spirit in faith. It receives. It does not do. Those who believe are held by God in the arms of His mercy. They do not hold God, for who could do such a thing? As Christians we benefit from a presumption of innocence. But it is a presumption that is above and beyond the law. The gospel acquits us through the merit of Christ. He has taken the penalty in our place.


Martin Luther

"Therefore no matter how terrified the Christian is by the law pointing out his sin, he does not despair; because he believes in Christ, into whom he has been baptized and in whose cleansing blood he has the forgiveness of sins. Now if sin has been forgiven to us through Christ, who is the Lord of the law (and forgiven by His having given Himself for it) the law, that slave, no longer has a right to accuse and condemn us on account of sin; for this has been forgiven to us, and we have been liberated by the Son's liberation. Therefore the entire law has been abrogated for believers in Christ.


"But you say, 'I am not doing anything!' Here you do nothing, because you are free from the tyranny of the law. Instead, listen to this joyful message, which the Spirit offers you through the prophet: 'Sing, O barren one, who did not bear' (Is 54:1)! It is as though He were saying: 'Why are you so sorrowful when you have no reason to be grieved?' 'But I am barren and desolate, etc.' 'No matter how much you might be that way; having no righteousness on the basis of law, Christ is still your righteousness. By becoming a curse for YOU, He redeemed you from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13). If you believe in Him, for you the law is dead. As much as Christ is greater than the law, that much better is the righteousness you have than the righteousness of the law. Moreover, you are prolific, and not barren, because you have more sons than she who has been married.'"


Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.27

Lord Christ, You have merited our righteousness in the face of the law, so that we now stand before the divine tribunal acquitted. Help us not to retreat back into the law for holiness in Your presence. Keep us from doing, that the gospel might give our entire righteousness. Amen.


For Chaplain Donald Ehrke (Maj. US Army), that he would kept under the care of his heavenly Father


For the Clay family, who are grieving their losses, that they might give over their suffering to the God who suffers in His Son


For all pregnant mothers, that they would be kept in the loving arms of their Creator and that their children would be brought into world where there is love and compassion
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

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