IN NOMINE JESU
The blessed apostle St. Paul might not survive as a student at one of our seminaries today, had he been alive today. The student is required to undergo a battery of psychological tests to determine his "fit-ness" for the ministry. These tests have nothing to do with whether the candidate is fit for the Office theologically, but that is another matter. If someone qualified and competent in the field of psychology would have had the opportunity to take a look at Paul's psychological profile, especially in light of our text, he might determine that Paul was very conflicted and suffered from low self-esteem—remember, Paul called himself a wretched man. We would say today that Paul "has issues." But we are not here today—or any day, for that matter—to explore the world of psychology…thanks be to God! We are here to hear the Gospel. We are here to receive the gifts our Lord offers us through Word and Sacrament. We are here to receive the forgiveness of sins, which we have done already and will do again in a few moments when we will receive the body and blood of the Lord.
But for us to fully appreciate what the Lord gives in His Gospel, we must first appreciate what He says to us in His Law. Our text is full of Law, especially as we note Paul's struggles and conflicts. Paul begins our text with these words: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (v. 14). The Law is from God, and God is spirit. We are not spiritual beings, as are angels. We are carnal beings, people of flesh and bones. The angels, those who are spiritual, tend to spiritual matters, those things that are of God, and they do His bidding. We are carnal; that is, we tend to the desires of the flesh, the things that satisfy us. When we combine our "carnal-ness" with our being sold under sin, the picture does not look good for us. When Paul speaks of being "sold under sin," he is confessing that he is a slave to sin, for slaves are sold. He is describing not only his own condition, but the condition of the entire human race. He is describing our condition; we are slaves to sin. Sin is our doing what God forbids and our not doing what He requires. This is the tension, the conflict, which exists within us, for we are baptized into Christ, yet we do not carry out His will. "For what I am doing, I do not understand" (v. 15a), Paul writes, for he too struggled with this battle within him: the Old Adam against the new man.
"For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (v. 15b). As one redeemed at the foot of the cross, Paul wanted to do the will of God, but he did not do it as he thought he ought. The things deemed sinful—he did. But in doing the sinful things, he admits they are sinful because the Law has been revealed to him, and the Lord has revealed to him what is sinful: the things Paul confesses to keep doing. The Law has been revealed to us as well. We have been taught the Ten Commandments. We know what is holy and what is sinful. Paul himself says in last week's text: "I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet'" (v. 7b). For us to know the Law, it must be revealed to us; we must learn it. We are not born with a moral compass that points us to the way to salvation. We are lost and condemned creatures. We are inherently evil, in need of forgiveness, and in need of direction. We did not know of worshiping other gods, taking the Lord's Name in vain, rejecting the Sabbath day, dishonoring our fathers and mothers, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness, and covetousness until we were taught the Ten Commandments. When we recognize that what we are doing is sin, we know that the Law is good, for God has told us what sin is. So when we sin, we are not alone in committing it; sin, our master, dwells in us and leads us into temptation, false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. But we remain in this battle against sin and will until we die, "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish," as Paul also writes (Gal. 5:17).
In Baptism we have been washed, but under the Law we continue to make ourselves dirty. We deserve to have dirt thrown on top of us as our bodies will lie in caskets that will have been lowered six feet into the earth, for we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We cry out with Paul and confess, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (v. 24) Paul answers his own question in the following verse: "I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (v. 25a) Yes, we get to thank God for delivering us from this body of death to the promise of life everlasting. God knows that we daily struggle with sin and that we are in need of deliverance from sin and death. For this reason He sent His only-begotten Son into this world. Christ was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The crafty accuser even quoted Scripture, twisting it in the false hope that the Lord would submit to him. Each time Satan tempted Him, the Lord fired back with the Word of God. Thus what is written in the Letter to the Hebrews is true: "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15), and again: "For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). How does our Lord aid us who are being tempted? He gives us the answer in the Holy Gospel appointed for today: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Mt. 11:28-30). And the Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to also write: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor. 10:13). The Spirit caused also St. Peter to write: "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:6-7). This is a beautiful place to be, "under the mighty hand of God," or, as the Psalmist says in our Introit, "under the shadow of the Almighty" (Ps. 91:1b), for there He will guard and protect us from the daily assaults of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Where is this shadow? It is found at the base of Calvary's holy mountain: under the shadow of the cross, where the Lord became the wretched Man in your place!
There, under the shadow of the cross, does the blood the Lord shed falls upon us, and this blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. His blood covers our sins, so that our heavenly Father would look at us and see not us sinners but His Son's blood, which makes us sinner-saints. It is this very blood that your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ desires to give you this day, along with the very body He gave on the cross, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. So, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation" (Zech. 9:9a), and He brings you His salvation at His Table, where He now bids you to come and receive the gifts, that you would live in the forgiveness of the risen Christ here on earth and in His glory in heaven into eternity—thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen. "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:7). Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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