Friday, April 22, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones can break one’s bones,
and words can crush one’s soul.

The old children’s chant:

Sticks and stones can break my bones,
but words can never hurt me!

is merely wishful thinking. In most cases a person says this as a retort, and then turns away to lick the wounds.

Words do hurt. Words do have power.

Words can be used to tear down or to build up.

This is true especially regarding matters of the spirit. The truth is sometimes said to hurt. But this is only true for those who know only one side of the truth. The full truth includes not only the painful side of our weakness and shortcomings, but also the beautiful grace of God’s love.

Lent and especially Holy Week present both sides in the fullness by which we are brought face to face with our sin and condemnation as well as God's gracious answer and healing.

The Lord Jesus bore both the sticks and stones as well as the crushing words that would come to us apart from His intervention. He bore them in our place so that there would remain no judgment whatsoever against us. The decree of justification for all was finalized with His resurrection from the dead.

Sadly, most people never receive this justification. They continue to seek to find ways of warding off the painful condemnation by means other than the ones that God has ordained. Thus, even though God has declared that in Christ all the world’s sin is redeemed, even though He has declared that all the world has been justified by Christ’s meritorious suffering and death, even though God raised Jesus from the dead to seal this declaration for all everlastingly, many will never receive what God has declared to be theirs. Instead of receiving that which is theirs in Christ, they will seek other sources of relief and justification. Thus, whether through lack of hearing or through refusal to believe this gracious Word of reconciliation, they remain outside of the kingdom of God, outside of the body of Christ, wherein this declaration of righteousness is stored up for all.

Some, who are zealous to protect the truth say that this declaration is not universal. They imagine that justification must be received in order for it to be real. They argue that because some do not receive it that they have not been declared righteous in Christ. Actually, in their rejection of this universal justification they generally omit the “in Christ” aspect of the declaration. They argue using Scriptures and other resources that speak to the matter of justification by faith as proof that God’s justification is not universal.

What this proves is that when one sets forth in haste the fullness of the truth is often ignored. For it is not possible to receive a declaration of righteousness unless it has already been declared. It is not possible to receive forgiveness or remission of sins until the forgiveness has been given.

Faith does not cause God to forgive. God’s forgiveness causes faith to be born in a person so that the person believes God’s forgiveness and no longer turns away from Him.

Every statement of Scripture that speaks of justification through faith is always written in the context of countering the false doctrine of justification by works of the individual. The Scriptures never speak so as to preclude universal objective justification. Those who argue this way always seek “proof texts” that have been divorced of the greater context of the entirety of the Scriptures.

For example in Luke 23:34 it is recorded that from the cross Jesus said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

Did the Father deny Jesus His request? More directly, was Jesus not God when He declared this? Is this not God making this declaration of forgiveness? Was this not made concerning those who refused even to acknowledge their sin, let alone to repent and believe?

Surely not all whom God declared to be forgiven received His forgiveness. But was not the forgiveness real nonetheless?

God’s forgiveness is not limited to those who believe or at some time will believe. His forgiveness is declared for all the world, for every God damned sinner who ever lived and ever will live. In Christ, God has pronounced His forgiveness to all. The problem is not with the scope of God’s forgiveness. The problem is with the hard hearts of those who will not receive His forgiveness as He has declared it.

This is the reason for the office of the keys. This is why Christ commands His disciples of all ages to carry out the double function of the ministry whereby those who hear the Gospel and are baptized into Christ are absolved and those who reject Christ are bound to their sin. But this pronouncement is nothing more than acknowledgment of what the Lord Jesus declares to Nicodemus in John 3, saying:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

Notice what the Holy Spirit makes certain that John recorded from this declaration. The condemnation of sinners does not originate with God but with sinners. God’s forgiveness is not time bound except from our perspective. When did God decide to give His Son for the world’s salvation? When did God give His Son for the salvation of sinners? Was He not already given with the creation of Man as male and female so that the Woman’s seed was already present in Genesis 3? When was the Lamb slain? According to Revelation 13:8 the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world!

God’s forgiveness is not lacking in any way whatsoever. He has not limited it by any measure. Peace on earth and goodwill toward mankind was announced with the birth of Jesus. The forgiveness has been pronounced. It has been given. The fact that most people will not receive it does not nullify the gift.

To say otherwise, to promulgate words that deny the universal objective justification that God has declared in Christ are the worst and most powerfully destructive words that can be used, for they can steal away the grace of God from those who would hear and believe what God has declared.

Some insist that the preaching of universal objective justification is preaching universalism. Such blindness comes from fear that the Gospel needs to be defended by the Church and her preachers. But the truth is that the Gospel is that which defends the Church and her preachers. For God’s declaration of forgiveness is in Christ. In Christ the world is declared to be righteous. It is the world’s refusal to be regenerated into the body of Christ that separates them from the forgiveness that God has declared to belong to all in Christ.

The Scriptures forbid the preaching of God’s forgiveness to no one. The Gospel declares that forgiveness in Christ is freely given to all. No one has to do anything whatsoever to receive it. In Ephesians 2 St. Paul plainly teaches that even faith is God's gift and work. And this faith has an object and that object is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. This sacrifice is universal, redeeming the sin of all the world. The sin debt of the world has been paid. In the resurrection God has declared this payment to be sufficient. God declares all sin to be forgiven in Christ.

Where is Christ given? He is given in the pure administration of the Gospel and Sacraments. So the question is not whether God has forgiven you, but whether you have been carried to where this forgiveness is. Don’t be cut off from Christ by your own unwillingness to believe God’s promise, nor by the hurtful words of others. God’s forgiveness is yours, in Christ. The Holy Spirit is calling you to be baptized into Christ where God’s forgiveness awaits you.

Do you seek forgiveness elsewhere? Do you stand longing to receive God’s grace? If so, for what do you wait? Christ is present to give you what your spirit craves. Hear His call to come and find the relief of your burdens. Be gathered unto Him. Then you will truly understand why this day is called Good Friday.

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