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Psalm 81


Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!  Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp.  Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day.  For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob. He made it a decree in Joseph when he went out over the land of Egypt. I hear a language I had not known: "I relieved your  shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.  "But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! I would soon subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes. Those who hate the LORD would cringe toward him, and their fate would last forever. But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." (ESV)

A Laughing Matter

Monday after Pentecost

9 June 2014

A young woman started to come to one of my Bible classes as a guest. The woman, invited by members of the congregation, had been brought up in a Baptist church tradition. The class was on the Formula of Concord, going through one article of the Formula every week. Some of this material is quite challenging to the person who is coming into a Lutheran context with very little background in confessional theology. She was deeply interested, first, because of the depth of the theology. There was none of the "lite-ness" that she despised from her experience. But she had an "ah-ha experience" when we spent some time in Article 3 of the Formula of Concord: "The Righteousness of Faith Before God." She was flabbergasted that confessional Lutheran theology was so simple, that it taught that all our righteousness in the presence of God was through Christ and was conferred through faith. She asked, incredulous: "Do you mean that Christianity is that easy?" Yup.


After the class was over she stayed around to hear me repeat the gospel to her, just so she was sure that she hadn't heard incorrectly. "Is that really all there is to it?" "Yes." Then she did something I had never seen before (or never noticed). She laughed. At first, I thought she was laughing because she considered it ridiculous that Christ is all our righteousness. But then I realized that she was laughing out of sheer relief; the exquisite joy of a heart now freed from the burden of the fear of sin and death. I suppose (pace Benny Hinn) that this was truly "holy laughter." She told me about the "fire and brimstone" preaching with which she was familiar that hammered away at sin, always condemning and guaranteeing eternal damnation to sinners like her. This bright young woman knew that she did not measure up to the standard of the law and she despaired of ever being saved. She stopped going to church, recognizing church attendance as a waste of time, just as an aspiring prize fighter, who finds out that he is never going to win a bout, quits boxing because he tires of having his brains beaten out. This weary young woman retired from the ring in which God's law was killing her, or so she thought. All she knew of God was His unwavering standard to which she could not aspire. She despaired.


But her heavenly Father did not want her to die in despair. God came in Christ born of the Virgin for her. He sought to save her from her lostness under the burden of the law. He bore that burden in His own person and took it away. The whole life and ministry of Christ, the incarnate Son, was to offer Himself to poor sinners in such a way that the lost would be saved. He takes our flesh and straps on our boxing gloves, steps into the ring, and after taking all the punishment that the law could dish out, delivered the knockout blow. The battle is over. The law has no power over us in God's presence according to the gospel and in justification. We are declared right in God's sight. Therefore, our freedom from the law is no laughing matter. Then again, maybe it is.


Martin Luther 


"If you permit the law to dominate in your conscience, then when the time comes for you to conquer sin and death in the sight of God, the law is nothing but the dregs of all evils, heresies, and blasphemies; for all it does is to increase sin, accuse, frighten, threaten with death, and disclose God as a wrathful Judge who damns sinners. If you are wise, therefore, you will put Moses, that lisper and stammerer, far away with his law; and you will not let his terrors and threats affect you in any way at all. Here he should be as suspect to you as an excommunicated and condemned heretic, worse than the pope and the devil, and therefore not to be listened to at all.


"Apart from the locus of justification, on the other hand, we, like Paul, should think reverently of the law. We should endow it with the highest praises and call it holy, righteous, good, spiritual, divine, etc. Apart from our conscience we should make a god of it; but in our conscience it is truly a devil, for in the slightest trial it cannot encourage or comfort the conscience but does the very opposite, frightening and saddening it and snatching from it confidence in righteousness, life, and everything good. This is why Paul calls the law 'weak and worthless elementary principles' later on (Gal 4:9). Therefore let us not permit it to dominate our conscience in any way, especially since it cost Christ so much to remove the tyranny of the law from the conscience. For this was why He became a curse for us, to redeem us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13). Therefore let the godly person learn that the law and Christ are mutually contradictory and altogether incompatible. When Christ is present, the law must not rule in any way but must retreat from the conscience and yield the bed to Christ alone, since this is too narrow to hold them both (Is 28:20). Let Him rule alone in righteousness, safety, happiness, and life, so that the conscience may happily fall asleep in Christ, without any awareness of law, sin, or death." 


Martin Luther, 
Lectures on Galatians, 4.3

Lord Christ, thank You for the joy You give those whom You have freed from the curse of the law. Help them to live in peace of the gospel all their days. Amen.


For the seminaries of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, that they might continue to build up the people of God by preparing faithful men for the office of the ministry


For clement weather, in thanksgiving to God for the gift of sunshine and pleasant temperatures


For parents struggling with childrearing, that they might grow in human wisdom as they lead their children both in the things of this world and into the things of the next
Art: DYCK, Anthony van  Pentecost (1618-1620) 

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