Wednesday after Pentecost
7 June 2017
Christian freedom is based on Christ's victory over death. Often we think our freedom depends on ourselves, as though "I make myself free." Human autonomy claims within itself unfettered freedom to be whatever it desires. But such a claim to autonomy has not the power of its own execution. The human will is deeply enmeshed in death and sin and cannot extricate itself from them. The law's verdict against us is true and faithful, because in my flesh dwells no good thing (Rm 7:18). There is no point in denying our weakness and powerlessness. The claim to spiritual power apart from God is foolish and absurd. As we say in Texas, "that dog just won't hunt." Our freedom cannot be based on ourselves. Autonomy isn't all its cracked up to be. Despite all the claims to freedom made by the autonomous person, no one is ever free of death. Foolish is the claim to freedom, when death stalks, roaming free to devour humans. The graveyards silently witness to this imperious limit to freedom. In the end, only death remains free in the world.
Our Christian freedom comes from elsewhere. Since our spiritual weakness is a fact, we ought to own up to it. This is only a problem if there is no possibility of mitigation or amelioration. When a prisoner is in the dock for murder there are no options open. He is either counted guilty and imprisoned or judged innocent and set free. An admission of guilt will simplify the judicial process, but only by removing the possibility of freedom. The guilty then will not confess while clinging to some hope of freedom.
We often act this way in the presence of God the judge, as though by excusing ourselves, presenting mitigating circumstances, or hoping for a judicial error, we might be acquitted. Such an attitude makes a wreck of the first commandment. This attitude forgets who God is. A god who can be kept ignorant by us is not God. There is no hope of acquittal on our own deserving. We cannot make ourselves free.
True freedom comes only because the limit of death has been breached by the Son of God for us poor sinners. We now can stand in the dock before God confessing our sinful weakness, and our powerlessness in the face of death. There can be no fear to say our sin is full and complete when we have a God who in Christ took it and bore all that we owe to God His Father. He destroyed our sin through His atoning sacrifice and smashed death to smithereens. Cheerfully, even joyfully we may say, "Yes, a thousand times yes, I am a sinner. I own it fully. The wage is death. Die I shall. But I have a God who takes my sin away and defeats my death. Though death shall swallow me, it cannot hold me. It will spit me out upon the coasts of heaven, as God rescued Jonah from the belly of the great fish" (Jonah 1:17-2:10). Freed from the fear of death, we are free to confess our sins directly and without fear. Christ has taken them all. Here no presenting mitigating circumstances or hoping for a judicial error is ever necessary. Christ has paid the price. Christ has defeated death. That is true freedom.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Christ has stepped into our place, and on our behalf He has let the law, sin, and death pounce on Him. He has not only removed these from us, but He has also completely defeated them and cast them at His feet. Now they are overcome for us and no longer have any right to or power over us. In that way, we have a complete victory in Christ, now spiritually by faith but later also physically and visibly.
"Now a Christian must learn to apprehend this and to avail himself of it when the battle is joined and the law attacks him and tries to accuse him, when sin wants to slay him and thrust him into the jaws of hell, and when his own conscience tells him: 'You have done this, and you have done that; you are a sinner and are deserving of death, etc.' Then the Christian should answer confidently: 'It is unfortunately true that I am a sinner and that I have surely deserved death. So far you are correct. But still you shall not condemn and kill me. Another, who is named my Lord Christ, shall stay your hand. You accused and you murdered Him innocently. But do you remember how you vainly dashed full tilt against Him and burned yourself and thereby forfeited all your rights to me and to all Christians? For He both bore and overcame sin and death not for Himself but for me. Therefore I concede you no rightful accusation against me. I can, rather, justly assert my rights against you for trying to attack me without cause and despite the fact that you were already condemned and overcome by Him, which deprived you of any right to assail and accuse me. And although you may now attack and devour me according to the flesh, you shall not accomplish or gain anything by this. You must eat your own sting and choke to death on it. For I am no longer the man you are looking for; I am no longer a child of man, but a child of God, for I am baptized in His blood and on His victory, and I am vested with all His possessions.'
"You see, in this way Christians must fortify themselves with this victory of Christ. With it they must repel the devil. They must not give way to him in a dispute, but say: 'How dare you accuse and harass a Christian? Do you not know who my Lord is and what He is able to do?' For anyone who can do it, there is nothing better than to deride and defy the devil and say cheerfully: 'If you want to be a villain, go ahead, but take heed and do not bother me! Do not expect any thanks for this either.' If you are so eager to sting and to strike, go up to Him who is seated above and do battle with Him. If you have any designs on me, lodge your accusation there, before your Judge and mine, and let us see what you will accomplish.' But he does not want to go there, for he is well aware that he has lost out there and that he is already sentenced and slain by Him. Therefore he avoids going there as he avoids the cross.
"Nor does he go to the impudent, wild, and coarse people who are unconcerned about sin and death, for he already owns these people. No, he wants to attack only us who seek Christ and who desire to be rid of sin and death. He is intent on tearing Christ from our heart and on frightening and oppressing us with sin and death, so that we might despair and surrender to him completely. Therefore we must again rebuff him and point him to the victory which is ours in Christ. In that way we must embrace Christ and hold to Him, so that the devil cannot approach us; for he knows very well that he is unable to accomplish anything if we but cling steadily and firmly to this by faith."

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 56-57

Jonah 1:17-2:10

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.' The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!" And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You have limited death's power by suffering it in yourself and breaking its cruel tyranny. Help us to live in the freedom that You have earned. Bind us to what You give, while we confess our sin and weakness. Amen.
For all those suffering from depression, that they would take courage in the freedom that God gives and that they would receive the correct therapies from caring health professionals
For those who are vacationing, that they would rest and be rejuvenated
For all those who will avoid the gathering together of Christians this Sunday, that they might hear of the life of Christ and be converted to the true freedom that exists in Him
Art: DYCK, Sir Anthony van Pentecost (1618-20)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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