Justifying the Unjustifiable
St. Luke, Evangelist
18 October 2017
God hardly needs our vindication. We are the lesser. He is the greater. We are blessed by Him, not He by us (Heb 7:7). Neither does He need to be justified by us. What judge cares a fig for the vindication of the prisoner in the dock? The judge represents the law that grinds inexorably toward a verdict, no matter the views of the accused about the worth of the judge on the bench. A judge concerned about the good opinion of the criminal would be a worthless servant of the law. In fact, no one should ever seek the good opinion of a bad person. God does not need our good opinion.
Yet God does exactly that. He solicits the good opinion of wicked people. But He does not do it because He craves their vindication but because in Christ He has vindicated us. Evil people like us, who can, and should, confess their depravity in the sight of God, are judged by God. How frightening that is; to know that we stand ever under the judging perception of the ever-righteous God. But His judgment is unlike the judge of the earthly court, who is merely a servant of the law. The eternal judge is the author of the law, not merely its servant. His law is His creature; made by Him to serve those whom He created to live under it. He knows best how to avert its penalties from over us.
In His grace, He has determined to rescue from its ravening jaws us poor sinners in the dock. He has placed another Man in the dock to face the judgment and penalty we ought to have suffered. He has replaced those bad people who ought to have suffered with the only One who ought never to have suffered. He suffered for the wicked (Rm 4:5).
When I ask myself how and why the heavenly Judge should send His Son to suffer for me, I cannot account for it. What about me or in me, makes me worthy of such grace? How have I merited such an act on God's part? Which of my shining, unquestionable virtues has convinced my God that I ought to be redeemed by the bloody death of His spotless Son? None. Such an idea is laughable; worthy only of mockery. He vindicates me not for my sake, but for His. This is what grace is. Grace never calculates the value of those for whom it acts or the cost of acting. Our heavenly Father is never totting up our virtues like an Aristotelian shopkeeper keeping accounts. Grace always acts decisively for its own sake. "Love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be." In this sense, Aristotle for all his wisdom is proven a fool. Virtue is God's, not ours. For grace that is earned is not grace. It is not, well, gratuitous, but merited; and therefore, not grace at all. Before God Aristotle must be silent, just like the rest of us (Rm 3:19).
God speaks and, instead of judgment, His speech brings vindication. Bad people are spoken good. By the Sayer-into-being they are said to be what they could never be. Speak, Lord, Your servant hears. Then there can be nothing but justice, which comes from the One who speaks. This speaking comes not "out of the blue" but through the Scripture, which is the Word of God. Then that saying into being which has said us into good is now on our lips, so that we too may say into good those who, like us, need divine vindication. In this way, we finally justify God, that is, that we have the courage to say what He has said and to say it as graciously as He has. Then sinners will be vindicated and return to God. We justify the One who needs no justification.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"'Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment' (Ps 51:4). What is this? Can God not be justified unless we are sinners? Or who will judge God? It is obvious that God in Himself and in His nature is not judged or justified by anyone. He is the eternal, constant, essential, and never-changing justice itself and the supreme Judge of all things. But in His words and works He is constantly resisted, opposed, judged, and condemned by self-righteous and self-satisfied men. There is a constant legal war between Him and them over His words and works. To say that you are justified in your words is, therefore, the same as saying that your words are justified and found and acknowledged to be true. Now here we cannot list all the words that are subject to the contradiction of the proud. We shall put them all in one heap and say: All Scripture and the Word of God point to the suffering of Christ, as He Himself declares in the last chapter of Luke (24:46-47) that Scripture contains nothing else than the promised grace and forgiveness of sin through the suffering of Christ, that whoever believes in Him, and none other, shall be saved. This truth and Christ's suffering and faith are resisted by all those who refuse to be sinners, especially those who have just begun to live. They do not want to admit that they are sinners, and they do not long for Christ, although God has promised in all His words that Christ should die because of sin. Therefore anyone who will not consider himself, or be considered, a sinner, tries to make God a liar and himself the truth.
"This is the most grievous sin and idolatry of all idolatries. Therefore, the apostle John says: 'If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us' (1Jn 1:8). 'If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us' (1Jn 1:10). The prophet is saying this passage: 'In order that this terrible sin of pride may not infect me, I confess that I am a sinner before You and do no good, so that You might remain in truth and prevail, and also overcome all who contend against You, justify themselves, and judge You in Your words.' For in the end God will prevail and gain the victory, either here by His goodness or hereafter by His severity. It will do no good to be justified before men or in our own eyes. We must ignore this and wait with fear to learn what God thinks about it."

Martin Luther, The Seven Penitential Psalms, 51.4
Luke 4:14-21
And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
         He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (ESV)
Almighty God, who inspired Your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of Your Son, graciously continue in Your church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the gift of holy marriage, that those who are in it might ever thank God for the gifts of home and family

For Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman and his family, who have arrived safely in Houston, that the Lord of the church would give them strength and joy as they settle into a new parish and comminity
For all those who are engaged in commerce, that they might serve those who use their skills, ideas, and products and that God would prosper their hands
For all the shut-ins of Memorial Lutheran Church: Lois Vaughn, Ed and Cathy Jutzi, Carl and Gladys Ferm, Anita Markwardt, Rita Baker, Marie Hoyer, Lucille Herter, Millie Johnston, Helen Weaver, and Joyce Burrows, that they would spend their days as obedient children of the heavenly Father living by His Word and assailing the throne of His grace with prayer
Art: VERONESE, Paolo  St. Luke  (1555)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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