In Seminary my worship professor, The Rev. Dr. Mons Teig told of a homiletics professor he once heard giving a lecture to his students in the seminary. This professor was a Scottish Presbyterian and in his brogue he asked his students, "Why do we preach the gospel?" This being a thought provoking and seemingly simple question brought many good answers from these budding theologians with responses like, "To tell about Jesus Christ!" or "To bring people to faith!" and the like. Each response was true and expected, but after a time the professor in his deep brogue answered, "We preach the Gospel to bring the dead back to life!"
It seems like a simple answer but it is profound how often we would miss that simple principle, that though we may be alive in the world outside of Christ we are dead in our sin and transgression. Anyone who has attended church regularly or read their Bible would understand that "the wages of sin are death" and "we all fall short and sin," these are common preaching themes that I know I heard often in my life growing up, yet we often miss this in the practice of our faith.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is life-giving, it renews us daily. Or at least it should. Sometimes it can be treated like a hum-drum thing by both pastors and parishioners alike. It's unfortunate when this happens with the amazing miracle we have received in Jesus Christ. We don't often think or even ponder how the life-giving Word of God is at work upon our souls. The miracle of Jesus Christ isn't that he came to make us feel good or to tell us we are OK, but to reach us in our brokenness and return us to right-ness with God.
Jesus, with a word, brings us back to life.
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:32–44, ESV)
The reality is that in this we find the fullness of Christ's compassion for the people. Lazarus was dead physically, but outside of Christ we are dead spiritually and if we should die physically while spiritually dead than our death is most certainly eternal. When we are awakened in the spirit by the calling of the Holy Spirit we hear the voice of our Lord calling us out into the world. It is a glorious calling which we receive as we have been given something glorious to share. It's not a wagging finger that people often associate with those who call themselves "Christian" but the warm embrace of our Lord who desires to loose us from those bonds of sin that keep us from the warm bond of our loving Father in Heaven.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to discipleship and apostleship which simply means that we sit and learn from our Lord as we read his Word, we pray, and we worship with one another receiving the glorious gifts given to us in the Sacraments as we come together each Sunday and are reminded of our gift in baptism and receive our Lord's body and blood, with that we are reassured in the forgiveness that we have received and continue to receive and then in our calling out into the world to share with them what has happened. Disciples are simply students and Apostles are the messengers bearing the message of our teacher, Jesus Christ. When we walk out into the world we don't walk out alone, but with the Holy Spirit who is always offering us guidance and reveals to us our Lord.
So, the gospel is not meant to be a reiteration of the law that binds us down, but a glorious reminder that when we know we can not do anything to make us good we receive the promise of our Lord's renewal. Sometimes we forget this, we mix up the Law and the Gospel. We fill the Gospel with reminders of our dead self and we tell ourselves and others all the things that we must do and we miss out on that clear call of our Lord. Lazarus didn't make himself alive, but it was in the spoken Word that he was brought back to life. As we speak the Word out, we offer the promise, the hope, and the new life that Jesus Christ brings. It's not based upon our own righteousness, but in the righteousness of God washing over us. Oh, how I love that Word. That saving Word that speaks to the depth of my own broken soul and binds the wounds of my sin giving me new life.
Let the Word speak life into you, hear the Shepherd speak, and know that you are being made new! In this Word your heart and your mind will be renewed and you will know the fullness of life. Remember that God loves you, you are precious, you are His. That is the life giving promise. Peace to you.