Full Text for Theological Accents In Lenten Preaching (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER December 1971 Volume 35, Number 3 Theological Accents In Lenten Preaching HI-lii- 15 .I GHE:IT DASGEII in preaching on the Lenten ston T th.lt thc llcnrcrs illerely look at the story and not through ii. There is 1i3\ of telling the stor\- so that a person can hear it with as nluch detnihmcnt as hc does' an Alfred Hitchcock movie. His cmotions rise uhcn he hears about the treachery of the chief priests :~nd scril>c.s. He is tlisappoilltccl in the disciples; the)? should have bccn nlntlC of sterrlcr stuff. But that's the way friends often are. And then thc.rc is jesus, 3 Illall of high ideaIs ~110, like Abraham Lincoln, clnc1urc.s thc scorn of sonze in his generation, only to beIong to the :~gcs in the hc,lrts of future gencr,~tions. Supcrficid crllotions like these are aroused when sermons arc entirely ;I homil\ stvlc recital of the events as they occurred. People come ;l\\.a, \vitl; the idea that they have witnessed seven nets in a play but have failed to see through the drama either into their ojvn hearts or into the Iieart of Gal. This danger lurks close at hand particularly when \ve yrcach on thc cl~nrrlctcrs, like Judas, the disciple turned traitor; Peter, the boaster; Cainphas, the religious formalist; Pilate, the cowardly judge; FJcrotl thc seeker after novelties; etc. Eacli Wednesday evening finds Gotl's people sitting enraptured by the story, but really not invol\red in it theinsel\-es. Indeecl, they can co~lle away from sermons like that thanking God that they are not as other men are. Our t;~sl, in preaching is more than to 100li at the story of the passion, as c;jrcful for detail as wc ought to he. It is to see through thC stor\-. \\'lien we do, ~vc set. ourselves for who \re reall! are, Ix-gprs '1)t'forc God; ;lnd we see God for \vho He is, the just God n-110 l~unishcs sin aid at the sanic time the God of mercy and grace. 111 sl~ort. J-cnten preaching puts into sharp focus and contrast the two doctrines, the La\\- and the Gospel. Here we see both Gd's strange ~vork by which He kills, and His proper work by which he ~nakcs tiIi\.e. The I-a~v that kills and daillns is preached powerfully in the clrsmi~ of the cross. Throughout this mighty drama \re are confronted with the Law. The chief priests are those 'who according to the Law are without escusc. They had light enough to believe that Christ was the hfessiah; yet they in their darkness comprehended it not. Here you haw a clranlatic picture of man bv nature \rho cannot see at noonday because he is spirituallv blind.* Here you hare a picture of tllose in our culture who morshipdat the altars of the gods of hedonism, scientism, and hunianism and deny the Lord that bought them and bring upon themselves ssift destruction. The mother sin of all is the rejection of Christ as Lord. To reject Christ is to commit spiritual suicide. This ~nessagt. certainly i~eetls to bc prcnchotl to help n~nrgiiial members and nt-owed unbelievers scc themsclvc~. And then there are the disciples, great mcn, belie\-crs likc our- selves, but weak as we. Judas shows us the capacity within each of us to betray our I-ord and to be plunged into the :~-rrfill 11ight of despair. Then there is Peter who when hc opened his nwuth usuallv said the wrong thing, boasting when he should ha\ c. 11cc11 quiet, denying when he should have been confessing. Them thcrc ~1l.c also the other disciples who forsook Him and flcd. To help Christians see themselves in thc clisciplcls is the task of the preacher. Our failure to be what 1i.e profcss to bc ;i~>tl ought to be nlakes us sinners. How often b!- our inc.onsistcncic.(; \I-c clcn!. thc Lord that bought us. At this stagc tvc can jnlaginc that our hcarc~rs, lilic~ oursel~~os, are raising their defenses against thc jndictnicnt of thc La\\.. 01ie argues, "Nobody's perEcct." And this can hc st\-cct 5olac.e to the guilt!. conscience. But majority rule ncwr deciclctl things in the. Iccomc discouraged with ourselves for saying the sanw thing in the same way each time we preach. The reading of a book like 1-eon SIorris, The Apostolic Preaching Of the Cross (Eerd- rnans. 1955) can bc helpful. But the Lenten story itself otfers some clues for variety. The varict\ lies in the use of the metaphors which describe the significance of ou; f-ortli passion. One picture is that of expiation of sin through s:~crificc (Psalm 5 1; 1 John 1 : 7; Isaiah 1 : 18). This picture takes us back to thc great day of atonement. On that day the priest offered a bullock for the sins of thc priesthoocl. He then offered one goat. The goat was killccl as a substitute for the people, the innocent for the guilt). TIlc sacrifice was for expiation, symbolized by the second goat clri~cn out into the wilderness laden with the sins of the people. Thc writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Christ was both the victim and the priest (Hebrews 9). Sloreover our sin is now atoned for, through Christ our suhstit~lte, nwv' to bc ~c~~ci?il)c~t.~il .lg,ii !lht 110 more. Another picture is tIiat of ransom (3l.1tt. 2s: 2s: 1 1 il~l, 2: 16: 1 Peter 1 : 18-19; I Cor. 6: 20). The picture lic~c ih ttlii: ot i~~~~,~~i~\. enslaved rxrider the ti-ranny of sin, death. ancl tiw ctc~-il. C"i,l-iit Ilnt< . . the ranson1 price to redeem us. Ion- thcre is 1il)crty tor ilr~ L ,lpl i~ Liild the opening of the prison to those that are bound. hother picturu is that of thc Chr-ist~rs I'i~.t(~i-, thc nlii.lnic liiti~(lo~ll of gracc (Ro~u. 8:3-4; I Cor. 15; Cul. 2: 15:. Another idca is that of rec011cili:ltioll or rc\t~r.ltioll to I'~.lli~r~,]~i~~ (Rom. 5 : 10; 7 Cor. 5 : 19;. Alan through >it1 broke tllL* t'cllot~.~l~i~ with God; hence he is in a condition of dcllth. CIirist r~,stol-c.rl l~l,c~~kin(l to feIlon-ship nit11 God, Here i1.c ought to g;lu;ird 11g,li11\r ;I distor- tion, that of so presenting thc idea of rcc~~~~iIi~itio~i 3s tllu~~~ll God hated the world and tllcn Christ turncd hlinct 11;itrccl into hr Hi.; substitutionary death. Paul declarts: "Gm1 \rns in Christ rcconcilincr thc ~vorld unto Himself' (2 Cor. 5 : 19). In rcconcilintion God < the prime mover, 2nd His motii.c is lorc. Tfie crimit! is in tllc \\.orld estranged fro111 God. But God stooped to concjucr thc \vorlcl I)\- sc.nclin5 into the world thc Prince of Peace, His onlj- Son. C-hrist nl;iclL- peace by taking thc hancI\i.riting of ordinances \vhic.Ii \\-as contr;trt- to US and nailing it to His cross (Cul. 2: 14). Another idea is that of the suffering sc.r\.;lllt of Is;ti;111 5 3. (1;ucl manifests His love for the world of sinners by scliding His o\\~i Son to bc the sin bearer. Jesus in obedience to His E;lthcr's \\.ill tnkcs upall Him the form of a servant, is made in the likcncss of inall, ;11li1 bcirig found in fashion as a man becomes obedient unto dcntll. ricn tlic - death of the cross (Phil. 2: ,-6). Jesus Himsclf most fl-cclucntly speaks of His act of love as one of obedicncc to His Fnth~lr. He li\-cs to glorify His Father through His obedience. "rot 111v \\.ill, but thine he done,'' His Gethscmane petition, rcprcscnts is 5uffcring ant1 death as an act of obedience. Another picture is that of justification. Tliis is a juclicial picturc. BY sin thc world stands guilty before the judgiicnt seat of Cocl. Thc verdict man deserves on account of sin is death. But God niadc Him who knew no sin to be sin for us. Christ assumed both mankind's guilt and punishment. For thc snhc uf Christ's complete satisfaction God "justifies tiit. ungodl! " (Ko111. 4 : 5 1. I< By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all mcn unto justification of life" (Romans 5: 18). Christ was raisetl again for our justification (Rom. 4 : 3352. Just as on January 1, 1863, Lincoln declared all slaics free, SO in the resurrection bf Christ God declared the world justified. Faith accepts this gift and lives in the peace of forgiveness. Ro~ii~l~ls 4: 5: "TO him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." 111 I-CIIL ;\lid ~I\L;\vs it is infinitely more iniportrult to preach faith into pcnplv's 11c;lrts by telling tlie story of the Gospel than to pleild \\-it11 l3c:oldc' to accept tlie Gospel. final picturc is that of the covenant. Thc picture takes us bacli to tlic c:ovc.llant God made \\.it11 Abraham, the father of the faithful (C;cnc.cis 12 : 2-3). This covenant reveals God's grace, for it i!s shccl- grace that prompted God to establish Israel as His people. l\lorco\-cr, tllc coi-cnnnt reveals also God's faithfulness. The sen t.o\-cni~nt est~blishctl bv God's mercy called for Israel to manifes't merci. Bur Israel bmce the covenailt by failing to live up to its clcm3hds (cfr. :\mas rind Hosea). But Gocl remained faithful to His coj'cnant. E1c t'st;~blislicd the ncn- covenant through His Son. "Grace and truth C~IIIIC bv Jesus ChristJ' (John 1 : 17). The coining of Christ attcstctl both -~aci's grace for sinners and His faithfulness to His - ca\-enant (1.ukr. 1: ;3_,\. Tcsirs Christ Hin~self is the rnediator of the new covenant (Ho- t>rc.\vs S: 6; 9: 15). His blood shed is the manifestation and the guarniitcc both of God's grace and of His faithfulness. .This is tlic Gospel which it is our joyous privilege to preach each Leriten season. ll'hat a message! Nothing more revolutionary has ever happe~lcd in thc history of man than the suffering and death and resurrection of our Lorcl. When this Gospel. is preached, hardened ccnturions cor~fess: "Surely this \\.as a righteous man and the Son of Goci." Hardcned criminals see His love and pray: "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom." Souls burdened by thcir clcnials scc the Christ of the Cross and find there the courage to confess C.'lirist c\.en in the face of persecution. This is the Gospel ivhich n.c l~reach to the jov and edifying of God's holy people.