daily biblical sermons


THE GOSPEL LIBERATES US FROM THE BURDEN OF GUILT AND DEPRESSION FOR SIN
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 19th Week of the Year, August 13, 2018
Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28, Psalm 148, Matthew 17:22-27


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.' And they were greatly distressed" (Matthew 17:22-23).


Today Jesus again predicts his violent death and Resurrection. This is really the purpose of his whole life. He predicts it various times so that his disciples will be prepared for it when it happens. But they never understood, before his Resurrection and Pentecost, how his being killed fit into his life as the Messiah and Son of God. Why would the Messiah be put to death by crucifixion? That simply made no sense to them.


I think that it doesn't really make much more sense to many Christians today either. They see Christ's death as a noble thing, as a martyr's death, that he was put to death for teaching us good things, or that his death is an example of how much he loves us and of how much God loves us, that he was put to death for loving us so much.


But really all this falls far short of what the New Testament tells us. It misses the main point of the New Testament, that Christ died to atone for our sins, to make reparation for them, to take our place and suffer our punishment for our sins for us so that we could be justly forgiven and freed from the punishment and death sentence that hung over our head for our sins.


Often the Christians that can't accept the full New Testament understanding of the reason for Christ's death are the same people that are complaining today that they are unable to understand or preach about how Christ saves us. They come up with one inadequate theory after another to explain how Jesus is our Savior, but none of their explanations have much power, and people generally are not moved or convinced by such theories.


That is why it is always important to preach the New Testament doctrine of Christ's atoning death to make reparation for our sins. This is the very heart of the gospel that so many people today miss. The further we get from the New Testament understanding of Christ's atoning death, the weaker our preaching becomes. In fact, for some preachers their message is so weak that all they want to preach about is horizontal human values like concern for the environment and social justice, and they never preach about Christ's atoning, redeeming death for our sins.


When this happens - and it happens very frequently - the gospel is lost. And that is a serious matter! They simply do not preach the gospel anymore, because the heart of the gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).


The gospel is not something that we just preach once in a while, or never, but rather the gospel message should be central to Christian preaching. It is a simple message, but has enormous meaning for human life and needs to be explained again and again in ever new ways.


Theodoret, the bishop of Cyr in Syria (c. 393-466) in today's Office of Readings says, "For since those who were enslaved to sin were liable to the penalties of sin, he himself [Christ], exempt from sin though he was and walking in the path of perfect righteousness, underwent the punishment of sinners."


In other words, since we who were enslaved to sin and would have been punished for our sins, to free us from this punishment and from the pain of guilt and depression for our sins, the Son of God himself, who was sinless, underwent our punishment for our sins for us. He took our place in being punished for our sins so that we could finally be completely freed from them and from God's anger and vindictive punishment for them.


God's necessary vindictive punishment for our sins took place in his divine Son's flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3). This is true redemption. We are redeemed from our sins and fully restored to God's love, friendship, and grace. All we have to do to receive such an enormous gift is to put our faith in Jesus Christ. When we do that, God declares us righteous and fills us with Christ's own righteousness.


Theodoret goes on to say, "By taking the slap in the face, and thus suffering the violence, corrections and blows that were due to us, he [Jesus] proclaimed our freedom."


This means that we are acquitted from our sins, and all charges against us are dropped, because Christ has suffered our penalty for our sins for us. So through faith in him we go free. He liberates us.


Furthermore, this is all just and legal. The law of God is fully followed, that we should suffer and die for our sins. The amazing thing, though, is that the Son of God substituted for us and served our prison sentence and death sentence for us. He suffered for us everything that, according to God's law, we should have suffered for our sins. The result is that we are now free men and women. In fact, St. Paul says that we are now "new men" (Ephesians 4:22-24), a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).


But what do we have to do to earn such a great gift of God making us ungodly sinners righteous? Nothing! We don't and can't earn it. Christ earned it for us by enduring our penalty for us, and all who believe in him are freely acquitted, declared righteous, and set free. So what we have to do to experience this great gift of forgiveness and justification is simply to put our faith in Jesus Christ. God then does the rest.


Now if we do something bad, we may have natural human consequences to suffer for it. If you kill your family, you won't have a family and will probably spend the rest of your life in prison or be executed. But I am talking about God's punishment of us. That is what Christ takes care of for us by suffering it all for us. We are therefore absolved in God's eyes and are fully reconciled to him, with our debt for our sins fully paid and our death sentence for our sins suffered for us by Christ on the cross, and so we can feel forgiven and guilt free by our faith in him.


We don't have to wait to be forgiven until we can make our own reparation for our sins. The work of reparation to God has already been fully taken care of for us by Christ's suffering and death on the cross, and so we can enjoy God's friendship right now.

 

If our sins have harmed other people, if it is possible, we should try to make reparation to them, but before God all our reparation has already been taken care of by Christ on the cross.


This is the gospel, the good news. How different this is from the person who thinks that he has to work off his guilt by his own good works, penances, and sacrifices, and never seems to have paid up what he owes. This is bad news, not the good news of the gospel.


Our sacrifices and good works have nothing to do with our justification and forgiveness. Our justification is by faith, not by works. We "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Galatians 2:16). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).


Good works have a different function in the Christian life. Our justification buds forth in the fruit of good works. Our good works don't earn our justification. Our good works are rather the fruit of our justification. Our good works earn not our justification, but our sanctification. By good works we gradually grow in holiness (sanctification).


So the gospel is a great liberation of the human spirit. It is a gift of God. It is the message of what God does to us in Christ by our faith. It frees us from carrying about the burden and guilt of our past sins. It frees us from the burden of always thinking that we have to work our sins off by our own works, sacrifices, and penances. We don't and we can't do that. Christ has already done that for us. It has already been done. Our task rather is to simply accept this gift by faith and live as "new men" in Christ, performing the good works of a redeemed and justified Christian, thereby growing in holiness (sanctification).

 

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