Thursday, April 9, 2009

Man Lives by Preaching

"Creation of Adam" - Michelangelo 1511

The Christian life is lived in utter conflict. The baptized emerge out of Christ’s holy waters at war with sin, death, and the devil. The faith which is given in baptism is sustained through the preaching of the Word in which the battle continues. Between Christ’s ascension and the last judgment the whole cosmos quakes and suffers the tremors between the old and new creation, between the old Adam and the new man in Christ. The discrepancy between human experience and God’s promise of life and salvation is met here in this tension between the old and new. Faith is a heavenly gift that we might hope in the things hoped for - that God remains faithful to his promise of peace and restoration.

Sin brings death and separation from God. At sins deepest core is unbelief, with a hardness of heart that refuses to accept God’s love. Given that sin brings this unbelief and death it is preaching the Gospel that delivers the message of victory to the many. The present Christian life is the continuing deliverance and bestowal of this victory – a handing over of this message, this good news that sin and death and defeated. Preaching is the proclamation of the creed, which confesses “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” The word of forgiveness is central, for where this is forgiveness there is eternal life and salvation. For Wingren, “word of forgiveness is the weapons which is first employed against the power of Satan, a word with which the enemy is hunted out of our conscience.” The conscience is the devil’s playground where he plagues each man, whispering that he is not within the sphere of God’s mercy and love, that his case is quite hopeless. The simple act of preaching the gospel through the forgiveness of sins “is the casting out of sin and guilt from the conscience.”[1]

Human life is breathed and created by God. Man’s body is knitted, formed, and poured out by God. If the eternal, living, and creative Word of God were to stop the whole cosmos would cease to exist. Faith in this Word, to live by the very speech acts of God is to truly have human life – to truly be creature just as God is true creator. Or as Luther has it in his catechism that we consider ourselves true children and God as our true father. The aberration of sin has cast human life into sin, distress, war, and death so that the creatures “humanity” as God breathes it into existence is plagued by the lies of Satan and compromised. Faith receives God’s love and Holy Gospel and lives by them as an infant lives by the breast of his mother.

Man becomes “true man”, “authentic man” when he is preached to. Gustav Wingren writes, “man is created in the image of God. He must become the image of God if he is to be man, that is to say, if he is to be redeemed from the violence of the Devil, and Christ in the image who has redemption.”[2] Therefore, humanity exists and locates its life in preaching – in God’s address. If man is dead in his sin, as a lifeless corpse, how does he become man? How does he exist? That man “lives from that which cometh out of the mouth of God” must mean more than a reception of some sort of spiritual guidance. Living from that which proceeds from the mouth of God involves the knitting of the human creature in the womb, declaring life ex nihilo – creating out of nothing – creating where life did not exist. Man becomes man as he was called in creation to be in Christ who has sealed us in his image, as “true man,” in the image of God that is so dearly desired.

Faith receives the Word, from whence man’s life is derived. Faith is event and gift that comes by way of hearing, that we may have “assurance of things hoped for” (Heb. 2:1). Faith comes as Christ comes, adventing, incarnating – being handed over. This faith is the death and resurrection – “it is to let go our selfish will, and let the Word have freedom to accomplish its destroying and lifegiving work.”[3] Faith, therefore is freedom, for man is no longer bound by his will which will always reject and turn from God. He is rather bound up and sealed into the freedom which God grants in Jesus Christ. Faith precedes sight as the preached Word precedes the Parousia – it holds to God’s promise in the midst of spiritual affliction and looks forward the resurrection of the dead. Faith is man free, unoppressed, and forgiven.

It is right that we consider the incarnation, Jesus’ birth of the virgin Mary as a declaration of war against Satan. We can preach Christ as victor because it is biblical. It was promised from the beginning that the seed of woman would crush the Serpents head. We are promised that Christ shall hold the field forever, though all the devils of the world should surround us, the Holy Word itself will fell him. The Word of God is itself decisive act of war – “an onslaught on the demonic power in the world of men, an onslaught against our old man himself, who must be slain if the new one is to be able to arise in spite of hindrances.” The Word of God is incarnate – it is the living Word of God. It is preached by Pastor and this Holy Word of promise is drank and eaten in the Lord’s Supper. For the Word was made flesh and dwelt among men in the form of a servant Jesus Christ. And since the Pentecost the work continues until the final judgment.

“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Since the dawn of creation God has been a preacher and has raised up men to preach to one another. God’s address compels men to speak that word which gives life. Man therefore lives to be preached to. God addresses creation, ultimately incarnating into flesh, and breathes the breath of life into them. As the Father sends Christ to speak so does he send the apostles out to proclaim peace – to proclaim the Gospel of Christ crucified. The breathing of the Holy Spirit on the apostles grants the power to either remit or retain sins. This creative and life giving breathing is centered around the forgiveness of sins, which brings the new creation into being. Preaching out be considered in this way, that man truly lives by the Word of God. Hearing the Word and being formed by it is not one element of ones life. It is not a lifestyle to hear the word of God in the midst of the congregation. Hearing is the Word and receiving it is rather to have life itself – to be formed of the dust and to be given both body and soul. Preaching is the source of God’s creative work, and nothing exists without it.

The first Adam was “a living being” who in the beginning was created and given life in paradise. The first Adam rebelled against God in sin and had to turn and hide himself. Now the last Adam is God himself who comes in divine condescension, who offers His “life-giving Spirit” which he carries out in the church. The new Adam, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been raised up to make all things new, that the blind will see and the weak will walk. This new Adam, the Son of God grants His life giving spirit not as a deity at the outskirts of heaven but as one who desires we call him “brother.” Yet the fullness of deity dwells within him and His gifts of righteousness and purity, eternal life and salvation are all given to us. He withholds nothing.

When we speak of the forgiveness of sins we are simply confessing the resurrection of the dead, for both appear together in the Apostles Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” This is the beauty of Lutheran theology which grasps that where there is forgiveness of sins there is Christ and heaven itself. Therefore we can never tire of receiving the forgiveness of sins, for it is the very center of Christian life by which all else depends. As sin brings guilt, death, and hell, so does forgiveness bring about all the riches of heaven that we might walk before God free from shame.

[2] Wingren, Gustaf. The Living Word; A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960, 46.
[3] 117.

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