Paint Me a Picture of the Gospel
You know the adage a picture is worth a thousand words. Look in a dictionary; there you'll see what words are better seen in pictures. Words like hinge, tractor, tower, dome, and cello have pictures. Sometimes when you read just the definition, you're not sure what's being spoken of, but when you see the picture there's no doubt. In the 16th century one of the Lutheran fathers said of our text that with these words Christ "defines the Gospel as clearly as an artist."
If you're going to paint a picture of the Gospel, you have to paint the suffering Christ. We've just been to Gethsemane, the judgment hall, before Herod, and at Golgotha, so these pictures might be old to us. Since Jesus tells us that Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms all speak of Him, we can find pictures of the suffering Christ in them.
See the Old Testament scapegoat. See the High Priest placing his hands on that innocent animal and confessing all Israel's sins on him. That's Jesus. "My faith would lay its hand/ On that dear head of Thine/ While like a penitent I stand/ And there confess my sin." Sin after sin of ours is piled on, loaded on, dumped on the innocent Jesus. Isaiah paints Him as a lamb led to the slaughter not opening His mouth to complain. Didn't Jesus say on the way to the cross, "Don't weep for Me but for yourselves?"
If the Gospel is going to be painted for us, the suffering Christ has to be. See the Old Testament Passover Lamb. Moses directed that the lamb be selected and kept by the family for 2 weeks. How attached would your kids be to an animal they kept for 2 weeks? At the end of 2 weeks, the innocent lamb was killed, and his blood painted above the door. For God to pass over our sins, for God not to see our sins, and so break out in wrath against them, blood was needed. But the blood of goats and bulls would not do. It takes the blood of God to cover sins against God. The only way you can get blood from God is if you take it from a Man who is also God. So Jesus was whipped, nailed, and pierced, so that His blood might be shed. See the innocent Passover lamb, who had become your friend, killed and bled, so your life could be protected by His blood.
A Gospel picture has the suffering Christ painted in bright colors. You can find such pictures throughout the Old Testament. Jesus is pictured as the suffering Servant of Isaiah by whose wounds we are healed. He's pictured as Zechariah's Shepherd who is struck down. He's Moses' bronze Snake. He's the Man who's a worm in Psalm 22. He's the one whose best friend betrays him in Psalm 41. The suffering Christ is painted vividly throughout the Old Testament.
No Gospel picture is finished though if you just paint the suffering Christ. What was written and illustrated in the Old Testament is not just that the Christ will suffer but that He will rise from the dead. So your Gospel picture has to have such things as a valley full of dry bones coming back to life, Jonah being spat up on the beach, Job seeing His living Redeemer, and Lord on His holy mountain swallowing death
I don't think we make enough of this. To a large part of Christianity it doesn't really matter if Jesus physically rose from the dead. Jesus only came spiritually out of the tomb. But notice in the text how Jesus goes out of His way to show them He is physically present. He invites the disciples to see and touch His body, His wounds. And our Epistle tells us that's what they did. They looked with their eyes and their hands touched. But even that wasn't enough for Jesus. He asks for food so He could eat in their presence and show them He's not a ghost, not just spiritually raised.
Your Gospel picture is not complete without a physically risen Jesus in your life. In the words of our Collect, the physically risen Jesus is the assurance "of the completion of our redemption." Yes, the sufferings of Jesus were the complete payment for our sins, but with any important transaction, you have to have a receipt. In fact, you ask for one, don't you? You insist on one, don't you? You shove that receipt in the face of anyone who dares to suggest you didn't really pay for something.
Neither the Father, the Son, nor the Holy Ghost, need a receipt for the payment of your sins, but you do. You need proof that God the Father accepted the Son's suffering, bleeding, and dying as payment for your many sins. You need something to shove in the face of that conscience of yours that's always whispering against you. You need something to show that Devil who nags you with, "Yes, but how do you know the wrath of God is really satisfied against your sins?" And you need something to cling to when the world around you says, "Well, you sure don't look very redeemed."
The something you need is the Flesh and Blood of a Jesus physically raised from the dead. What you need is a risen Jesus present in Flesh and Blood to hush your conscience, shut the mouth of the devil, and answer the nagging world. A Jesus locked up physically in heaven, as the Reformed believe He is, does you no good here on earth. A Jesus only spiritually present on earth, as the Reformed believe He is, doesn't address your physically dying body or your sinfully stained one.
Flesh and blood sinners need a flesh and blood Savior. So the New Testament paints a picture of Baptism sprinkling your physical body with the real Blood of Jesus. The New Testament shows you the words of forgiveness come from my lips and enter into your physical ears sending your sins away from you in this space at this time. It shows you Bread and Wine that are the physical, actual Body and Blood of Jesus for you to eat and drink not just for forgiveness and salvation, but for life here and now.
So, your Gospel picture has the suffering Christ and the risen Christ, but Jesus' is not through painting yet. What's lacking is the preaching of this Christ. See Him proclaiming repentance and forgiveness. If you paint Christ preaching just one or the other, you are painting a picture the Devil would love for you to hang in your conscience. If Christ only preaches repentance, then you have the picture of a child caught red-handed doing something seriously wrong who believes there's no remedy other than his sorrow. Picture him in a heap wailing, "I'm sorry; I'm sorry; I'm sorry." But if Christ only preaches forgiveness in your painting, then it's no more than a cover for your sinfulness. Then your sins are a boil that has skinned over but continues to poison you with puss. In a true Gospel picture Christ must be preaching both repentance and forgiveness.
He's not preaching "bad feelings." All the bad feelings in the world don't amount to repentance. Low self-esteem, poor self-image, or depression is not repentance. It's not repentance to say, "I know I sin this way or that; I'm sorry, but that's just the way I am." You're not repentant if you offer God excuses for your sins. You might indeed have had a poor upbringing; genes that make you prone to a certain sin; or sinful urges that medicine can keep at bay, but these don't excuse your sins. Nor are you repentant if you promise to do better next time.
Christ is preaching repentance when you find yourself believing, "I'm lost. I have no hope. I have no strength to keep the law. I cannot do any better than I have. None of my excuses are valid. I am nothing but a sinful man, woman, child. All my thoughts are sin; all my actions are sin; all my life is sin. Not only do I expect to go to hell, I expect suffering, sickness, and affliction right now because of my sins.
Christ preaches the Law of repentance as if there is no Gospel, but in a true portrait of the Gospel, He preaches forgiveness as if there is no Law. And it has to be a physically present Jesus who does this. You must hear Christ in your ears when my lips utter forgiveness. You must see Christ's hand physically baptizing you. You must see Christ physically standing here giving you His Body and Blood. Why? Because your sins are not really against me, but against God; against Him only have you sinned, says Psalm 51. You need God's forgiveness for your sins. You need to know that God almighty has put away your sins so that you will not die. You need to know that the One that paid for your sins is standing here forgiving them, so it can't be in His heart to hurt you in the least.
This full forgiveness won't really come through to you apart from a physically raised Jesus present here and now. It's similar to that time you lost a loved one. When you found out, you were fine with it. Then you saw the physical body and broke down entirely. The reality of death came home. In the case of forgiveness, the reality of a physically alive Jesus brings it home. See Him physically washing you from your dirty sins in Baptism. See Him placing His hands on your in Absolution. See Him spreading His arms welcoming you to His table. Jesus is that present, and "joy" says the Introit, is in the Lord's presence.
Is anything left out of our picture now that we have the suffering Christ, the risen Christ, and Christ preaching repentance and forgiveness into our ears? Yes, something very important is missing. Christ preaching to all nations. This message is for you, but not just for you. This message is for all nations, all peoples, bar none. Christ didn't die for some. He didn't pay for some sins in the world but for the world's sins. Therefore, all are called to repentance because no one is so holy they don't need to repent. All are told of forgiveness because no one is so sinful they can't be forgiven. See the physical Body of Christ, which is His Church, present in every nook and cranny of the world proclaiming repentance and forgiveness to all.
A picture is worth a thousand words; that's why we paint them and take them. But this one word Gospel' has painted 10,000, thousand pictures. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday of Easter (20060430); Luke 24: 46