We have begun the season of Lent, with its proper emphasis on humble repentance before the cross and with its singular focus on the journey that our Savior took to reach that same destination. No one needs these reminders more than those who have the privilege of proclaiming and teaching law and gospel in the public ministry.
As we lead God’s people to acknowledge and confess their sin, how important and necessary it is that all of us examine our hearts, our actions, and our words with blunt and brutal honesty. Can we begin to encourage God’s people to godly repentance without first saying with the apostle, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Can we call upon sinners to acknowledge and confess their sin and guilt without first applying the words of the hymn to ourselves: “My burden in thy passion, Lord, thou hast borne for me, for it was my transgression which brought this woe on thee” (The Lutheran Hymnal 172:4).
When we do that, of course, we will find things in ourselves that we do not want to find. Pride and arrogance. Laziness. Worry. Self-love. Hateful anger. Slander and lying. Neglect of God’s Word. Thoughtless worship. Neglected prayer life. Thirst for material security. If we are honest we will see those things in ourselves—and much more. And if we are really listening to the law of God that we are called to preach and teach, we will fall on our knees with the tax collector, despairing and desperate, and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
But there is more to that message that God has entrusted us to preach and teach. There is the message of a Savior, setting his face toward Jerusalem, fully aware of what was waiting for him there. There is the message of the Lamb of God, soon to sacrifice himself for rebels and prodigals and scoundrels—for us. There is the message of the One who took the world’s guilt—my guilt—on himself, paid the price demanded by a righteous God, and completed the task of crushing the head of the serpent once and for all. Can we dare to preach and teach that good news without first embracing that message for ourselves in faith and joy? Will we be able to be faithful heralds of the good news unless that good news that “It is finished!” penetrates our hearts and lives?
Let Paul’s words lead you to the cross as you prepare to lead God’s people to the cross through Word and sacrament: “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord. . . . This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. . . . Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:8-12). Throughout this Lenten season, may God lead you to humble, heartfelt repentance over your sin and to the incredible joy of knowing and believing that your sins are forgiven. And then preach that message with zeal and power, because you know whom you have believed.
Serving with you in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder