Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
19. September 2010
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Dead Men Walking”
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
We are all dead men walking. God’s Holy Law renders the verdict: you are dead in your trespasses. The Law’s warden walks you to your cell. You keep walking through life until the death sentence is finally carried out. The penalty for your lawlessness is always the same. Death. There is no honor in your miserable life. Your father before you committed the same crime and was tried, charged, and condemned. His father did the same. There is no possibility of parole, bail, or escape. The Holy Judge always renders the lawful verdict and always sees his charge carried through. He watches through the one-way glass while the last desperate gasp escapes our lips. We are left alone and lifeless.
Dear Christians, the Holy Law of God is a cruel taskmaster. It is not lenient. Consider your life according to the Ten Commandments: Have your always loved your spouse, never lusting after another? Have you never stolen from another but always helped your neighbor to keep what is his? Have you never hated another in your heart, seeking their murder in your mind? Have you only desired what is yours and helped others to keep what has been given to them? Have you always kept the Sabbath, preferring the hearing God’s Word and receiving of His gifts rather than to travel, sleep, or tailgate? Have you called upon the Lord your God in every trouble by name? Have you only trusted in God for everything you need?
The law is not lenient. It lets no one off the hook. And when the Holy Judge proclaims this Law, we hear and fear. Our heart trembles, knowing that we have not kept the Law. We have failed. All that we have thought, said, and done in our body has been tainted. Our lives are darkened by works and thoughts of disobedience. Our flesh is utterly corrupt. We are without ability to remedy. No amount of chemotherapy, radiation, or nutrition will heal us of this terrible disease. Worse yet, the disease works evil within us. We sinners sin. We are sons of disobedience.
There are three possible ways we deal with this reality, this truth. The way of the world is to act in ignorance. Most people, both secular and of so-called faith, walk about willfully ignorant of their horrible depravity. They say there is no God, no judgment, and thus no Law. Life is of itself meaningless and only what you make of it. When it comes time for their arraignment and they stand before the judge, they too will be condemned. This “playing dumb” only buys you time but still results in an eternity of condemnation.
The second way is to tackle the sin problem. These look at their own nature and try to fix it. But they underestimate the evil within and justify themselves with their piddly acts of righteousness. Their attempt fails because it does not comprehend the enormity of the sin. None of them alleviate the verdict. The final judgment is still death.
The third way is to peer deep within the heart of darkness and despair. Those who chose this way recognize the extent of their sin and weep. They know the penalty and see no hope in themselves. All their works are filthy rags and they know it. They don’t act in ignorance nor do they try to fix the problem. They only resign themselves to the Judgement seat, to be condemned as they deserve. Death is definite.
Dear Christians, when we, the faithful, consider ourselves according to God’s Holy Law, we are only left to travel the third path. We cannot act in ignorance of God and His commands. We cannot remedy the problem either. We know that our lives go from one sin to another, each day beginning afresh with new and more clever trespasses. For these and all our deeds of darkness, we are condemned. We are dead men walking.
So it was for the widow at Nain. She has lost her husband. She has lost her only son. The only ones who were obligated to support her are dead. She might as well be dead without their help and care. There is no hope and no future for her. The corpse of her son is the ultimate reality check. Her future fate is unavoidable, prefigured in the funeral bier. The consequence for sin is death.
So it is at every funeral. When we behold, the lifeless corpse of a friend or loved one in a casket, the message land like a punch in the gut. This dead body before our eyes is what we have to look forward to. In reality, we’re each step we take is another step towards death. When we consider this verdict of death, we have only those three options: be ignorant, try to avoid it, or despair. And for us, who know God’s Law, we know that despair and utter fear is the only real option.
The verdict is clear. You are dead men walking, each step one step closer to death. For some, it is like the young man, swallowed up by the grave in infancy or youth. For others, it will come later and you will be tortured to watch friends, siblings, and even children be taken before your eyes. Either way, according to the Law and its verdict, each step is closer to the final termination, the death we deserve.
Dear Christian, repent. Consider your sin and turn to God. Turn away from ignorance to the verdict or your petty attempts at raising bail. Repent and turn to the judge, pleading for mercy. Beg for forgiveness, knowing that you deserve nothing. Be like that widow, who saw the Law’s verdict in the death of her son, and weep. Cast your tears of fear upon the feet of the Holy Lord. Consider yourself according to the Ten Commandments and despair of your foolish thoughts of righteousness. Repent and fall to your knees.
“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her ‘Do not weep.’” Your Holy Judge has another Word for you. He is a God of mercy and compassion. He has looked upon you, weeping before His judgment bench in utter repentance, and burst forth with love and sympathy. For God, there is only one solution. The Law must be kept; the holy and righteous decrees honored. The only solution is that someone else must take your place. Someone else must receive the verdict for you. Someone else must be the dead man walking for you. Someone else must suffer the death for you. The holy and just penalty must be paid for you.
The Holy God sees you, prostrate in repentance, and has had this very compassion on you. He says to your burdened soul, “do not weep.” Your life of the flesh is one always moving towards death. But I am the Christ, the victor over death, the resurrection and the life. I have destroyed death, swallowed up the grave, and crucified your sin in my own body. Death no longer has dominion over you. I am your redeemer. I have redeemed you from the pit, from the depth of your despair, from your misery and anguish. I have heard your pleas for mercy. I have heard your cries of forgiveness. I am a just and jealous God but I am also abounding in love and compassion. I am making all things new.
He touches your cold and lifeless body of flesh and proclaims “Young man, I say to you, arise.” You have been redeemed. Your life has been purchased and won by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. His flesh saw the grave but rose after three days. Your flesh too will see the grave but will be resurrected just like His. We rightly fear God’s wrath and tremble. But dear Christians, God’s holy Law is not His final Word. There is good news; there is the Gospel. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” “God has visited his people!” Jesus has redeemed you. He has forgiven you. Jesus has stopped your funeral bier and brought you from death to life. We proclaim this Gospel, glorifying God every Lord’s Day. And especially today, as we feast on Christ’s own body and blood, we are again restored and refreshed for our wilderness pilgrimage. God has not left us in the wilderness of our sin to die. God has visited his people in His Son Jesus. We, the redeemed, are not dead men walking. We are alive in Christ, walking towards the promised land and life everlasting. To God alone be the glory. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind steadfast in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +