By William M. Cwirla
Imagine receiving a letter in the mail. It comes in a generic envelope with prepaid postage. It is addressed “To the current resident.” It reads, “To whom it may concern, You are invited to a party.” It specifies the date and time.
Do you go? You’ve been invited. But are you sure that you have been invited? Well, you are the current resident and it concerns you. So consider yourself invited.
Now imagine receiving a letter in a hand-addressed envelope with a stamp that someone had to stick on it. It is addressed to you by name. The letter reads, “Dear [Your Name], You are invited to a party” with the same date and time.
Whether you go or not, you can be quite certain that you have been invited. By name. This invitation is clearly for you.
“God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
These are familiar words. Many of us have them memorized. They are called the “Gospel in a nutshell.” But do these words apply to me? Well, apply a bit of logic. God so loved the world; I am in the world; therefore, God loves me. So they must apply to me because I am in the world and God loves the world in His Son. And that would be true, but it lacks the “for you” that requires all hearts to believe.
The preschool kids at the church where I served as pastor liked to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It’s a popular song with little kids, who love to chime in at full volume, “Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me.” But does the Bible actually say Jesus loves you? It does say that Jesus loves the world and died for all, and you are definitely part of “all.” But my name, William (an Anglo-Saxon name), never appears in the Bible. I have to put myself into the Bible to know that Jesus loves me.
“FOR YOU” IN HIS GIFTS
When I was baptized in the Triune Name of God, my name was mentioned first. “William Martin Cwirla, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That was as “for me” as it gets. It applied to no one but me. God called me by name and baptized me in His Name. Baptism is the Gospel “for you.” And faith says, “Amen! That’s for me.”
When I am absolved in personal confession, the pastor places his hand on my head and often includes my name when he says, “I forgive you all of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There is no doubt that this forgiveness is for me. Absolution is the Gospel “for you.” And faith says, “Amen! That’s for me.”
When I receive the Lord’s Supper, the pastor always pauses in front of me with the bread and the cup and says, “The Body of Christ for you” and “The Blood of Christ for you.” There is no doubt that this Body and Blood of Jesus, given and shed on the Cross, is for me–my forgiveness, my life, and my salvation. Even if I were the only person living on the earth, Jesus would have died to save me. Hearing those words, faith says, “Amen! That’s for me.”
“FOR YOU” IN THE WORD
When we speak the Gospel to another person, we are putting two very powerful faith-creating, faith-enlivening, faith-sustaining words in that person’s ears: “for you.” The little words “for you” require all hearts to believe, and they create the faith those words require. God is holding the Cross of Christ before you and saying, “I did this all for you.”
That’s why we don’t simply say, “Jesus died for sinners” but “Jesus died for you.” To say “Jesus died for sinners” is true and correct but it is not yet Gospel. To say “Jesus died for you” is to speak the good news of Jesus in a Gospel way. It offers, delivers, and applies to that person all that Jesus did to save them. Those words are the very power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).
Back at our congregation’s preschool, I taught our children to sing, “Yes, Jesus loves you; yes, Jesus loves you; Yes, Jesus loves you, the Bible tells me so.” I was teaching them to be little evangelists for each other, speaking the “for you” of the Gospel into the ears of their little neighbors.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, died on a cross and rose from the dead to save you from sin and death so that you would have life in Him. How do you know this is for you? How do you know that God intends to save you? You’re reading this. God is speaking to you. Believe it.
Rev. William M. Cwirla is a “pastor emeritus” in the LCMS, having retired from congregational ministry after 30 years of service in one congregation. He has also served as president of Higher Things. He continues to pray, study, and write in retirement, and also speak, when coaxed out of the woods of Port Angeles, WA on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula where he resides with his wife, Karen. He is also an artisanal bread maker, gourmet cook, master of the grill, maker of fine wood craft, and musician.