Sixth Sunday after Trinity
July 3, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Of all the hundreds, perhaps thousands of religions that have ever been practiced in the history of the world, there are fundamentally only two religions. The first is the religion of the Law, that is, the attempt to make yourself right with God, the universe, and everything by works according to the Law. The Laws may change slightly or significantly between the various subsets of this religion, but the basic premise remains the same: I become right by doing right.
This is true from Islam to Hinduism to New Ageism to Zoroastrianism to Judaism. Also many Christian denominations and sects follow this very same religion, only with a little Christian flavor. For instance, the Church of the Nazarene emphasizes a very strict adherence to the Ten Commandments. For them, since God commanded that the Sabbath Day be kept holy, and He established the seventh day as the Sabbath day (it’s right there in today’s Old Testament text), it is a sin for you to be here to worship this Sunday morning.
Now since Christians have been worshipping on Sundays since the earliest days of the Church, you might conclude that now that Jesus has come, all of the old laws are no longer in force. After all, how many of you sacrificed a goat or a lamb or a turtledove recently? We don’t circumcise boys on the eighth day according to the Law, we don’t have to go through ritual cleansings after coming into contact with unclean things, and, praise God, we can eat bacon-wrapped shrimp skewers and rabbit fricassee.
So does that open the door to murder, adultery, theft, lying, and general anarchy? Does Jesus give a license to do whatever you want? No, and no. “Do not think that I came to annul the Law or the Prophets,” says Jesus. “For amen, I say to you, until the heavens and the earth pass away, not one dot on an i nor a single cross of a t will pass away from the Law, until all comes to pass. If anyone should loose one of the least of these commands and teach men this, he will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches [them] will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (vv 17a, 18-19).
Jesus didn’t come to loosen the Law at all. He actually intensifies it. Consider the Fifth Commandment. You shall not murder. First, a little grammar lesson. The Holy Spirit could have inspired Moses to write the commandments as simple imperative verbs, like when Simon says, “Hop on one foot.” It’s a simple command. Both the Hebrew and the Greek language have a way of saying this. But the Ten Commandments use a future tense—both in Exodus when they’re first given, and also whenever Jesus quotes them in the New Testament. The future tense is a way of intensifying a command. Like a policy command, or a standing rule. Parents, you know how this works. You can tell your kid, “Don’t ride your bike in the street,” and they do it anyway. Again, “Don’t ride your bike in the street.” Then after the third time, when you get serious, “You will not ride your bike in the street.” Hear the difference? So let’s keep it as Moses wrote it and as the Holy Spirit inspired it and let not one jot or tittle pass away from the Law. You shall not murder.
Of all the commandments, this one is one that 98-99 percent of the population can claim to have kept. Christian, pagan, whatever. Very few people have actually murdered another person. But Jesus says that it’s not enough simply to not murder someone. He intensifies the Law. You heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment. But I am saying to you that everyone who is angry toward his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Stupid!” will be liable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, “Fool!” will be liable unto the hell of fire (vv 21-22).
Who here has never gotten angry? Who has never mocked people behind their backs? Who has never called someone an unkind name? Jesus explains the spiritual significance of the Law, and the thing that is really lacking. See, the Ten Commandments didn’t come until 430 years after God gave the promise of a Savior to Abraham. The Patriarchs didn’t have Ten Commandments to learn. Judah, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Shem, Noah, Methuselah, Enoch, Seth, Adam. None of them had Ten Commandments, but does that mean they were without the Law? No. They had the spirit of the Law. The spirit of the Law is what Jesus says is the greatest Law: Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor as yourself. Love is what is lacking.
Simply performing the outward work of the Law does you no good. It is a righteousness of a sort—civic righteousness (you can’t have everyone going around murdering each other or there’d be no society left)—but those works remain empty and finally useless for eternal things. Love is something the Law cannot command. Parents, you can say, “You will not ride your bike in the street,” and your child will probably learn his lesson, but he will not love you for it. Not then, for sure.
It is clear that Jesus did not come to lower the bar of the Law, but to raise it. To an impossible height. The Law that nearly everyone can claim to keep—You shall not murder—is the one that people break most often in its spiritual sense. But it’s not all doom and gloom and everyone’s going to hell. It’s good that Jesus intensifies the Law, because we should have no pretenses about being able to keep it.
There’s an interesting thing about the Ten Commandments. The Bible never actually calls them the Ten Commandments. In fact, only one time—and not directly related to the giving of the commandments—does the Scripture use the term, “The Ten Words,” of God. Because the Bible doesn’t number the commandments, you might find that you’ll see the commandments numbered differently in different churches. We Lutherans follow the medieval numbering system, along with the Roman Catholics. The Reformed will separate out from the First Commandment a commandment against graven images, and then combine the final two commandments on coveting into one commandment. But there are some numbering traditions that list the first word of God not as a commandment, but the first word He says before giving the commands. God spoke all the following words: “I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves” (Exodus 20:1-2 AAT).
God’s commandments begin not with a command, but with a statement of who God is and what He has done. So because of who God is—the Lord, the true God—and what He has done—delivering His people from slavery to freedom—they have now been made a people of God who will have no other gods before them, etc. It’s an entirely new way of looking at the Law. If there’s any hope to keep any of these commandments, the work must begin with God.
But it’s not like a stern parent imposing his will on his children—“You will not ride your bike in the street”—that has no power to make you love and will only produce resentment. Instead God Himself provides the one thing that can fill up empty works. Jesus says at the beginning of His commentary on the Law, “I did not come to annul [the Law and the prophets], but to fulfill them” (v 17b). Jesus came to fill the commandments and the prophecies full, to not only perform what they command, but He does it all for love.
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds in greater measure that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven: (v 20). The righteousness of scribes and Pharisees is an outward righteousness of works. The Law teaches us that we much look for another kind of righteousness. Where is it found? St. Paul writes, Now a righteousness of God has been revealed apart from the Law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. It is a righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe (Rom 3:21-22).
So, how do you obtain this righteousness of faith? So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake. Faith is given by means. Word, Baptism, Supper. St. Paul writes about how these means work: you are baptized into Christ’s death, and so you die to sin. You are baptized into His resurrection, so you also live a new life.
Baptism’s gift is faith that you are crucified with Christ and now live a new life. Christ Jesus has rescued you from your sin and death and has delivered you to a life that you will live by God’s law, which is love. This is true righteousness.
The Righteousness of Christ Far Exceeds the Righteousness of Works, and It’s Your Baptismal Gift in Christ
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard