Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The word “law” has a negative ring in our ears. Naturally, almost instinctively, we don’t like it. Laws limit our freedoms. Laws tell us what we cannot do, and laws tell us what we must do that we don’t want to do. As children, we heard the words of our parents as law. And, as adults, we are still bound by the laws of men, be they the laws of federal, state, and municipal government, military law, the laws of our employer, or the laws of our bridge club, even as we create and enforce laws for those subordinate to us to obey. Yes, the word “law” has a negative ring in our ears, but that is not because the law is bad, but it is because we are bad, we are sinful, and the law exposes our sinful badness to ourselves, and to others, and to God.
But, the Law of God is good and wise. The Law of God is the will of God, and it is perfect, holy, righteous, good, and eternal. The Law of God exists eternally, long before it was written by the Holy Spirit upon tablets of stone. The Law of God was in the Garden and was known and loved by our First Parents even before the first command to not eat of the fruit of the tree in its center. And, as our Lord Jesus has said in today’s Gospel, “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” or, literally, “until all has come to pass.” The Law of God cannot pass away any more than God Himself can pass away, therefore it must be satisfied, it must come to pass, it must be fulfilled, it must be kept. And, that is precisely what our Lord Jesus has done for us and for all men by His perfect obedience and with His innocent suffering and death. Jesus did not remove, nullify, or abolish God’s Law, but He fulfilled it for you and for me and for all men so that, through Jesus, our relationship to God’s Law and to God Himself has been changed – it has been restored and renewed; we have been reconciled.
But, what does it mean that Jesus has fulfilled the Law? It does not mean, merely, that Jesus has obeyed the Law perfectly, although it certainly includes that, but that Jesus has fulfilled the Law means that it is completely satisfied both temporally and eternally in Jesus – but, only in Jesus. Thus, while the Law has not, will not, and cannot pass away, our relationship to it has changed, because it has been fulfilled. You see, there is a saying in the Church, “Lex semper accusat,” “the Law always accuses.” Because we are sinners, even forgiven sinners, we hear God’s Law as an accusation and threat. And, because we are sinners, we are right to hear the Law as an accusation and as a threat, for, indeed, it accuses and condemns us to death. However, that was not the Law’s original and eternal purpose, for, again, the Law is nothing more and nothing less than the good, righteous, and holy will of God. The problem is not with God’s Law, but the problem is us.
Jesus teaches that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. You see, despite the bad rap the scribes and Pharisees get for their legalism and lack of mercy and forgiveness, and justly so, they really did keep the letter of the Law better than most. Indeed, the scribes and the Pharisees were admired by all for their piety and obedience to the Law. However, what the scribes and the Pharisees failed to understand and believe was that Jesus was the promised Messiah and Christ of God who came to fulfill the Law’s demands and die in our place, thus making complete and total satisfaction for our sins against God and His Law, restoring a right relationship between God and man and between God’s Law and man. When Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said…,” He was speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, the teachers of the Law. They were the ones teaching the people the hard, inflexible, and uncompromising letter of the Law while fully missing and omitting the spirit of the Law, which is love – love for God, and love for brother – which was being fulfilled in Jesus. The Law, alone, always accuses. It cannot save, but it only condemns. But, the Law has been fulfilled – it has not passed away – but it has been fulfilled by and in Jesus Christ. That truth and fact the scribes and Pharisees did not see, understand, or believe. And, sadly, that is a truth and fact that Satan seeks to confound and obscure still today so that men either despair of their salvation or, perhaps even worse, trust in themselves and their keeping of the Law for salvation.
The Law always accuses because, even if you could keep the Law perfectly you would still be damned, for everyone who lives was conceived and born in sin, from the newly conceived infant in the womb to the most aged person who still draws breath on this earth. The Law always accuses, and it always condemns, but thanks be to God that we are not saved by our obedience under the Law, but we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Law for us! Thus, St. Paul rightly confessed, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” However, apart from Jesus Christ there is only salvation by obedience to the Law which always accuses and condemns, and there is no hope but only eternal death and damnation apart from God.
You must come to terms with your accuser while you are going with him to court, Jesus says. Your accuser, ultimately, is not your brother whom you have wronged, but your accuser is the Law of God. You must come to terms with God’s Law before it hands you over to the Judge – and the Judge is Jesus in the fulness of His glory when He comes again on the Last Day. To come to terms with your accuser, the Law, means to confess that you are a sinner and to repent of your sins, falling upon Jesus’ mercy alone and not your feeble attempt to keep the Law. You must trust in Jesus’ perfect obedience, satisfaction, and fulfillment of the accusing Law and put no trust in your own obedience, works, or righteousness. Even the very good piety and obedience of the scribes and Pharisees according to the letter of the Law cannot save, but only accuses and condemns. Indeed, Jesus teaches that your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees; you must have the righteousness of Jesus, received freely as a gift of God’s grace. Only Jesus’ righteousness saves, for Jesus alone is the fulfillment of God’s holy, good, and righteous Law.
Thus, Jesus is your rest. Jesus is your rest from all your striving to keep the Law and failing. Jesus is the Sabbath rest of the LORD that He commanded all men to keep holy when He rested from His completed work of creation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus spoke these words just before teaching about the Law to keep the Sabbath day holy saying, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath because He is its fulfillment. In the same way, Jesus is the fulfillment of all of God’s Law. It was the scribes and the Pharisees, once again, who chided Jesus and His disciples for transgressing the letter of the Sabbath law by plucking heads of grain to eat. Jesus answered them saying, “If you had known what this means, […], you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Guiltless; that is what you are before God and His righteous, good, and holy Law, through Jesus Christ who has fulfilled it for you and for all.
Indeed, the capstone of Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law was His own rest in the tomb on Saturday, the Sabbath. On Good Friday, Jesus’ dying word was tetelestai, it is finished, it is fulfilled, it is complete. What was finished? What was fulfilled? What was complete? All the work of re-creation, of fulfilling the Law of God and paying the penalty for our failure to keep it. Then Jesus rested, thus fulfilling even the Law to keep the Sabbath. His saving work complete, the Law fulfilled, Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, the Eighth Day, the new day of a new creation upon which the sun will never set. It is into this Jesus that you were baptized, and it is in this Eighth Day that you have been raised anew from that watery grave to new and everlasting life that cannot die. And, today – Sunday – is that day. Everything that came before pointed to Christ and Christ has fulfilled it all. “Therefore,” St. Paul proclaims to the Colossians, “let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” The substance belongs to Christ. Come, eat and drink of His substance given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Through Him, and through Him alone, your righteousness does indeed exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees, for Jesus Christ alone is righteous, and He is your righteousness.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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