24. July 2022
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
You cannot claim to believe in God and murder your neighbor. And if you thought you could escape that, Jesus tells you today that if you hate your neighbor, you cannot love God. It doesn’t matter if that neighbor is your spouse, child, sibling, employer, overseer, pastor, fellow pew-sitter, or even the one who lives in the next house down the road. You can’t call your neighbor names without putting yourself under the same judgment. You can’t go around pointing out your neighbor’s faults without risking heaven and salvation. Even those who have been given an office of either civil or spiritual judgment run the risk of shipwrecking their own faith by a life of hypocrisy.
Every relationship—from home to the congregation, work, school, or society—is full of sinners sinning. You ask yourself why there is so much chaos, disorder, hatred, envy, greed, slander, libel, philandering, home-wrecking, and worse. You think that if there are more rules, more laws, more policies, and more enforcement of other people’s rebellion that everything will get better. But you neglect to listen to what God has spoken and where He has directed that Word. Yes, He reveals the lies of the deceiver and the temptations of the world. But Jesus tells you those are nothing compared to your own heart. A reconciled relationship begins with and requires reconciliation between you and God.
So, lets get back to basics. The Bible teaches us that all men have sinned. “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Our very inner self rises up against God. The Bible calls it “the flesh” and says that it neither is nor can be subject to the law of God. All mankind lives according to the flesh and in continual rebellion to God’s will expressed in His Word by nature. “They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12)
Because of sin, God’s holy law remains. It does not tell you what you can do to fulfill God’s demands. It doesn’t establish possibility but rather rejects the possibility that you can make yourself right with God. “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).
And worse than that! The knowledge of what you must and must not do doesn’t make you better. Rather, Jesus tells you it makes you worse. “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (John 15:22). And St. Paul echoes Him, “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound” (Romans 5:20). Instead, Law states what you must be if you are to be able to stand in the presence of God. The law states what is right and good. Because of your hatred of God’s Word, you have no good in you.
Jesus has, therefore, insisted with all seriousness that no one can hedge on the demands of the law of God. His Gospel does not imply that He lowers the demands. When he discarded the addenda to the law that the Pharisees had made, He demanded not less but more than they had. He says that you will not enter the kingdom unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the scribes and the Pharisees. You should not imagine that Jesus had come to destroy the Law. Not a jot or tittle of it would perish. It is not enough, either, to fulfill those commandments which you yourselves think are most important. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).
Jesus’ own disciples were floored by this truth. They asked in their day, “But who can then be saved?” And Jesus answered: “With men it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:26ff). Paul expresses it this way: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Again you are face to face with your need for redemption, which is yours in Christ crucified and the basis of all Christian faith.
Because you believe in Jesus, you are free from the condemnation of the Law. In spite of your sins, God declares you to be a child of God in Holy Baptism. But you are not free from what the Bible speaks of as the being “slaves of righteousness.” You are bound by God to His Word. The Spirit uses God’s law as an enforcer and a judge over your Old Man and the flesh, putting it to death and drowning it over and over. You are reminded of the Word that God spoke to Cain: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Gen 4:7) The commandments are God’s tool to keep clear the boundaries between right and wrong, what our Catechism calls the first or “civil” use.
And because you believe and are baptized, you have been given and possess the Spirit of God. By Baptism, you “walk by the Spirit.” For you to begin to live a life that is good according to God’s Word, it must be the Spirit who is at work within you. Since the Christian has both the Spirit and your own flesh, there will be a constant battle. Your life in Baptism is one of daily turning away from sin and returning to Jesus for His blood-bought forgiveness. The fulfillment of the law will never be complete in this life. The Law is only fulfilled in Christ Jesus’ cross and given to you as a gift through the declaration of Holy Absolution. It is only on this account that you are and remain God’s children.
Where there is faith, trusting in Jesus and His suffering, death, and resurrection for your forgiveness, there will also always be love for your neighbor. It doesn’t matter if that neighbor is your spouse, child, sibling, employer, overseer, pastor, fellow pew-sitter, or even the one who lives in the next house down the road. That love will be manifest in you as you personally declare to them the same forgiveness declared to you. If you’re angry, forgive them. If you want to call them names, call them instead someone whom Christ Jesus died for. If you think your neighbor a fool, then give them the wisdom of Jesus. If you think your neighbor has something against you, be reconciled in the forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of Christ will make right what you’ve made a mess of.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin