The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel
October 15, 2006
There is an old saying: ďThe
more things change, the more they stay the same.Ē
Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: ďThere is nothing new under the
sun.Ē This is especially the case when it comes to religion,
specifically false teaching.
In our day we see threats
against the revealed truth of our Christian religion from both the left
and the right. On the left is the denial of the holy mysteries of the faith.
The Bible itself is challenged as if it could contain errors.
The biblical account of creation is said to be a myth. The true deity of Christ is questioned. The exclusive claims of Jesus are seen as bigoted
narrow-mindedness. On the
right is the imposition of legalistic rules.
If you are a Christian, so they say, you may not drink or smoke
or disobey any other of a long list of rules that they claim are drawn
from the Bible but are in fact the traditions of men.
They turn the gospel into law as they bind consciences to their
manmade rules. The so
called liberals take away from the clear teaching of Godís word, while
the so called conservatives add their own traditions to the clear
teaching of Godís word.
Well, thereís nothing new
under the sun. This was so
in Jesusí day as well. In
the chapter from which todayís Gospel Lesson is taken we find Jesus
confronting both the liberals and the legalists of His own day.
In each case He affirms the sole authority of the Holy Scriptures
for our doctrine and life. And
in each case He points us to the gospel by which our sins are forgiven
and eternal life is granted to us.
The Sadducees were the liberals
of Jesusí day. They
rejected many of the supernatural truths of the faith.
They denied the existence of angels.
They denied the resurrection of the body.
They came to Jesus with a hypothetical situation that they were
sure would disprove the resurrection of the body.
If a woman were married to seven brothers in this life, to whom
would she be married after the resurrection?
Jesus replied, ďYou err because you do not know the Scriptures
or the power of God.Ē He
went on to explain that there is no marriage in heaven.
After Jesus silenced the
Sadducees, the Pharisees tried their hand at testing Jesus.
We read, ďThen one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question,
testing Him, and saying, ĎTeacher, which is the great commandment in
the law?íĒ This was a
familiar strategy that they had used before.
They wanted to get Jesus to take a side in one of their many
religious quarrels. Since
they couldnít agree with each other on which of the hundreds of
commandments was the most important, Jesus couldnít answer their
question without involving himself in an endless and fruitless debate.
They were legalists.
They believed that Godís law could be reduced to rules.
And they had plenty of rules: 613 of them, 248 of them were
positive obligations, and 365 of them were negative prohibitions.
Out of these 613 rules they wanted Jesus to choose for them the
one that was more important than any other.
Jesusí answer was both simple
and radical. He simply
ignored their rules altogether and went back to the Scriptures,
specifically to the Law of Moses, and recited for them what every
student in catechism class knows by heart:
shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your mind. This
is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as
You cannot reduce Godís law to
rules. The love that God
requires of us all is far greater than the boundaries that rules set for
us. Godís law isnít a matter simply of doing and refraining
from doing. It is a matter
of loving with our whole heart, our whole life, and our whole mind. What do you desire more than anything else?
What matters to you most in your daily living?
What occupies your thoughts?
This is your god. The God who made us, redeemed us, and sanctifies us demands
from us all that we are and have, for all that we are and have is His.
Giving it all back to Him is not an option.
It is a necessity.
But we cannot find the strength
to do so, and so we devise dishonest ways of pretending we have done the
duty we failed to do. This
is the purpose of religious rules that ignore the demand to love God
above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself.
These rules are designed to provide the faÁade of obedience when
underneath the religious covering there is nothing but deceit and
The radical nature of Godís
law makes sinners of us all. You
can obey all of the rules ever made and you havenít yet begun to obey
God if you do not desire Him above the things you own and if you do not
live for Him before living for yourself and if you do not think of what
He has to say to you before thinking of what you have to say to Him.
Rules are necessary for children, so they will learn how to
behave. But love is the
requirement of Godís law and no amount of rules can turn a stone cold
heart into a heart that loves God above all things.
Only Christ can do that.
But when Jesus asked his questioners who Christ was, it became
immediately apparent that they had no idea.
Oh, they knew that He was Davidís son.
But that the Christ would be a descendent of David was not all
there was to it. Davidís
son was also Davidís Lord. Can
you explain that? They
could not. But worse than that, they didnít care. They didnít want to know how Davidís son could be
Davidís Lord. Why not?
Because their religion was simply a matter of doís and
doníts. It had nothing to
do with Christ and the promise of the gospel.
How indeed can Davidís son be
Davidís Lord? There is
only one way. The Lord God
Himself must become a baby, born of the seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Judah, Jesse, David, and finally a young virgin girl by the name of
Mary. God had to become a
man. Only in God becoming a
man could man now do what God required of man.
Only God in the flesh could fulfill what God demanded of all
flesh. Sinful flesh neither
loved God above all things nor neighbor as self, but when the eternal
Son of the eternal Father became flesh and blood it was not sinful flesh
and blood. God became one
of us in order to love. It
was a man, our dear brother Jesus, who loved God with his whole heart,
soul, and mind. He
fulfilled the law. He
didnít care for human rules that distracted from the true purpose of
the divine law. He cared for the divine law, that is, it was His burning
desire to love with that perfect love.
In Christ, Davidís Son and
Davidís Lord, we see God and man united in one person.
And we see love like we can see it nowhere else.
In our midweek Bible classes as we have been reviewing the Ten
Commandments we have see how Jesus Himself fulfills every single one of
them. He does so by loving
God above all things and His neighbor as Himself.
The religion of the Sadducees is
the religion of the mockers who are too smart in their own estimation to
submit in humble faith to mysteries beyond their ken.
This religion is the bane of the elite, the intelligentsia, the
politically powerful but spiritually empty leaders of this world.
Professing themselves to be wise they make themselves into fools.
The religion of the legalistic Pharisees is, I believe, a more
serious threat to us Bible believing Christians who are rightly
concerned about the moral decay of our culture and the apparent
wholesale abandonment of traditional standards for decent behavior.
What we need is more rules!
We need more discipline. We
need a little bit of legalism to counteract the liberalism that
surrounds us on every side.
Oh no, we donít.
The antidote for one spiritual poison is not another spiritual
poison, and legalism is poison to the soul.
We Christians have no right to replace Godís radical
requirement of love with the doable rules religious people have invented
and substituted in its place. We
must continue to seek out instruction from God on how to love and to see
the Ten Commandments as requiring that perfect love that only Jesus has
ever fulfilled. We must continue to see that perfect law of love as
describing our lives, and when it doesnít, we must agree with its
judgment that we are poor, miserable, sinners who rightly deserve
Godís present and eternal punishment.
Then we must look to Jesus
Christ, Davidís Son and Davidís Lord, to find the love we cannot
find in ourselves. The reason the Pharisees didnít want to understand how the
Christ could be Davidís Son and Davidís Lord at the same time is
because they were too infatuated with their own rules to care about
their Savior. But we who
have found the pure and holy law of love rightly condemning us do care
about the One who takes that condemnation away from us.
How can Davidís Son be Davidís Lord?
We know how. Our
Lord became our brother, thatís how.
He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was
made man. As our brother He
loved. His love is the pure
obedience from the heart that God now reckons to us as righteousness. His
love faced the hatred of all humanity on the cross and triumphed over
it. The law cannot condemn
us because Christ has borne our condemnation. In
Christ we have the love God requires of us.
In Christ we have Godís forgiveness for our failure to love.
In Him we are blameless. We
have in Him that love of God that passes all understanding.
No amount of rules could capture
our hearts and teach us how to love God, but God in Christ has.
And so we love Him who first loved us in Jesusí name.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus