Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sinners that we are, we are constantly looking for ways around the law: loopholes, exemptions, exceptions. That’s why the law books are so thick, why the legal code is so ponderous, why the lawyers are well-paid, and why new laws must be passed every day. The same is true of our attitude toward God’s Law. We’re always looking for the “It doesn’t apply to me” clause. Yet, God’s law and His commands are really quite simple. They can be reduced to one sentence: “Trust Me and so do what I say.” And how should we reply? “All the words which the Lord has said, we will do.” But we often don’t say that. Instead we wink and say, “Sure, we’ve done that. We’ve kept the letter of the law.” But don’t you know? “The letter kills while the Spirit gives life.”
Our Lord Jesus came into our world not to kill, but to give life. He did not come to add to the laws and commands of God, but to accomplish them. He did not come to add to the burdens of the law, but to give us the Holy Spirit who applies to us Christ’s fulfilment of the Law, the commandments, the ordinances, the precepts, the statutes, and the decrees of God. Jesus came in our flesh precisely because we do not keep our word; because we do not do and heed all that the Lord has said; because we come up with ways to skirt the law of God; because we do not trust the laws of God. But if you will not trust His Law, how can you believe His Gospel? If you will not be afraid of His threats, how can you be comforted by His promises? If you do not love His commandments, how can you live from His life-giving Word?
When He says, “I came to fulfill the Law,” our Lord is not thinking like us. He’s not crossing His fingers. He’s not using legal trickery. He’s saying that He did what we could never hope to do: He accomplished the fullness of God’s law. Perhaps a person might be able to keep perfectly the letter of the Law. The Pharisees certainly thought they did. But who can completely, absolutely, every minute of every day keep the Spirit? Our Lord wants you to know that He has fulfilled the Law in its fullness and spirit, but He also requires you to believe that you cannot.
If you wish to live the law of God and to do all He commands, if your heart-felt desire is to attain the kingdom of heaven and to live in God, then you must not ever, in any way, believe in yourself. If you rely on yourself, then you will not be able to resist even the smallest attack by the devil, the world, or your own selfish desires. These enemies feed on your self-delusion that you can do what God requires, even for only a moment. And in the moment you believe that, then you are lost. You have placed yourself and your self-confidence ahead of loving and trusting God above all things.
Our Lord Jesus draws out the full implications of God’s law and increases our understanding of righteousness so that we might see and know and believe and confess that we are the most vulnerable, the most helpless, the weakest—and so the person in greatest need of the Lord’s mercy. For when you hear Jesus say, “Whoever is angry with his brother”—you must reply, “Lord, who then can be saved?”
But that’s the beauty: nothing you are and nothing you have depends on anything you have done. It is all because of the Lord’s mercy. Even the good you do to others traces back to the mercy of God which Jesus died to give you; the mercy you received in the waters of Holy Baptism; the mercy which is nourished and strengthened at this holy altar; the mercy which now lives within you, which has planted God’s kingdom in your heart. That is why you live. That is why you have the hope of the resurrection of your body. That is why you look forward to the life of the world to come. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.