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I Am the Law (St. Matthew 5.17-26)

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

“I Am the Law”
Seminarian Brendan Harris, Vicar  

St. Matthew 5.17-26

11 July 2021


Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus ✠ Christ; Amen.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” With this question, Saint Paul puts his hand on the artery of the question that plagues us all: if I am a Christian, why am I still sinning? Why, if I am baptized into Christ and reborn in Him, must I continue here below struggling against sin, constantly disappointing myself and disappointing my Lord? Shall we continue in sin? By no means. “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” How indeed, brother Apostle, how indeed? He himself goes on to say, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Even this, one of the greatest among the saints, is chief of sinners. Yet in our text here, there is none of this. He simply says, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

The Lord in our Gospel gives us this stern demand: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That is a high demand indeed. We tend to rag on the Pharisees because they are the targets of much of Jesus’ critiques, and deservedly so. Yet to the world at the time, there was no one better, no one more visibly righteous than they. And what Jesus is effectively saying here is that by the measure of the law, even the Pharisees would find themselves locked out of the kingdom, they would go to Hell, according to the metric they had chosen to be measured by, because their righteousness was not perfect; it was not acceptable in God’s sight. Why is that? Because they didn’t understand the spirit of the law, they failed to understand just the breadth of the decrees. Thou shalt not kill. Simple enough, yes? But on this rule, Jesus teaches those around Him as if it were elementary school, almost beleaguering the point: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’” Well, yes Jesus, why don’t you recite the ABC’s for me as well. But then he increases the scope of the requirements: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be liable to judgment.” Suddenly, the law isn’t so keepable anymore. And He goes on, “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Are you guilty yet? The Lord doesn’t just hate murder, but He here legislates against everything that leads up to murder, He convicts you for holding simply the very first beginnings of murder, that murder in the heart that is born, perhaps even subconsciously, in envy and hatred. He nips it in the bud. A person might even find himself dreaming such angry thoughts before he even countenances them in reality. Truly, the Lord has raised the bar so high that only He could ever jump over it.

And that is precisely the point, for note his words before this: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” An analysis of the letter of the law, and an expansion of that letter after the manner that Christ does here, will always cause us to despair. No one has any hope of salvation by that metric. Yet Jesus does not leave us crushed, but points us to Himself. “I have come to fulfill the law.” And not only fulfill the law, but the Law and the Prophets, all of the sayings of the Scriptures, both law and gospel. If Jesus is the Word of God, as we read in the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Word made flesh; well then Jesus is also in Himself the Law and the Prophets, He Himself is the Gospels. If you look to Him, and hear the words said of Him, all things are fulfilled there. Yes, we fall short of the demands. But you are baptized. The effectiveness of your Baptism is ensured by the Word of God, it is promised, and thus in Baptism, you have been baptized into Christ’s death, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

And note that the Apostle doesn’t just end there, he says, “that we too might walk in newness of life.” That we might walk. The death of Christ is substitutionary, it is on our behalf. He took our sins and atoned for them all, that He might be raised from the dead and be freed of them on account of us all. And if we heed His Words, we will look to Him, and that will show us that “if we have died with Christ,” in Baptism, “we believe that we will also live with him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus expanded the Law for us in our Gospel lesson today because He wanted to crush us, in order that we would look to Him to bear our sin. That might be easy enough to accept, but never forget that someone had to bear that sin, and just how He bore it. Do not underestimate the weight of sin. There is not some convenient way to shove everything wrong you’ve done under the carpet, as if every sin committed and forgiven just poofs into nothingness, it doesn’t just disappear into the ether. No, rather it is transferred onto the back of Jesus. Every sin you commit, He carries on Himself, He feels every added weight as He carries His cross down the road to His death, He sweats all these sins off like drops of blood. When you look the other way and do that thing you know very well that you shouldn’t do, suspecting it will all just be water under the bridge anyway, remember that you are tossing more wood on the Lord’s back, you are increasing His load, even if you suppose it to be just another sliver. Your sins are real, they are evil, and they hurt Him.

But He will bear them, nonetheless, because that is how much He loves you. He wants you to look to Him for your salvation, to appreciate just how vast the extent of what He is bearing for you is. He wants you to know that no matter what comes, you are still His, if you will but have Him as your Lord. And He wants you to look to Him for your example in how to live. As Christ does, and as Christ teaches, so you ought to do, that you might walk, as the Apostle says, in newness of life, dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus. As He tells the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.”

Our Lord is a loving Father who does not leave us without His help. And that help He gives us, first of all, is the Word of the Law itself. That very Law, given on Sinai to Moses, which convicts us of our faults, is also used to encourage us on. For who can say it is such a harsh thing to ask you to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and to love thy neighbor as thyself? We ought to pant with longing to do just that. In fact, the longest of the Psalms in the Bible, One-Nineteen, says this: “O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” and it includes many other similar sayings. The Psalmist can say these things, because He knows who the Law is. Jesus, the promised Savior, the Son of David, is the Law made flesh Himself. He is our salvation and our Gospel, but He is also the judge and lawgiver, thus He demonstrates the best manner of life for us, satisfying not only the ultimate fulfillment of the punitive punishment of the Law, but also satisfying it positively, instructing us in how we are to love it, abide by it, and ever yearn to grow under it.

Rejoice, dear children of God, for you are dead to sin. Jesus Christ died for you, and lives again for you, and provides you His instruction and example that you may look to Him for newness of life; new life is ours, new light, new hope, new strength, new powers. So walk in His ways, and He will give you grace and strength, and in Him and through Him you will run the race of this life to the journey’s end. He bids you walk, dear children, walk in love of God and love for one another. Walk in the Way and love, just as He commanded of old: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” In Jesus’ ✠ Name; Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; Amen.


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