That sounds comforting if you think you are good. But Our Lord did not come to lessen the Law, to bend it a bit, or make it easy to do; He came to fulfill it and make its true meaning plain. He did this by living the Law to the full. Not just the letter of law, but the spirit of the Law. Like when you tell your kid to do something. After a certain amount of hounding and threatening they do it, but only half-heartedly, doing the minimum they have to to pretend they have done what you said. Kids, like all of us, are good lawyers. They can parse all the words and squeeze the least amount of work required to fulfill a command. They do the letter of the Law. So you get angry that they should know what you meant. They should know the spirit of what you were saying, not merely the legalistic letter, and go above and beyond the mere words to do the job properly!
Well, Christ, the perfect Son, did it all: the letter and the spirit of the Law. Take the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. The letter of the Law is: do not kill. But you have not fulfilled the spirit of that Law if all you do is never kill anyone. If you murder a law court will judge you according to the letter of the Law. But the spirit of the Law is trickier. We think we are so smart, and have gotten some work-arounds because we have figured out ways to do only the letter of the Law and thus like to call ourselves good. But Christ, who came to make the spirit of the Law plain, says, if you get angry at your brother and call him a fool you have broken the spirit of the Law. For this law is about life. About loving life, supporting life, not just biological life, but quality of life. It is about making the lives of those around you better. So, if you make someone’s life bitter by attacking them, even if it be only with words, you have broken the spirit of the Law. You have not loved their life. You have hated their life. You have sought to remove their life. Our Lord says breaking the Law in this way means you are bound for the hell of fire. Ouch! That means you. That means me. For who has not mocked someone else out loud or just in your own head? Repent.
You can not go on this way. When you sin you must repent. You must recognize your wrong. You must cry out to the Lord for mercy. Repentance results in action. Action toward Our Lord and toward the persons you have sinned against.
So you attacked someone personally with a verbal insult. That hardly seems bad to us. It happens all time. So what? But have you ever stopped to consider the impact? The words you say are powerful. The right word at the right time is like dancing in the rain after months of scorching heat. The wrong word at the wrong time is death to a person. It makes their life hell. It robs them of joy. For that silly word you spoke gnaws at them. It torments them. It sticks with them. It becomes something they believe about themself and so that they start acting accordingly. They do untold harm to themselves because of some mean, offhand comment you made to them because you were having a bad day.
Thus, repentance and faith result in action. Faith leads you to the table of Our Lord for His forgiveness. But faith is not divorced from concern for the brother in Christ. So when you are going to repent of your sins and get God’s forgiveness at His table realize that if you need reconciliation with Him you also need reconciliation with others. Ponder who your sins have hurt. Admit your wrong doing to them and ask for their forgiveness. Do what you need to make it right.
So if you are going to the altar for forgiveness do not go just to get right with God. First go and try to make amends with any you have sinned against. For that is the spirit of the Law. To love. To seek what is best for your neighbour. To not merely not kill, but to make their life as good as you can while here on earth.
For Christ has not lessened the Law. He has brought forth its true meaning. He has revealed not just the letter, He has shown and taught the fullness of what the Law demands. He has lived love fully for you.
Which leads to a problem. In my sin I do not even do the letter let alone the spirit of the Law. Christ has not lessened the Law, made easier, nor turned blind eye to my failure to do it. But thanks be to God Christ is not merely a new Moses, a new law giver. He is a Law intensifier to be sure. But only so that you will despair of your ability to keep the Law. So that you become so desperate in your search for salvation that you are left with no other option than to turn from your dead works to Him.
For He fulfilled the Law by living the letter and spirit to the utmost. One man has filled out the letter and spirit so completely that the Law’s accusations have been silenced before him. His righteousness has been attached to you. For you have been united with Him in your Baptism. His righteous Law-completing is yours. He died your death so you might live His life.
He united you with His death so that you were raised with Him in His resurrection. He did it 2000 years ago. You will receive it on the Last Day. It is yours now, but it is not given to you fully yet. He is the first fruits of the resurrection from the dead. You are the harvest at the end of time. But now, in between that time, you have His promise. His proclamation that you are dead in Him to sin and alive with Him in justification. Just as the tiniest sin deserves hellfire, so the tiniest little connection with Him through water and His Word gives you God’s good pleasure. It gives you His gracious attitude toward you.
The temptation for we who are in Christ is to take it easy on ourselves, to lessen the Law, to look the other way, to be lax, or chill. To go on sinning because Our Lord always has more grace. This is not how our new life works. We are dead to sin in Christ. Though we still live in this body of sin, we should not give into it. For He has brought us out of the house of slavery. He has totally lived the Law for you. His righteousness greatly exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He has entered the kingdom of heaven. He takes you there. Do not try to lessen the law for yourself to lessen your pain, your conflict, or your suffering. Instead, intensify it. Let it kill you just as He has intensified it and let it kill Him. Become increasingly aware of your weakness, your pride, your self-righteous indignation, the wicked attitude in you which says, I am not wrong in this situation, it is that other person—be it my spouse, my parent, my friend—who is wrong. Repent of such thinking. Then be bold. Bold to speak. To speak your apology. Bold to speak your forgiveness. Bold to reconcile. Do not wait. The longer you wait it just gets harder. The silence grows between you. Before you know it Satan has hold of you and he is turning the key on your cell. You will not get out. For you do not have the coin to buy your release.
But Christ has killed that old sinner who constantly rears its ugly head. He has slain that miserable wretch in the cell it lived in. He purchased your release with His own innocent suffering and death. He has not needed to turn the key on your cell, for when He raised you in Himself, you were already free. Do not forget this fact and return to your cell. Go you are free. And come to the altar where your life in Him is strengthen and your freedom reassured again and again.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON