Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fifteeth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 16, 2006, Deut 4:1-2,6-8

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sept 16, 2006
St.  John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD

1“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.  2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.  6Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Deuteronomy 4:1-2; 6-8 (ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“Now listen Sam,” said his father, “you can borrow the car, but I want you to go straight to the game and then come home again.”

“Yea, that’s just what I’ll do… go straight to the game, and then come home again.” Sam had already worked it out in his mind.  He thought it over again to himself.  “Straight to the game” meant exactly that.  He would do that.  But there was some latitude in the phrase “and then come home again.” He didn’t have time to stop anywhere before the games anyway.  But the way home was full of options.  There were lots of routes that he could take.  He could be plenty creative in that respect.  After all one of his friends was bound to need a ride somewhere, they might even leave before the game was over.  After all his dad didn’t say “and then straight home again.”

Dad reluctantly dropped the keys in Sam’s hand, while he looked over his son’s face and expression.  “You heard what I said.”

“Yea, I heard, straight to the game.  And then I’ll come home afterward.”

“Ok, as long as we understand each other.” But Dad was skeptical, as Sam turned on his heel out the door.  

Sam’s Dad was skeptical for good reason.  He’s like any father, remembers what it was like when he was in his son’s shoes.  He remembers how he took advantage and tried to create a loophole in the rules.  In fact, it’s perfectly natural to look over the rules and try to find a loophole.  We do it all the time.  Even the people who received the law of God from Moses had done it.

“2You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.” said Moses (speaking for God) to the people.  It’s a little like Dad making sure that Sam understood what he meant.  Moses wanted the people to be sure to know that the law was to be followed perfectly.  There were no exceptions.  There are never exceptions to God’s law.  Don’t add to them, and don’t take anything away.  Do them as they are that you may live.  Because by breaking them you will surely die.  That’s really what’s at stake with the law.  It’s a matter of life and death.  

Understand first, that God’s law in and of itself is very good.  It comes from God, and He is perfect in His will and action.  The law He gives is perfect as well.  St.  Paul talked about it in his letter to the Romans.  12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.  Romans 7:12 (ESV) The law has to be good because it comes from a perfect and holy God.  And He gives His perfect law “that you may live.”

But there is a problem here.  And the problem isn’t with God’s law.  The problem is with those who receive the law.  Instead of looking at God’s law the way God would have us look at it, we see a problem.  We see it as if God is trying to control us and take away our freedom.  Just like Sam trying to get around the intention of what his father said to him.  We want exceptions to the law.  We want to modify it.  

We do it every day, right? We see God’s law as an affront to our freedom.  We tell ourselves that what God really wants is for us to be happy.  “I’m happy just the way I am, the way that I’m living.  God doesn’t really mean the law should apply to me.”  My little white lies aren’t important.  My fudging on my taxes isn’t a big issue.  The Swimsuit issue of Sport’s Illustrated isn’t really pornography (they don’t even put it behind the counter, and they aren’t actually naked!) No one ever got hurt by them.  A few coins in the slots, and a few lottery tickets aren’t anything, even if keeps getting just a few more every month.  The speed limits are really only suggestions, unless the cops are around.  You can insert your own pet sin here.  I could go on and on… we all have them.  We all want our little sins to be exceptions, loopholes we can jump through.  And we’re not exempt from them as a church either.  The church can be so focused on numbers and budgets that we trade off the truth of God’s Word for the sake of filling the pews.  “Pastor, if you were just a little less direct about sin, a little less accusing, it could be like the old days here again when the every pew was full.  If you’d just loosen up a bit on those old stodgy rules we could be a bigger, better church again.”  

God gives us His good law so that we can live.  It gives promises, real promises.  If we could keep the law perfectly we could live forever.  But unfortunately it gives real curses, too.  St. Paul tells us about that, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Romans 7:10 (ESV) That old sinful nature in us would like to live our lives as exceptions to God’s Word.  That sinful nature in us wants to take away from Scripture what ever accuses it of sin.  We make light of the sins we see as harmless, victimless, and personal.  But the law just doesn’t make exceptions.  It is very specific.  It doesn’t ask us to change.  It doesn’t ask us to just do better.  It doesn’t give us hints for getting along better with our neighbor.  It says, “Do this and live.  Don’t do this… and die.”  Adam and Eve were given a command that was just that way.  “You may eat of any tree in the garden… except this one. On the day you do you will surely die.”  Don’t for one minute think that any sin in you isn’t worthy of death, even those ”little harmless ones.”  That’s a heavy burden to bear… it’s easier to overlook them, make them seem less important than they are, and modify that law so that it doesn’t apply.  It’s easier to re-interpret the law so that what we do isn’t wrong.  Like Sam not coming straight home.  But it doesn’t change our guilt.  It doesn’t change the fact that we deserve punishment for breaking it.

But God does offer a solution.  It’s there in the words Moses speaks to the people.  “7For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” Here Moses is saying that because the laws are so right and good people from surrounding nations will marvel at God’s presence among them.  In other words, God’s laws show His love by showing His will.  Even when we can’t keep it.  God’s nearness is really the answer to the problem of sin.  “Wretched man that I am,” St.  Paul calls out to God, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer is: Jesus Christ, who saves us from the condemnation of the law.  God gives the law for life, but it condemns us because we can’t keep it.  God gives the Gospel for life, and that is exactly what it brings.  That is where God draws near to us.  He comes to us in Jesus Christ.  Born in a stable in Bethlehem, He is God himself born as a living and breathing human being.  He draws near to us to bring us life.  Jesus tell su 17“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.” Matthew 5:17 (ESV) You see, when the law doesn’t suit us we seek to have it changed.  But that’s not possible with God’s perfect law.  It must be kept.  Jesus didn’t come to change the law.  He came to do it right.  He came to keep it perfectly and fully, to the very letter of it, without exception or loophole.  

He became a human being just like you and me and said, “No exceptions for me.  The law applies to me; every word and syllable of it; every ‘do’ and every ‘don’t’.”  That’s what He means when He says He comes to fulfill the law.  He fills it up, without exception.  Jesus Christ, took on human nature so that the law would apply to Him.  He was the only person who ever kept the law perfectly for His whole life.  He kept it perfectly, in the letter and the spirit.  He earned the full promise of the law, life forever.  Now the other thing about Jesus fulfilling the law that’s most important for us to remember when we are talking about our little sins that bring us death.  Jesus came to fulfill the law, all of it.  He even came to fulfill the law’s “no exceptions” demands for punishment and death.  And dear Christians, He didn’t come to fulfill the law for Himself.  He came to do it for you.  After He had done everything perfectly He didn’t just take what He had earned and fly off to where He came from.  Instead He paid the full and complete penalty for your sin.  He faced God’s fierce anger over sin on the cross.  Please note that God’s anger is just as great for those little “exceptions” we like to make as it is for the big sins.  Christ Jesus your Lord hung in your place under God’s punishment, and paid what you earned for the broken laws of God.  That’s how God draws near to you to save you.  You have a God that is indeed that near to you and loves you so much that He died on the cross to take your punishment away from you.  

But don’t think that His nearness to you ended with His death on the cross.  He promises to be with you always, to be near you always.  His love for you didn’t end when He breathed out His last time on the cross.  He didn’t stay dead, but rose again still a living and breathing person.  God and Man together in Jesus Christ, dead and buried, and raised again to life forever.  And that’s the risen Lord Jesus that makes promises to you.  It’s one thing to trust the promises of someone who has died.  It’s quite another thing to trust the One who has risen from death to life.  It’s the risen Lord that you can trust.  Just think, not only did He die to pay the penalty of sin; but He rose again from the dead.  If He can do that He can keep all His promises to you.  And He does.

Ok, so God hates all my sin, even those little ones.  What am I suppose to do about that.  I’ve got to deal with them every day.  Well, the answer is… don’t forget that God is near you.  Martin Luther speaks of the nearness of God in Holy Baptism.  The confirmation students memorize this:

What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" [Rom. 6:4].

And St. Paul tells Pastor Titus in the Epistle:

[Jesus] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:5-8, ESV)

You live in that renewal every day that you remember the nearness of God to you through Holy Baptism.  With that Old Adam, that Old Sinful nature drowned, God has dealt already with our desire to sin.  The Old Adam doesn’t control our lives.  The law puts him in his place.  We have a new nature a new life created in us.  That new nature always wants to keep God’s law perfectly, and it always does.  No exceptions.

So those “exceptions” that we want…  the old nature is still going to try to tell us that we need them.  When that happens just remind yourself that God is near.  The Holy Spirit is right there with you.  You don’t need exceptions to God’s law to avoid punishment.  Jesus Christ has paid the penalty already.  You have eternal life through Him.  Confess the sin, and the desire to sin to Him.  He forgives.  He removes.  He washes clean.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

Orycteropus Afer said...

Jonathan, could you check your settings and try getting paragraph breaks to work? It's hard to follow the longer posts when the paragraphs run together. Thanks!