Matthew 5:17-26 2013-07-07
The Baptized walk a narrow path between two deceptions. On the one side is false hope and on the other is despair.
Luther famously struggled with despair. He was terrified that God would not or could not forgive his sins. It was a struggle that led, ultimately, to comfort, for being terrified by his guilt, Luther longed for a Savior and rescue. But for many of his contemporaries, this despair led to lawlessness. That seems to have been the case, for example, with Leo the X. Knowing nothing of the Gospel, thinking that God could not be appeased and that he was damned, Leo X simply gave in to his baser desires and lived only for his flesh, as an openly, lawless man.
For the most part, Lutherans has been alert to this danger. Because of it, we’ve stressed God’s mercy in Christ, His eagerness to forgive, and the all encompassing Sacrifice of Jesus Christ that has paid-in-full for all the sins of the world.
But the other danger, false hope, is also deadly. Who could be deceived by hope? The one who says: “Since God forgives my sins, my sins don’t matter. Let me do what I please. Let me give loose reins to my lusts. My sins cannot be held against me for Christ’s sake so I will indulge them.” Such a person has turned God’s mercy on its head. He has been deceived by the devil through hope and become as lawless as the one who gave in to despair.
Today’s Gospel is more concerned with the temptations of hope than despair. Jesus says: “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.” The Law is not evil. Its moral code and patterns are good. They embody and express God’s good and gracious will. It was not an accusation or damning when God told Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit in the garden. It was simply good. The law is still good even though our fallen flesh hates and chafes against it. The law has not been abolished and it cannot be abolished. It has, however, been fulfilled.
The Law’s fulfillment is in Our Lord’s active and passive obedience. His active obedience is that He did not sin. He lived according to the Law of Moses. He did not engage in lustful thoughts or envy or drunkenness. He loved his neighbor as Himself and held nothing back. He was good the way that we are evil. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary without sin and, though He was sorely tempted throughout His earthly life, He did not sin. Thus He filled the law.
His passive obedience is the mirror image. Even though He was without sin He suffered the full punishment due to sinners. He accepted the punishment meant for others and filled all of Justice’s demands against us. He fulfilled the Law by doing everything it said to do. Then He fulfilled the law by allowing it to do to Him all it should have done to us.
In this way, He ended the Law’s accusations against us. But this did not render the accusations and demands stupid or meaningless. The Law was never arbitrary. He was not just jumping through hoops. The Law is good and holy. It is God’s will for our lives. The active obedience is not only substitutionary. It is also an example. He not only resists temptation in our place, He also shows us how to resist temptation and inspires us to fight harder. He shows us how to live, what is good, what love looks like. Being fulfilled and complete in Jesus Christ, the Law does not then pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God, His Holy Law, will not. Having been fulfilled and embodied, that is, incarnated, in Jesus Christ the Law is more eternal, more substantial, than ever. In a similar way, His death, that is, His passive obedience is also in our stead and an example. He shows us how to live by faith, to trust in God’s goodness in the midst of evil, how to make an good confession, even, really, how to be a Christian, because He shows us how to die as He dies for us. Again, having allowed the Law to do to Him what it should have done to us He has made the Law more real, more solid and lasting than it was before. When God gave the Law through Moses, it was only an outline of God’s will. Now, in Christ the innocent Man crucified, the Law has flesh and bones and is everlasting. For He is the very opposite of the man of lawlessness. He is the Law in the Flesh.
Thus, for the sake of those who are in danger of despair, He has offered us a refuge of pardon. He is quick and glad to forgive. He receives and eats with sinners. The Law has been fulfilled in Him for you. Your sins are not too big or too shocking or too old. His grace is for you.
But because of those who are in danger because they take His mercy for granted, for the sake of those who might be deluded by delays and think their sins are insignificant, He has made the day of death uncertain. No one knows when his last hour will come. Thus we should not become arrogant in our hope even as we should not give in to despair but should simply trust in fulfillment of Christ and His promises.
Thus did He say to the woman caught in adultery: “There is no one to accuse you. Nor do I condemn you.” She was thereby secure in the past. Her sins were not counted against her and neither are yours. Your past is forgiven. But then He said to her: “Go and sin no more.” For His law is not a recommendation. Sin not only angers God but also places the soul in peril. And to us He says: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The gentle kindness of the Lord is not weakness or uncertainty. Sin is never trivial. Repent. Set your heart and mind once more to be free of sin, to amend your life, to bear fruits of repentance for real. And rest in the pardon bestowed constantly through the Word of God, prayer, and the Holy Sacraments. For the crucified and risen Lord is every bit as serious in His promises and grace as He is in His holy Law.
In Jesus’ Name.