April 5, 2017 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
March 8, 2017
It is not enough to know what God said. One should also ask, to whom did He say it? That makes a tremendous difference in how we interpret God's Word. Suppose you ran a large country house. At the beginning of the work day you told the upstairs maid to make the beds, the gardener to dig up the bulbs, the cook to prepare dinner for seven guests, and the chauffeur to rotate the tires. Now let us suppose that the gardener decided he wanted to make the dinner, the cook went upstairs to make the beds, the upstairs maid tried to rotate the tires, while the chauffeur dug up your bulbs. All of them would be doing what you said, but not to them. We should keep that in mind when we read what God commands. In all history, only Abraham was commanded to make a burnt offering of his son. Most people would agree that he was unique. The genocide of the Canaanites was commanded to Joshua and the Israelites after the exodus. It was only for that time and that people. No one should think of it as a general command.
What God wanted everyone to know, He wrote on our hearts. We call it "natural law," but it really comes from revelation, for conscience is revelation. The Law which comes with the Covenant on Mt. Sinai is partly "natural law," and partly unique commandments for Israel. The Sabbath, the tithe, and the distinction of foods are not written on men's hearts. They were never meant to apply to the Gentiles. They were a customized witness, meant to prepare the way for the Messiah. St. Paul says these were "a shadow of things to come." God Incarnate was the reality, but He cast a long shadow into the past. The observance of days and foods were ceremonies whose purpose was very holy - directing everyone to the Messiah.
First the Law was given orally, then written down by Moses. God gave this special Law only to the people He chose for the Incarnation of His Son. Some might conclude from this that God did not love the Gentiles. That is very wrong. The point is that after Babel God chose to work with one ethnic group in order to save all. Equally wrong is the opinion that the Old Testament proclaims Law but not Gospel. Before God began working with Abraham He told him that in his Seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. The Covenant was not for Abraham's sake alone, but for the world's. Then God gave us sharp pictures of what He would do: priests making atonement with blood, the Passover Lamb, the blessing of Abraham by Melchizedek, and two beautiful types of Holy Baptism - Noah's Flood and the passage of the Red Sea. So when Jesus told us to preach the Gospel to every creature He was fulfilling these very prophecies.
There's a problem with that. Man is perverse. He constantly distorts the Gospel into a license to sin unless he hears it with the proper disposition. No one comes into the world with that disposition as standard equipment. To hear the Gospel aright we need to be poor in spirit, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, pure in heart, etc. So to get us that way, God first tells us the bad news. He demands that we love Him above all, and show our neighbors the same concern we show ourselves. Nobody does that naturally. In history God gave this Law to Israel, and its successor ethnic group, the Jews. He sent the prophets to keep His Commandments before their eyes. He sent John the Baptist to call them to repentance before Messiah was revealed. When Jesus said the last shall be first He was particularly calling the Jews, for He wanted to make His own people first in His kingdom.
Did He do anything similar for the Gentiles? They knew His general Providence, of course. They did not know His name, nor His love. They had part of the Law written on their hearts, so they knew they should be honest, faithful, prudent, to have courage in the face of danger, and not to overdo anything. These are like the Commandments of the Second Table, telling us to be good to our families, faithful to our spouses, sharing our goods with the less fortunate, and being content with what is honestly ours. These demands are actually impossible, because God would have us always desire to keep them willingly.
So we must go beyond what God commanded, and see how He fulfilled what He commanded. Jesus kept every Commandment, so life was His by right. The cross was not His by right; it was His choice. In Jesus God loved us and gave Himself for us. None of us could walk the path to Him, for there was only a vertical climb. But on the cross Jesus obtained forgiveness for us. All the promises made through the patriarchs and prophets led to the cross where all the families of the earth can find forgiveness, and be blessed. This includes us.
What, then, do the Commandments mean for us who are redeemed and forgiven by Jesus? Luther gives the answer in six words which he repeats nine times: We should fear and love God. That is the meaning you learned as a child, and that is the meaning you should always remember. You are a sinner and a saint, holy and ungodly simultaneously. God is both your judge and Redeemer. Don't try to become a lawyer to see what you can get away with. Don't disdain the natural Law, because it was God Himself who wrote it on your heart. But also know that you fall short whenever you hear the Law. Rather than let that push you to despair, let it make you hunger and thirst for righteousness. Then you will be prepared for a generous portion of grace. And when you are forgiven and desire to do right, consider the Commandments which tell you, we should fear and love God. AMEN.