Under the Law, Freedom in Christ
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children sometimes resent being under the law of their parents. When mom says, "You can only have one cookie as a snack," a child will respond: "When I grow up and am not under your rules anymore, I'll be able to snack on as many cookies as I want. I'll even be able to eat just cookies for every meal." According to their sinful flesh, children wish to be above their parents' law, so that they can do whatever they please. If my children had their way, they would have ten puppies in the house and three horses in the back yard; they would never have to clean their rooms; and we'd have mac and cheese three times a day.
In fact, all of us sinful humans are childish in this way. Inside, we all are anarchists. We don't like being told what to do. We bristle under authority. We dislike paying taxes, following speed limits, answering to our bosses. We are especially resentful when it comes to obeying God's Word. We want to come up with our own ideas about God, not submit to His revelation. We resent the unrelenting demands of God's Law as Jesus sums it up in our Gospel reading, that we must love and serve the Lord with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves. This Law of God really throws a bucket of cold water on our selfish desires, for He tells us that we must be constantly busy thinking not about ourselves but about Him and the people He has put into our lives to love.
Inside all of us there is a childish voice constantly saying, "I wish I were above all laws so that I could call the shots and do whatever I want." This is why in our own country, unscrupulous wealthy people and politicians try to grab as much influence as possible, so that while they may technically remain under the law, effectively they are able to rise above it and do as they please. In other places throughout history and even today, tyrants have grabbed complete control of their lands so that they really can be above the law, since they are the law-makers and they back up their laws with the sword.
Yet try as they might, even the most powerful tyrant, even the most successful politician, even the richest, most influential man must acknowledge that certain laws are binding on all people, particularly the law that we must eventually die. For most of us, even when we try to shut out God's demanding and accusing Law over us, our conscience continues to remind us that we are accountable to God for our actions, that we are sinners, and that He is our Judge. This is why we don't like hearing God's Law preached in all its sternness, for then we see how much we have broken it: our conscience gets poked and prodded and stung by our guilt and the knowledge that sin must be punished. Like it or not, the verdict is the same for all people: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All men are under this Law.
Except for One Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man in One Person. According to His divine nature as God the Son, He is actually above all Laws. This is what He teaches in the second half of today's Gospel reading, when He grills the Pharisees by asking, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They responded, "The Christ is the son of David." So far, so good—there is no doubt the Old Testament had predicted that the Messiah would be David's son. But then Jesus stumps them. He quotes Psalm 110:1 and points out that these words were written by David himself, but inspired by God's Holy Spirit, so there is no question that these words are true. Here David calls the Christ his Lord, and so Jesus asks, "If then David calls the Christ ‘Lord,' how is the Christ David's son?" In other words, if the Christ would be born a man, as a descendent of David, then how is it that David himself calls his descendent, the Christ, "Lord"?
Here we have come to the heart of Christianity, the Incarnation, the mystery of the Son of God made flesh as the Christ, the Son of David. The Messiah is a Man, born of the Virgin Mary. But He also is God the Son, the only-begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, True God of True God, begotten NOT made, being of the same essence as the Father, by whom all things were made. This only and eternal Son of God, who is the Creator and Law-Giver and so above all laws, became a creature like us, under the Law.
Clearly He did not do this for His own sake, but as we say in the Nicene Creed, it was "for us men and for our salvation" that the Son of God came down from heaven and was made man. And the only way the Son of God could save us from God's Law was by placing Himself under that Law. This is what St. Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
"When the fullness of time had come" means that God the Father had a plan all along, to send His Son into the flesh to be born under the Law and redeem all sinners. When the time was right, He sent Jesus to be born under the requirements of the Law to love the Lord God with all his being and love His neighbor as Himself. And Jesus fulfilled this Law, He completed it. Never once did He sin. Never once did He fail to show love, mercy, and compassion to His neighbor.
Yet there was another law left to fulfill, that is, the law that sin must be punished with death and hellish suffering. And so, while Jesus should have been above this law by His sinless, perfect obedience, He voluntarily placed Himself under the law of sin and death for you, to redeem you. He stepped under the law that requires that sinners must die by taking your guilt upon Himself. "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" In the Jordan River, Jesus underwent a baptism intended for sinners so that He could bear the sins of the world. And then on the cross He suffered the pangs of hell to spare you from them. He cried out, "It is finished" to show that your redemption was accomplished. After His death, He was buried to remove any question that He had really died for your sins.
But then in His resurrection, ascension, and glorification at God's right hand, Jesus shows that now He is above the law of death, and He is above all Law, for all power in the universe is in His hands. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. What this means for you is that when He makes you a Gospel promise, no matter what the laws of nature may say, no matter what the Law of God says, then that promise trumps any legal realities on earth. When Jesus says, "I forgive you all your sins. I have fulfilled the Law so that you are now free from it. I promise eternal life to all who believe and are baptized. I feed you with My own body and blood, given and shed to win eternal life for you," then what He says is the truth. His Gospel is above all human and divine laws, for it is eternal. His promises endure forever.
So repent and believe this Gospel! In Christ, you are free from sin, death, and the Law! And now you may live joyfully in the freedom given to God's adopted sons and daughters. St. Paul said that Jesus came "to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." We were born into this world as sons of the devil, sons of death, sons of the law. But by Christ's work and our Baptism into Him we have been made free from death, free from hell, free from the condemnation of God's Law. Because we are in Christ Jesus, we are now above all laws and are perfectly free children of God.
Yet during the rest of our time here in the flesh, we do remain under the direction of God's Law because it is His will for our lives and because our sinful flesh needs daily correction and discipline. This Law can be summed up in one word: Love. And so Jesus says in our Gospel reading, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."
The reason these commandments still apply to our lives today becomes clear when we remember that we are still sinners and that God has made us His beloved children. We make rules for our own children because we know that as sinners they aren't going to think, speak, or act correctly 100% of the time; because we know what is best for them; because we want to protect them from hurting themselves and others; because we want them to grow up into godly, disciplined adults. Today we see societal effects of so many children growing up without law, without discipline, without parents who love them enough to say, "No!" when it needs to be said.
God doesn't want this for our children or for us, so He has left our flesh under His Law in order to restrain our sinful desires and protect us from harm. For, as Dr. Luther wonderfully explains in the Conclusion to the Ten Commandments, God still threatens to punish all who break His commandments; therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. On the other hand, He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep His commandments; therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.
For now we remain under this Law according to our flesh, even though in Christ Jesus we have been lifted up to the heavenly places and are seated at God's right hand, above all laws. But after our time here in the flesh, we know that then our sinful bodies will be brought to nothing in order to await the day of Resurrection, when we will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will need no law at all, we will dwell in perfect peace, unity, and love with the God who is love, even Jesus Christ our Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.