Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Jesus Has Come to Fulfill

Midweek in Advent1
December 5, 2012
Advent is a time of preparation. What are we preparing for? How do we prepare? During these midweek worship services in Advent we will explore how our Lord teaches us to prepare. The simplest way to say it is that He teaches us to turn our sights on Him. There’s a little book that does that better than any other, except for the Bible of course. It’s the Catechism. We will spend some time examining how the Catechism is a great way to prepare our hearts and minds for the ways our Lord comes to us.

In Advent there are three ways we are shown in which our Lord comes to us. He has come, He will come again, and He comes to us now. The first one most people are pretty aware of, He came as a baby. The Second one is somewhat familiar, He will come again in glory on the Last Day. The third one is sadly not emphasized much at all in the Christian Church today and perhaps our third midweek Advent worship service will do a little toward changing that. This third way is that He comes to us now, but not just in the knowledge that He’s always with us, or in the conviction that He lives in our hearts. He comes to us in specific ways, just like He came in a specific way the first time, born in a stable, and laid in a manger; and just like it will be specific in His coming again on Judgment Day, everyone will know. The specific ways He comes to us are what we refer to as the Means of Grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments.

Before we get to His Second Coming and His coming to us often in the Gospel and in the Sacraments, we need a little preparation for a fuller appreciation of what those second two comings of Christ mean. And by this we mean not just a better knowledge of them but also a better grasp of how they apply to us both now and for eternity.

The Ten Commandments help us out here. The Ten Commandments stand at the head of the Catechism. The Catechism takes no prisoners. Off the bat you realize that you are a sinner. God lays down His Law and you are left holding an empty bag because you have nothing to put in there to give to God. You shall have no other gods? You have plenty. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God? You misuse the name of your Lord more times than you would care to admit and in more ways than you probably even realize. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy? Do you trust fully that God keeps you in body and soul through His Gospel and Sacraments? You can’t even get off the hook here with the defense that you’re here every Sunday, and even more, cause you’re here in the middle of the week when it’s Advent and Lent.

The Ten Commandments nail us to the wall. We look to ourselves, to other people, to other things for our greatest good. We do not trust that God works all things—all things—for our good. We do not love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s because we’re often too busy thinking of ourselves to think to serve them. The Ten Commandments show us that we have fallen short of the glory of God. They show us that the God who revealed them is a God who demands perfection; and no matter how good you can convince yourself that you are, you cannot pretend that you are perfect.

In Advent we need to be aware of this. Okay, not just in Advent, but Advent is a good time to bring this home. The reason is that this is why Jesus came. The reason Jesus was born is because of the Ten Commandments. The Law is God’s revelation to us but it is not the only one. And it is not the primary one. His Son is. The baby born in Bethlehem is. God demands perfection of us in the Ten Commandments but He gives His Son to us to meet that very demand.

The way Jesus speaks of it is as fulfillment. He has come to fulfill. Matthew 22:37 says this: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” This is about as good a way to sum up the Ten Commandments as there is. What Jesus has done in coming to earth was not to lay down more Law. Not to hand down more burdens. Not to heap on us more demands. He came to fulfill the very Law He has given to us.

The demand of perfection is met in Christ. You and I fail all the time in keeping the Commandments. Jesus kept them perfectly. You and I sin against them instead of delighting in them. Jesus delighted in them and actually carried them out in their fullness. When we think of what Christ has done, and why He came to earth, we rightly proclaim and lift up His crucifixion and His resurrection. He suffered and died and rose for the sins of the world. He took our punishment for not keeping the Law of God as if He were the one who did not keep it. His blood was shed instead of our getting what we rightly ought to get: eternal punishment for our sin.

What we too often forget is that Jesus did that and more. He didn’t just receive what we deserve, He did what was demanded of us. He kept the Law perfectly. He fulfilled the holy, pure, righteous Law of God. This is what He says in the second reading we heard: “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.” [ESV] This is good news! As much as we’d like to wipe out the Ten Commandments because of our failure to live up to them—because of our sin, because of guilt and lack of holiness—Jesus does no such thing. He doesn’t get rid of the Law, He fulfills it!

If it were just a matter of Him saying to us, “Hey, I’m Jesus, I’m God, and I’ve done this; namely, I’ve done what you could not do”—well, that wouldn’t be very good news for us. It would be just the same as the Ten Commandments being laid upon us. Jesus came to fulfill the Law for us. That’s why He came. That’s why He was born. What does He go on to say in that reading? “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” [ESV] He said it Himself and then He did it. He speaks of fulfilling it, of accomplishing all that is necessary for being holy in the sight of God. And He does it. He fulfills. He accomplishes.

It might seem as though He follows this up with more Law, as He goes on to say: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [ESV] But Jesus doesn’t do that. He doesn’t follow up His work of salvation with more Law. That would wipe out the salvation.

What He is doing is laying out exactly what is necessary for salvation. Namely, as we have already noted, perfection. Full compliance with the Law. Keeping it wholeheartedly. As we heard, loving “the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus is not demanding this of us but showing us that He does it and He does it for us. Our righteousness is perfect righteousness because Christ gives it to us. He gives us His own righteousness.

How do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind? Not by attempting it. Not by thinking you have done it or are on your way to doing it, getting better and better at it all the time. You just do it. But hear this clearly: you don’t just do it because you’re able to. You just do it because that’s what your Lord has given you to do in giving you His righteousness. Are you righteous? Yes, in Christ you are righteous. Are you holy as you stand before God? Yes, you are because your holiness is nothing else than the holiness, the perfection, the purity, the having-accomplished-all-ness of Jesus Himself.

He has come to fulfill. He has come to save you. He has come not to bury you with the Law but to fulfill it for you. Next week we will ponder the promise of our Lord to return again in glory. That implies that we are waiting for that. Much like the people of God waited for the Messiah to come the first time, at Bethlehem. What do we do as we await? Having the righteousness of Christ, having the Law accomplished perfectly by Christ, we are freed up to serve. We are not under the burden of having to fulfill the Law, we are under the joyous call by our Lord to serve others as He has served us.

Because, after all, Jesus has come to fulfill. Amen.


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