Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Law—simple, yet profound

Ash Wednesday
Commemoration of Silas, Fellow Worker of Peter and Paul
February 10, 2016
During Lent we will contemplate the Gospel. The Gospel is simple. What could be more simple? God loves us and He saves us. There is no need to make the Gospel difficult. No need to add to it or complicate it. It is simple. It is exactly what it appears. It is the love of God in His Son for sinners. The Gospel is simple.

And yet, the Gospel is profound. Something doesn’t need to be complicated to be profound. It is doesn’t need to be difficult to understand to be profound. It is simple, it is what it appears to be. And yet, there is more to it than meets the eye. It is deep and rich and profound. The love of God is vast. The love of God is profound.

The Gospel is the answer to what plagues us. Guilt is the order of the day. The apostle Paul almost despaired of this fact, “Oh, wretched man that I am.” If there’s any day that has a pulse on the guilt we own it is Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a fitting beginning to the season of Lent. Lent is a time of repentance, of contemplation of our sin and our guilt. Of our inability, and even resistance, to love the will of God rather than the desires of our own sinful flesh.

Yes, Ash Wednesday goes right to the heart of things, and it does so by going for the jugular. If you saw the Super Bowl commercial with Helen Mirren lambasting those who drink and drive you got a sense of the direct rebuke of the Law upon someone who is guilty. I was joking after Bible Class yesterday that preachers can learn from Helen Mirren on how to preach the Law. But I was only half joking. If you haven’t seen the commercial, go online and watch it and see if you can do so without squirming a little, whether you’re guilty of that crime or not. I once witnessed in a courtroom a judge who blasted out the defendent on what kind of behavior he expected of her and I was convicted, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong!

This is the way the Law of God works. The Law is simple. It tells you exactly what God’s will is. It shows you that you shall have no other gods because there is nothing good in anyone or anything else for eternal life with Him. The Law of God is His perfect, holy will. When presented to us, though, we are shown our guilt. The Law is as simple as that, it shows us our sin and our guilt. Hopefully at least one person who drinks and drives was convicted by that tirade from Helen Mirren. Hopefully at least one person repented of that sin and will no longer do it. The Law is not meant to ream you out just to make you feel bad. It is meant to expose your guilt and drive you to repentance. It is that simple.

And yet, it is profound. Think about it, how much love are you showing someone to leave them in a sin that is harmful to them and to others? When you bring the Law to bear on someone you are loving them. You are helping them. You are taking a step to bring them to the point where they no longer continue in that behavior and then they are not only blessed themselves but are also loving others by not carrying out that sin. God’s will is good and gracious, and that’s why He brings the Law to bear on us.

It is a profound thing that the very thing that cuts us to the heart is the very thing that is a gracious act of God to make us aware that we are guilty and dead in our sin and guilt.  He loves us so much that He will not leave us drowning in our condemnation. He cannot bear to see us die in our sin and be lost forever.

This is one of the marks of the Christian Church, the preaching of the Law. Any church that is not condemning sinners of the their sin is dangerously close to not being Christian. If what is heard from the pulpits of Christian churches leaves people satisfied in their own efforts rather than coming to the awareness that they are wretched and so soiled in their heart with sin, then those people are hearing a false Gospel.

There is one who has kept the Law of God perfectly and it is our Lord Jesus Christ. He aligned His will with His Heavenly Father. He did not entertain temptation but clung to the Word of God. He did not desire His own will but His Father’s will. He rejoiced in loving people even to the point of dying for them. No one ought to be made to feel or think that they are fine the way they are. That is pure modern-day humanism. We are not fine the way we are! We are wretched and live in a body of death. We are dust and ashes. We are utterly caught up in sin and stand guilty before God. Not just partially. Not just not as much as others. Fully guilty, fully condemned, and fully without power to remove ourselves from this wretched state.

Jesus quotes the Old Testament, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and says of that, “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it”: (and then quotes the Old Testament again) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” His interpretation of these two commandments is this: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So here is the question for you this evening as you begin this season of Lent. As you prepare to celebrate the great victory of Easter. As you ponder the Passion of your Lord Jesus Christ, His suffering and death. As you take extra time out of your week each week for six weeks in meditating on the Word of God.

How do you see the Law and the Prophets, that is, the entire Old Testament, as depending on these two commandments?

It is the crucial question. Because here you see how utterly simple the Law is and how amazingly profound it is. Here you see which way you are going to go with the Law. Whether you will go the way of the world and the way that is so natural to your own sinful nature or the way of your Lord Jesus Christ. Whether you will see in Jesus’ statement a call to look within yourself and do what God requires of you or a call to repentance and a complete despairing of your own ability and will to live as God calls you to live. Whether you will see yourself as good enough for God to love you or seeing that He condemns you by His holy Law except for the gift He has given you in His Son who fulfilled the Law you could not and suffered the punishment you deserve.

The sad state of affairs in the world and too often in the Church is that we do not want to hear the condemning judgment of the Law but rather want to see ourselves not in wretchedness but as doing pretty well, considering all. Sadly, so often we look inward to strive to obey God’s will. To often we do not see that there is nothing but sin and guilt. It is an illusion that we can obey God’s will of our own power!

The Ten Commandments, all simply and directly stated, leave no room for this. You have other gods, you do not love your neighbor as yourself. Everything the Word of God depends on—you have fallen short, you are found wanting. Who will rescue you from this body of death?

It may seem there’s no good news here. But the words of Christ are profound. The very thing God demands of us in His Law, the Ten Commandments, our Lord Himself fulfilled. He did what you could not and have not. He did this for you. And because you are still found in your guilt, He suffered the punishment for your guilt in your place. It is simple even as it is profound. Your Lord does not direct you to the Ten Commandments to whip you into shape but to drive you to despairing of your own works and to repenting of them and of your sin and guilt. In this repentance is found an astonishing thing. Hope! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God that in repentance we see not ourselves but our Lord in all His glory and grace and love for us in suffering, dying, and rising for us. Amen.


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