6th Sunday after Epiphany

Originally published at: https://confident.faith/2020/02/21/6th-sunday-after-epiphany/

  • Deuteronomy 30:15–20
  • Psalm 119:1–8
  • 1 Corinthians 3:1–9
  • Matthew 5:21–37

The great ‘promise’ of the Law is ‘if…, then…’. “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, / who walk in the Law of the Lord!” “Blessed are those” who are “blameless”, “who keep His testimonies”, “who seek Him with their whole heart”, “who … do no wrong”, and who “walk in His ways”. But what are His testimonies? The Jews contend that there are six hundred and thirteen mitzvot — commandments — in the Torah, but let us not concern ourselves with such enumerations, for God Himself provides us a full statement of His Law in the Ten Commandments.

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods.
  2. Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
  3. Thou shalt sanctify the hold day.
  4. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.
  5. Thou shalt not murder.
  6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  7. Thou shalt not steal.
  8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house.
  10. Thou shalt not cover thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.

You may be thinking ‘So far, so good. I have neither murdered, committed adultery, nor borne false witness against my neighbor.’ Surely blessing and abundance will be ours for our great obedience! But wait. Does not Christ speak of these commandments?

Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV): ““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

How fares your obedience to the Fifth Commandment?

Matthew 5:27–28 (ESV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

How fares your obedience to the Sixth Commandment?

Have you divorced or married a spouse who was divorced?

Matthew 5:31–32 (ESV): “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

How fares your obedience to the Sixth Commandment?

Matthew 5:33–37 (ESV): “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Have you ever failed to keep your promises? Have you ‘merely’ failed to do what you said you would do? perhaps even failed to do what you told God you would do?

How fares your obedience to the Eighth Commandment?

Perhaps you yet believe that you have kept one of the other commandments. But what does Christ command? ‘Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.’ The law demands perfect obedience. The ‘promise’ of ‘if…, then…’ is no promise at all, for the “if” is “if you are perfect”, but ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ and ‘none is righteous, no not one’.

Therefore, the cry of the psalmist is practically a lament, a cry for mercy:

Psalm 119:8 (ESV): I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!

The Law always kills. You will find neither peace in nor comfort under the Law.

Romans 2:12 (ESV): For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Romans 3:20 (ESV): For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 3:21–25 (ESV): But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

You are not under the Law, for the Law held you captive only until you died to the Law. In Baptism, God drowned the old Adam and brought forth the new man in Christ. You have been set free from the condemnation of the Law by Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

You could never have kept the Law, for the standard of the Law is perfection, but you do not need to keep the Law, because God sent Christ to do so in your place. All your sins and your every failure to perfectly keep God’s perfect law were nailed to the Cross with Christ. We are now free to rejoice in the Law, which is perfect and holy, because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. You were dead in sin and trespass, but you are now alive in Christ and the Spirit.

In Christ, the blessings of the Psalms are ours; in Christ, we can stand before God with an upright heart. In this life, there will be trouble; there will be jealousy and strife. But we know, that for the sake of Christ, we have a gracious God. As we move from milk to meat, as we grow in our faith and trust in God, we know that it is not our efforts that will give the growth, but God Who will give the growth. He gave us the faith that grasped justification and received salvation, and He comes to us in Word and Sacrament.

Under the Law, all the promises of God were — every ‘if…, then…’ was — “No.”, but in Christ, all the promises of God are: “Yes.” You are a child of God, an adopted son of the Kingdom and co-heir with Christ. Should the world, the devil, or your flesh trouble you, should your conscience doubt or your faith waiver, do not look to yourself, do not seek within for answers or assurance; instead, point to the Cross. If your flesh should tempt you, flee to the Cross, for Christ says that He will lose none from His hand. If the devil should inquire, “Can mortal man be in the right before God?”, point him to the Cross, tell him to drop his accusations, for you are baptized into Christ. If the world should bid you doubt God’s goodness, His love, or His promises, point to the Cross, for He Who did not spare His Son, but gave Him so that you might be saved will surely withhold nothing good.

And yet there is real suffering and real pain in this life, and believers are not immune — do not believe anyone who would dare to tell you otherwise. But do not despair. The trials and the tribulations are the Father working on you; He reprimands you out of love, and refines you with fire — not the fires of Hell, for those you will never see, but the fire of sanctification. Although you will never achieve — become — perfect in this life, you will slowly be conformed to the image of Christ, and pain, suffering, and tribulation will all pass away in the twinkling of an eye when you pass on to glory, or when Christ returns.

In this life, cherish the knowledge that all things work together for good for those who love God, and we know that we love God because He first loved us. So, Christ the death of death Who became sin for us as the propitiation, Who took upon Himself the curse because we could never pay the price of our redemption, has brought us from death to life, has defeated sin and its curse (i.e., death), and has welcomed us as true sons and daughters of God, partakers in the blessings and in eternal life. In Christ, the “if” of the Law has passed away and only the blessings and the promises of “then” remain. Therefore, God is your life and your length of days, both of which shall be eternal and forevermore.