Midweek Lent 3 – Romans 4:14-20
How are your New Year’s Resolutions going?
After all, we are not even a quarter of the way through the year; surely you have been able to keep them this long.
They were after all good and noble intentions: eat better; exercise more; save money; read a book a month; keep the house clean; throw out all of that stuff you do not need any longer; watch less television and spend less time on the internet; pray and read the Bible more faithfully.
If you accomplished your goal, than you would be a better person. Eating right and exercise would add years to your life. Cleaning the house and throwing stuff out would make you and your family much more comfortable. Less time on television and internet would give you more time for family. More time in pray and Bible study would make you a stronger Christian.
And so you made New Year’s Resolutions to help you with these goals.
Correction; you made laws, that if you adhered to them perfectly, you would be better off in the end.
It is the utopian mindset: that you can legislate good behavior. If you make enough laws, if you create enough rules and regulations, no one will ever do anything wrong, and the world will be a better place. Cities and states and nations are constantly in search of that one final law, which if passed, would create a perfect society. Teachers are looking for that one classroom rule that will make the problem student behave.
You are looking for that one perfect combination of rules that will make you a better person; and ensure that you will receive God’s favor.
So how are those New Year’s Resolutions going?
Have you kept the law that you designed for your own life perfectly?
Well, no; but you can explain. You were going to eat better, but there was food left from
the holidays, and then there was a sale on candy for Valentines; but some days you do eat better.
Do you exercise more? No, but have you seen the weather? Who can exercise in weather like this?
How about house cleaning and getting rid of stuff? Well, that is kind of a spring job, so maybe next month; but there might be community garage sale, so you do not want to throw out stuff you could possibly sell.
How about TV and internet? Well, some nights you do cut back, but it was an Olympic year, and then the NCAA tournament starts this week, so there are of course special exceptions.
Prayer and Bible study? Well, we are here in a midweek Lenten service; so that has to count for something, even if the rest of the year has been a lost cause.
So technically, you have kept your New Year’s Resolutions. You have just altered them slightly for your own circumstances. You saw that keeping them perfectly was quite frankly going to be hard, most likely impossible; so you lowered the bar; first just down a notch, and then much lower than that; until it was so low, you could seemingly step over it.
But that was still too high wasn’t it?
You try to step over it; try to jump over it; and yet you still end up in the same place: on the ground, staring up at the law’s demands, knowing that you cannot meet the demands of the laws that you have created for yourself.
But of course, you should have known that you were not going to be able to follow your own laws, because you cannot keep God’s Law either. The Ten Commandments are the most basic of laws, and if they were kept perfectly, than we truly would have a perfect society, in which people would never have a conflict; never have an issue; never have a disagreement.
And yet, you cannot even keep that perfect law of God. You daily break the Ten Commandments. You misuse God’s name; do not take a Sabbath rest; disrespect those in authority; murder; lust, steal; lie and covet. And all the while you are putting others gods ahead of the one true God.
God gave ten simple rules, and you cannot keep them; much less the 600 the Pharisees came up with; or the thousands upon thousands of others that you yourself have come up with every January 1st, not to mention every day that follows. All the law does is condemn you; all it does is point out how short you fall of God’s demand that you be perfect.
Believe it or not, this poses quite a problem. If you cannot keep God’s Law perfectly, let alone your own laws, than God wants nothing to do with you. You are called to be holy; called to follow the Ten Commandments, and keep them perfectly; called to live as God’s children here on this earth, and if you do this, you will receive eternal life; if you don’t, well that is the end of you.
And yet, where do you find yourself? On the ground, staring up at a mountain of laws, asking yourself what new law can you come up with that you can keep perfectly, that will solve this latest problem, which really resembles the old problem: you are a mess, and if you just do a little bit better, than everything will be ok.
But of course, whether you admit it or not, you cannot do any better. There is no perfect law that you can create, let alone keep, because you will have the same problem with that law that you have with all of the other laws: you cannot keep them perfectly.
Who then can be saved you ask?
But what if, instead of the Ten Commandments being a ladder for you to reach up to God, they were instead a ladder for God to reach down to you?
The Ten Commandments create inside of you an awareness of your sin; you can look at the Commandments and their meanings in Luther’s Small Catechism and you can see just how far you have fallen from God’s demands, and how much you are in need of a Savior; and the situation is pretty desperate.
But St. Paul writes that the Ten Commandments, the Law, create sin, so that where sin increases, grace may abound all the more.
For from over that high bar; coming down from that mountain top of law; is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus comes down to earth from heaven above, and keeps the Law perfectly in your place. Jesus picks you up, puts you on His back, and carries you across the flood of sin, death, and the devil’s lie that you can save yourself by creating and keeping the Law.
The Law cannot save you; the Law can only point out how far you have fallen from where God intended you to be. Only Jesus, who kept the Law perfectly in your stead; who shed His blood on Calvary; can save you. Only Jesus can lift you up out of the depths of your sin, over the bar that God has set, and land you safe in the presence of God; holy, clean and undefiled.
And thanks be to God, that is exactly what Jesus has done for you: He has come down to earth from heaven above, and He has kept the Law perfectly, and He has gone to the cross so that by His holy and precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, you might be freed from the Law’s demands.
The Law cannot save you; only Jesus can save you; only Jesus has saved you.