Trinity 13: Fulfilling the Law

Parable of the Good Samaritan
A Samaritan stops to help a man wounded by thieves, while a priest and a Levite pass by (Luke 10:23–37). From a book by Martin Luther interpreting the Epistles and Gospels, 1544.

Lessons: 2 Chronicles 28:8-15, Galatians 3:15-22, Luke 10:23-37
Hymns: LSB 594, 683, 618, 820, 857

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Any Sunday School child can tell you the simple truth: “I am saved because Jesus died on the cross and forgives me.” That is the Gospel. There are no requirements on our part. Jesus did it all. He took our sins away and replaced it with His perfect righteousness. Thus, I appear perfect and holy before God. I am forgiven. I am saved.

      But even though we know this so well, we often try to justify ourselves. We try to make ourselves look good and pretty, free of sin, virtually innocent. Perhaps we dig up mud about others so we can talk about them as if they’re evil and disgusting and we’re perfect and prim. Perhaps we sport a facade trying to show that all is well in our lives as we hide the reality that we’re hurting, we’re tormented by temptation, or we’re engaging in our pet sins when no one is looking.

      We love hearing sermons when the Law predominates. We find much joy in hearing the preacher going against the sins of those other people. “Preach it, pastor! Condemn those murderers, fornicators, and despisers of the Word. Condemn those who aren’t here, like terrorists on 9/11. But don’t you dare say anything that may accuse us!”

      And we love hearing sermons that give us a few sweet, achievable, guidelines with the Law. If you do this, you will get that. Make someone feel good with your presence this week. Pray for x number of people and let them know. Be a good Samaritan by helping someone—but, of course, whenever it’s convenient and doesn’t require sacrifice.

      These types of sermons, we think, are tangible and memorable. We feel we walk away with something. They make us feel good about ourselves, helping us figure that we’re on the right track to salvation. We want to affirm the notion that we’re just a step ahead of those evil, wicked people out there and so God must save us.

      That’s what the lawyer was looking for as he asked a question, knowing the answer. He wanted self-affirmation. So, he asked, “Jesus, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s like saying, “How can I earn heaven? What can I do to become acceptable in Your sight?”

      He asked a Law question. And Law questions get Law responses. If you want to be saved by the Law, then this is what you must do: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” If you truly love God in this way, you will always listen to Him. You will not commit sins in secret, thinking that no one can see you. You will not sin among your friends, trying to be like them. You simply will not sin. Not only that, but you will always hear His Word. You will never miss church—no matter what. You will go to any length, drive any distance, sacrifice whatever possible so that you can hear God’s Word proclaimed in its truth and purity every week and receive the Lord’s Supper administered in accordance with Christ’s institution. You will receive your pastor as a man sent from God to preach His Word. You will not dismiss what he says as simply “his opinion.” You will never speak evil of God or His ways. You will understand the words of Jesus when He spoke of the pastoral ministry, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). You will give generously back to God. You will bless the Lord at all times; His praise will continually be in your mouth (Psalm 34:1). You will pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).

      The second part is that you will love your neighbor as yourself. If you truly love your neighbor, you will never hoard your possessions. You will not be extravagant with the money God gives you. You will help the poor and needy, going the extra mile as the Good Samaritan did. You will never think about personal gain. You will never hold a grudge. You will never gossip. You will never speak evil of others. You will never pass up an opportunity to help someone. You will never think twice about giving someone the shirt off your back.

      Just think about it. You love yourself. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t feed yourself when you’re hungry. If you loved your neighbor as you love yourself, you would ensure that your neighbor is never hungry. Above all, you will forgive your neighbor as Christ has forgiven you.

      This is the Law. It’s what God teaches, yet it is never achievable. The desires of our flesh to hear attainable Law is just that—nothing but a desire—a delusion. Yet we persistently look for loopholes, wishing to hear achievable guidelines through the Law and desiring to hear a law that does not condemn. And so, we try to justify ourselves by asking the same question as the lawyer, “Who is my neighbor?”

      And again, any Sunday School child knows it. Just as children know the sweet, simple Gospel, they also know the harsh reality of the Law. Your neighbors include all people God has placed in your lives—from the closest friends and family to the strangers we encounter. Love them, like that Samaritan in today’s Parable. Endanger your life and make huge sacrifices of time and money—even to strangers—without any thoughts of receiving repayment—not even a thank you. That is love.

      Love God and man. Do this, and you will live. But who can dare say, “I have done this?” No one. Jesus’ words, “Do this, and you will live” reveals the impossibility of salvation through the Law. We cannot earn eternal life. Then we cry foul, as if God is foul.

      But thankfully when we believe in the true Good Samaritan, the requirement to “do this” is already done. Through faith, God credits you with perfectly keeping the Law.

      Who is this true Good Samaritan? He is Jesus, who not only endangered His life, but willingly went to the cross, where He was crucified. He suffered all, sacrificed everything, gave up even His own life—for you. He saw you in your helplessness, He came to you, and He saved you. He did it knowing that even His own people were seeking to put Him to death. Through His death, He took away the sins of those who crucified Him—and the sins of all people of all time. He acquitted His enemies, even those who hate Him the most.

      He didn’t do it in order to receive some great personal reward. He did it because He loves His Father, and He loves you. His reward is to have you join Him in Paradise.

      Jesus truly loves His neighbor as Himself. For He is love. He took on our dirt, our filth, our wounds, our pains, our shame when He went to the cross. He bore our sins with His body. And He buried them all at His grave. He rose from the dead, giving you His righteousness, His holiness, His forgiveness, His blessedness, His love, His favor.

      He fulfilled the Law on your behalf. What you could not and would not do, Jesus did. And He credits you with keeping the Law.

      The Bible offers eternal life in two ways. The first is through the Law. Keep it perfectly and you will live. But we know that this way is impossible because the Scripture has confined all under sin (Gal. 3:22) and we have all inherited the sin of Adam. So, salvation must be found the other way: in Christ Jesus, who is the end of the Law. He declares that Christians have perfectly observed the Law. For in Baptism, Christians are covered with the very righteousness of Christ.

      Because Jesus has fulfilled the Law, does this mean we’re off the hook? Yes, when it comes to salvation—that is, there are no requirements when it comes to having God’s favor, when it comes to having peace with God, when it comes to being justified. There are no requirements in the Gospel. Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice paid your debt and gave you full and free pardon. You are free.

      But when it comes to loving Jesus and listening to Him, we’re not off the hook. We still have the Third Use of the Law, “which indicates to us in the Ten Commandments what the acceptable will of God is, and in what good works, which God has prepared beforehand, we should walk” (FC SD VI 12). After all, in Baptism, we have died to sin (being joined to the death of Christ), and we have arisen to newness of life (being joined to the resurrection of Christ).

      Good works are necessary and beneficial. Service to our neighbor is necessary and beneficial—but not for our salvation. Don’t kid yourselves. Jesus taught the Parable of the Good Samaritan in part to teach you to love your neighbor and put that love into action. It is a response of faith in Christ—a desire to fulfill the will of God. God still commands us to do good works in love toward God and neighbor.

      And so, when we see Jesus going to the cross to help others, we say to Him, “Lord, help me help others.” When we see Jesus forgiving others, we say to Him, “Lord, help me forgive others.” When we see Jesus doing good works, fulfilling the Law, we say to Him, “Lord, help me follow the Law.” When we see Jesus giving up all to hear the Word like He did in the Temple, we say, “Lord, help me gladly hear the Word and keep it.” When we see Jesus giving away everything for others, we say to Him, “Lord, help me to be willing to give everything to You and to my neighbor in need.” In this, we are saying, “Lord, you love me unconditionally. Help me also love my neighbor.”

      Fulfilling these requirements are not to gain salvation or to try to get God satisfied with us. For He is already satisfied with us through Christ who has made perfect satisfaction for our sins by Christ’s sacrificial payment on the cross.

      The glorious Gospel is yours. It is the way of your salvation. Jesus served as your Mediator by going to the cross—reconciling you to your Father in Heaven, and granting you peace with God. You are justified (forgiven). Christ took away your sin through His death. Because He lives, you shall, too. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen