I am grateful to my friend Chad Bird for his thoughts on this text. To God alone be the glory.
If a Gentile wants to know something about the Law of God, who better to ask than a Jew. A Gentile once asked a Jewish rabbi to teach him the whole Law…with one stipulation. The rabbi was to teach the Gentile the whole Law of God while the Gentile stood on one foot. It was an easy challenge. The rabbi told the Gentile, “What is hateful to you, to your neighbor don’t do.” The rabbi added that everything else beyond that one sentence was variations on that one theme.
Saint Paul seconds that sentence when he wrote, the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Even Jesus agrees, and He adds love toward God to that one sentence. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Everything else is details.
Easy, yes. Happy, no. The rest of the Law and Prophets comment on how people learned the whole Law standing on one foot, while using the other foot to kick their neighbor. The citizens of Sodom attempt to gratify their lust on Lot’s two out-of-town visitors. Belly-aching Israelites get sick of God’s food and want to stone God’s prophet. Saul hounds David. David impregnates Bathsheba and murders her husband. Bathsheba’s grandfather Ahithophel becomes a Judas Iscariot figure to King David during Absalom’s rebellion and winds up slipping a noose around his own neck. So much for Old Testament figures being pious, God-fearing folks.
So much also for you when you compare yourself to pious, God-fearing folks in the Scriptures. Which is worse, a child who steals or an adult who steals? Even though a child may know what he did was wrong because he is immature and doesn’t fully comprehend the consequences of his actions, we can perhaps partially excuse his behavior. But the mature adult, who knows well what he does is forbidden yet consciously breaks the Law, we cannot excuse. Here we are today, even here in this church building. We have broken what we know and are fully aware of it. Consider how we cover our tracks when we consciously do wrong. We know it’s wise to wear gloves when committing a murder. Acting out lies to save our skin deserves an Oscar or Emmy nomination. The more we do it, and the more nothing seems to happen, then the bolder we grow, thinking we are invincible.
There’s only one thing left to say. It isn’t, “Lord, give me another chance and I’ll make it right.” It isn’t, “God, You know I really, really, really didn’t mean it.” It certainly isn’t, “Lord, I know just the thing that will pay for my misdeed.” It is, “Lord, have mercy.” Why not go from standing on one leg to kneeling on both knees and pray for the Lord’s mercy, for you have not kept His Law.
Jesus quotes from the prophet Hosea earlier in Matthew’s Gospel when He says, I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Mercy is Jesus’ greatest delight. The Lord takes no delight in the death of a sinner. He takes pleasure in those who are cleansed through the sacrifice in which He did delight.
If all the Law and the Prophets hang on the words, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” those words also hang on something else. They hang on the cross. Saint Paul writes in Colossians chapter two, [Christ] did this by wiping out the debt which was recorded against us because of the Law’s demands. He took it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. The demands of the Law are met on the tree of the cross. God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Yet He punishes His Son in your place for your sake. He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. That grace and blessing He gives you because Jesus has kept them on your behalf. What was given at Mount Sinai is fulfilled at Mount Calvary. The Giver of the Law keeps His own Law. The Almighty and Powerful Judge takes the criminal’s place, and you go free.
Jesus has done all this for you, for the joy that was set before Him. Your salvation is His joy. He gladly wore a crown of thorns in order that you might wear the crown of glory. He willingly was stripped of His robes that you might be clothed in His righteousness. Jesus loves the unlovable, making them His friends.
He loves you, despite your lies. He says, You are mine. Despite your self-love, He never stops loving the selfishness out of you and loving you into your neighbor. Despite the fact that He sees everything you try to hide from Him, He still sees you as His precious child for whom He died. If earthly fathers care for their children, even if earthly fathers don’t care for their children, then how much more does your heavenly Father care for you? He sent His Son to die for your sin and rise for your justification. That’s how much He cares for you. That’s the love that satisfies the Law. That’s the love that is yours in Christ Jesus.