On Fulfilling the Law
In Matthew 5, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18). Jesus doesn’t abolish or nullify the commandments. Neither does He come to simply reiterate them. Instead, he “fulfills” them. He keeps them. He accomplishes them. Jesus obeys the entire law. He is God, the law is God’s will, so the law is Jesus’ will.
In 1 Corinthians 2, St. Paul says, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The content of Paul’s preaching and teaching to the Corinthians is Christ’s death to save us sinners. That’s the Gospel.
The question is, how are these two truths related? Jesus kept the law. In baptism the victory He won over sin and death on the cross is given to you. You are counted as righteous before God on account of faith in the promises of Christ. How then does the law fit in to the Christian life? Remember, Jesus didn’t abolish the law. He fulfilled it. He kept it. He was righteous. So, if Jesus kept the law, and you are clothed with His righteousness, then in the sight of God you have kept the law. You have fulfilled the law. You are counted, like Jesus, as righteous.
The law is not abolished, but our relationship to the law is no longer one of fear or terror. The eternal punishments that come from violating God’s law are rendered null and void for the Christian, because we possess Christ’s righteousness. As Christians, citizens of Christ’s kingdom, our desire is to keep God’s law, to follow His will. Why? Because we know it is good for us. We know God gives us the law for our own good and the good of our neighbor. Our loving Father wants us to promote good and oppose evil. Good works do not save us, yet they are a necessary to the Christian life, and through the power of God's Spirit we do them. Thanks be to God that Jesus has fulfilled the law, given us His righteousness, and stirred up in us the desire to do good.
Our Foolish God
"For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;" (1 Cor 1:25,27).
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,” Paul also writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:22). It seems that things are no different today. People tend to demand both signs and wisdom. On the one hand we want science to prove everything. We want proofs for God, trying to find out what God is like through human wisdom. If God is as good and as loving as he says he is, we want a logical explanation as to why so much evil happens in this world and so much trouble happens in our own lives. Or we treat our own feelings as signs from God. If God’s law is so perfect, we wonder why I feel this way or that way in opposition to that law. If God is so powerful, why doesn’t he fix this problem or that problem. People still want God to give them signs, and they still want to use human wisdom to figure him out.
But the church doesn't have those things available to give. We don’t have the answers to all the world's questions, at least not answers that the world wants. We have only the word of the cross, which to the world today, as it was to many centuries ago, is folly, foolishness. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;”
We don't like looking dumb or foolish. The world thinks the church is foolish with her antiquated ideas of gender, sex, justice, and life. We worship a God who died on a cross. Foolish. Our faith is predicated on that dead man rising from the dead. Foolish. We believe there is a life after death, and eternal bliss for those who trust not in themselves but in the promises of Christ. Foolish. But God chooses the foolish things to bring to naught all the wisdom of this world. “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). May we always be those who in Godly wisdom follow our foolish God.
No doubt you've heard someone say, "I'm spiritual but not religious" or similarly, "I don't believe in organized religion." Maybe even a friend or family member told you this. But what do these statements even mean? Or what about the so-called "Nones," people who claim no particular religious affiliation? Polling data suggests that over 1/4 of the US population fall into that category. This Pew Research Center survey found that many of these nones don't like the church's stand on social issues or don't like religious organizations in general.
What is at the heart of such convictions? It's pretty simple. The human heart wants what the human heart wants and doesn't want to be told what is right and wrong. "Religions" always have a set of doctrines, of beliefs, a worldview that shapes how that religion thinks about God, and mankind, and the afterlife. To be "spiritual but not religious" means recognizing that there is something outside of or greater than one's self, but not wanting to be subject to it, not wanting to be bound by certain doctrines or ways of thinking. In short, it means believing whatever one wants to believe, letting one's own heart determine truth, and good, and evil. It is a prideful mindset as old as the fall into sin itself.
The prophet Ezekiel experienced this. There were many false prophets spreading their lies during Ezekiel's time. They were all "spiritual but not religious." The Lord says to Ezekiel, "Prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!" (Ezek. 13:2-3). These false prophets spoke from their own hearts and from their own spirits, and not from God's Spirit.
Christianity has God's revealed word in the Scripture to lead our thoughts, words, and actions in this life and to prepare us for the life to come. God is real. He is personal. Sin is real, and it kills, and it separates us from God. God Himself provides the solution to this insurmountable problem, by providing His Son to atone for sin. Faith in the promises of Jesus saves us
So how do we witness to the nones? Start with prayer, and know that it takes time, and as you speak God's word to people it accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it.
Lutheran witness has some great articles on this spiritual but not religious phenomenon, from 2011, 2012, and 2022. Also check out this video.
Remember Your Baptism
The phrase "remember your baptism" is intended to call to mind the reality that you belong to Christ by virtue of your baptism. You are God's child, an heir of God's eternal blessings. When you are tempted to sin, remember your baptism. When you despair over your past sin, remember your baptism. When you feel uncomfortable, singled-out, or even persecuted on account of your Christian faith, remember your baptism. You belong to Jesus. The devil and this world have no claim on you.
This past Sunday, we reflected on Jesus' baptism. Of course, Jesus didn't need baptism for Himself; He is without sin. When John tried to prevent Jesus from being baptized, Jesus responded, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” It's a somewhat cryptic statement, isn't it? To what or to whose righteousness is Jesus referring? Yours and mine. By submitting to baptism, Jesus is numbering Himself with us as a sinner. 2Cor. 5:21, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
This is the "great exchange." Christ has exchanged your sin for His righteousness. He takes your sin and atones for it on the cross. In baptism, He then clothes you with the glorious robes of His righteousness. You are now reckoned before God as perfect and holy just as Jesus is. These are the great gifts and promises of baptism. In all things, remember your baptism.
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? It’s a common practice, but resolutions may also be the butt of jokes, especially when not kept! New gym memberships tend to spike each January then fall off the rest of the year. Someone may tell you of their resolution and you know that person well enough to realize they won’t follow through. However, there’s nothing really wrong with the practice. It’s wise to look over your life and find things you might want to change and make a concerted effort in that area.
Have you ever considered spiritual New Year’s resolutions? You might resolve to read the entire Bible over the course of the year. Perhaps, you could resolve to spend a certain number of minutes praying each day, listen to a specific theological podcast, or read sections of the Book of Concord this year. Of course, it’s always good at the beginning of the year to resolve to be in church each Lord’s day whenever possible to receive his gifts. You need the body of Christ, and the rest of the body of Christ needs you!
I encourage you to read Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller's thoughts on New Year’s resolutions. Also, if more frequent Bible reading is part of your New Year’s resolutions you might check out this old Weekly Word (especially the Something Good from the Internet Section). Each month in our newsletter we publish daily readings to read through the entire Bible in a year, and I will also be adding the daily readings to the Weekly Word this year so you’ll have two ways to find that information.