“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. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“Until ALL Is Accomplished”
- What’s for dessert tonight, Mom?
- How many more bites of my vegetables, Dad?
- What time is devotion, Dad?
Within the questions we ask are often embedded the basic ideals and premises (we might call them “beliefs”) by which we live and carry on. What’s for dessert? “believes” that dessert is certain. How many more bites? “believes” there is something shy of “all” that will do. What time is devotion? “expects” that family devotion is a given.
The same is absolutely true of one’s religion, beliefs about right and wrong, and especially right status—justification with God and God’s Law. The questions that make their way to Jesus in the Gospel records reveal this over and over again:
A certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God … and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29)
- Then Peter came to (Jesus) and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
When Luther composed what he would call his “little bible” —The Small Catechism—he started with the Commandments. As you well know, there are ten commandments given by God at Sinai (even if the numbering gets debated among Christians). And while all ten are worthy of our attention and study, Luther follows Jesus’ lead and boils them down to two simple commands:
Love God above all else, &…
Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37-39)
These commands—Lutherans often refer to them collectively as The Law—are the foundation for what God calls good and holy and right. At their most basic level, the commands serve as a “curb” for all humanity—they abruptly jolt the human conscience when mind or mouth or members are “trespassing”—going beyond what is good OR stopping shy of what is good.
More specifically, these commands to “love” serve as a guide for the Christian conscience. They direct the Christian’s desire to “love” God and the commands of God encourage a discernment in “loving neighbor”:
- Love: keeps no record of wrongs… ( 1 Corinthians 13)
- Love: that one lays down his life for his friends… (John 15:13)
- Love: cares enough to discipline (to rebuke)… (Hebrews 12:6)
But it’s the last—and what Luther calls the primary—working of the Law of God that cuts against our most basic human beliefs. You can hear the natural premise come out in the questions noted earlier:
- What must I do? (rich ruler)
- Who is my neighbor? (expert in the law)
- How many times must I forgive? (St. Peter!)
Our natural belief is that God has written His Law in stone for us because we can, with some special attention and a bit of willpower, finish it. Check it off our list of “things to do” or maybe even carry it with us like a medical record, one that says for any interested parties, “I’m good/I’m healthy.” Luther calls this basic human religion by its Latin name: the opinion legis—the “opinion of the law.”
In some of my Catechism instruction materials, I picture this basic human belief this way: It’s a worn out-looking person walking along in a human-sized hamster wheel. This is intended to picture the cumulative work of God’s demands on our “natural opinion”. While we foolishly imagine the Law is showing us how to get ourselves from here to heaven, it actually is wearing us down bit by bit and all the way to our graves. Luther summarized the Law’s primary work on us this way: “the Law says ‘DO THIS’ and it is never done” (Heidelberg Disputation; art. ).
The Law of God in this primary function is not a “life coach” that gives us big pep-talks and inspires (breathes into us) the “best version of ourselves”. The Law is, as St. Paul says, “the Letter that kills”(2 Corinthians 3:6).
Jesus didn’t come as giver of the Law. God sent Moses for that. But neither did Jesus come to “relax the Law,” like a grandparent might “relax” the rules with their grandkids. Jesus came neither to give the Law nor to relax it. He came to fulfill it—to ensure that what you and I haven’t accomplished, are not accomplishing, and never will finish accomplishing IS ALL accomplished!
And this accomplishing of ALL of the Law by Jesus, this isn’t merely a nice example for us to strive to attain ourselves, as much of popular Christianity mistakes it to be. Jesus fulfilling His Father’s unrelaxed demands is gifted righteousness for you and me to live in—perfectly fulfilled. St. Paul writes to the Romans:
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4).
The Commands of God jolt our old-Adam consciences to keep us all from being Cains to our brother Abel. The Commands of God instruct and guide our sanctified Christian consciences, forming our desires and directing our actions. What these Divine Commands of God will never do, however, is show us fearing and trusting God above all things. What they will never do is provide us a report card that says we’ve loved our neighbor as ourselves. The Law doesn’t relax for us. It accuses us of all manner of sin and it is just when it does so. It kills us. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
There’s only one question left for convicted hearts and consciences to ask at this point: Where is the Law done? Over whom does it have no accusation? Upon whom does the Law declare a righteous verdict? Only Christ. God’s Christ came and accomplished every demand of the Law and donates His righteous record to us by faith. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Pastor Kyle Madson
Norseland Lutheran | St. Peter, MN
Norwegian Grove Lutheran | Gaylord, MN
Editor – Lutheran Sentinel