May 9, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our risen and living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the Holy Gospel we listened as Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.1” That statement is not a command. Jesus is not telling us what we should do to be a Christian. It is the result of being a Chritian.
Christian love isn’t lazy, and it isn’t invisible. Christian love always acts, and if we could love perfectly our entire life we would be inline with His commandments2 because His commandments are an expression of perfect love.
Some of you might remember a point I made in Bible study months ago. The Ten Commandments are poorly named. They should be called the “Ten How-Could-You’s.” They begin:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. [How could you] have other gods before me…3
T he First Table of commandments, the first three commandments,4 tell us of perfect love toward God. They explain what it means to:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.5
The Second Table, commandments four through ten, tell us of perfect love toward our neighbor. They explain what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.6” If we could love perfectly this is what we would do. This is what our life would look like. It is what life in Heaven will look like. If we could love perfectly we would, by our very nature, keep all of the commandments. They are a description of the perfect Christian life as much as they are an expression of God’s love for us.
So the question then becomes, “Are they a description of your life?”
If we are honest we know the the answer is no. If we are honest we would genuinely mean what we said when we stated earlier:
[I] confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.7
We have failed both tables of the commandments. We do not, and have not, lived the Christian life because we cannot love perfectly. Original sin, concupiscence, the sin with which we are born,8 causes the Commandments, the Christian life, to be beyond our reach.
This is the struggle that plagued Martin Luther and caused him to write in the hymn that we just sang that he was:
“…bound in Satan’s chains,”
“…suffered the pangs of hell.9”
He tried to do what God commanded, but he couldn’t, and neither can we.
So where does that leave us? Well, perhaps ironically, that leaves us right where we need to be. If we acknowledge our sin we have taken the first step toward living the Christian life. To look at the Commandments and see in them a standard we cannot achieve is to know them exactly as God intended.
God’s Law is not a life-giving thing.10 The Law shows us our sin. It show us our need. It show us our failure and us our lack of love. The Law show us, on our own we cannot live this Christian life, no matter how hard we try. When we acknowledge that truth we are right where God wants us to be. When we are dead in our trespasses and sins, God comes to gives us life. True life. The Christian life.
That is the key, to understand that the Christian life is not something that we are able to do, but it is in fact a gift from God. It is a gift of His grace. This is what made the difference for Luther, and changed the verses of his hymn from despair into joy. His awful, heavy, burden was lifted by this Good News that the Christian life was not what he did, but what God was doing, for him.
So in the Gospel reading Jesus tells His disciples from where this life comes, when He says to them, “Because I live you also will live.11” In other words, our life is grounded in His life. Apart from Him we have no real life. Because He lives, we live. Because He died and rose again, we who are born without life12 also rise to new life in Him.13 Being given this gift of life in Jesus, we begin to love and live as He loved, and live the Christian life.
Jesus also tells His disciples how this happens. After describing the Christian life, He tells them how it will be done. It is not from anything they do, but from what He will do. He says:
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, . . . He dwells with you, and will be in you.14
“…another Helper…,” Jesus says. The first Helper is Jesus Himself. The Son of God became man to take our sins to, and die with them on, the cross, He takes our sins where they belong, to Hell, and leaves them there. Then He rises to life again. This work of Jesus conquering our sin, our death, and our enemy the devil, earned us the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of new eternal life. This new life is what we are celebrating during this entire 50 day season of Easter leading up to Pentecost, when the “another Helper,” the Holy Spirit, comes.
Though Jesus earned this gift for us, that is not enough. It must also also be a gift given to us. A gift is purchased and wrapped but never given is incomplete. So it is with salvation earned by Jesus. It must also be given to be complete.
That is why Jesus says, “I will send another Helper…” This One gives the gifts.15 This One will live within you.16 This One will be, as we confess in the Creed, “the Lord and giver of life.17” On the Day of Pentecost these words of Jesus came true when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of wind and tongues of fire.18
T his is the gift of God that has been given to you. The Holy Spirit given to you in the gift of Holy Baptism, where He joins you to Jesus’ death and resurrection19 a nd gives you a new life, a Christian life. The Holy Spirit given to you through His Word and the gift of Holy Absolution, where through the declaration of the forgiveness of all your sins He gives you a new life, a Christian l ife. The Holy Spirit given to you in the gift of Holy Communion, where eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus, He strengthens and keeps you in this new life, this Christian life.
This is the life that we are now privileged to live. It is not a life of perfection or of ever-increasing holiness. Sinful seductions still get the best of us. Our sinful flesh and the allurements of the world make us want to live the “high life” instead of the Christian life!
Living the Christian life is not about our achieving perfection which we know isbeyond our reach. It is about our receiving Jesus’ holiness and Jesus’ perfection. The Christian life is a life begun, continued, and ended in the death and resurrection of Jesus. A life of constant dying in repentance and confession, and being given new life in the forgiveness of our sins.
As we live and move and have our being20 in Christ, in the gift of His life and Spirit, breathing His Word into us as we receive life from Him, then the life and love of Christ will be evident in our life. With His love you will be able to live a life of loving, serving, and sacrificing. Even laying down your life, giving and going out of your way for others. Not because you have to, but because you love as you are loved.
In the Collect Prayer for today we prayed that the Lord would teach us to “think those things that are right.” This is the gift of God. God’s Kingdom comes when we are gifted with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth leads us into the truth of God’s Word, and we believe. The Spirit of life gives us the life of God. This life, this new life of forgiveness, this Christian life, we live not only here in time, but will live forever in eternity. Because He lives, we will live also.21 That’s not a command. That’s a promise!
A promise given in Jesus’ name.
3Exodus 20:2-3 Adapted
4Actually there are three major ways the Ten Commandments are numbered from Exodus 20. If you’re coming from a Reformed or Baptist background, they renumnbered them in the 1500’s, so then it would be the first four.
7Lutheran Service Book: Divine Service III
9Lutheran Service Book: Hymn 556 – Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice
101 Corinthians 15:56
161 Corinthians 6:19