Do You Want to be Saved by the Law?
"Do you want to be saved by the law?" What a stupid question, right? Who thinks he can be saved by the law? I do. That's why I get defensive when the law exposes my sins or shortcomings; that's why I make promises to keep the law better when guilt stalks me. You know what they say the only cure for a true hypochondriac is? Having a real disease. The only cure for wanting to be saved by the law is trying. It will take a trip to a grainfield to do that.
Go ahead; try to be saved by keeping the law. Make a list of all you should do and check away. You'll feel great as you do. I did this, this, and that too. The Pharisees in the grainfield were list people. They regarded the keeping of God's law so highly that they listed extra ways to protect it. They made laws more stringent than God's and if you broke one of them, you were guilty of breaking His. For the Sabbath day they listed 39 other things that you couldn't do so you wouldn't break the Sabbath. Baking, separating 2 threads, writing 2 letters, lighting a fire, putting out a fire, were on the list and so was reaping (Voelz, 216).
Aren't lists great? No baking, sowing, writing, or reaping. Check, check and check. We don't have the lists of the Pharisees, but we have our own which if we keep we pronounce ourselves clean before God. And our checklist doesn't even have to be divine things. It can be walking the dog, taking out the trash, playing with the kids, staying positive, exercising regularly.
List keeping will get you a good way through the grainfield without the Pharisees shouting, "Why are you doing what is unlawful?" But eventually they will, and when your list keeper fails your defense attorney kicks in. This is the lawyer who asked Jesus, "Just who is my neighbor?" after he had admitted that the law required him to love his neighbor as himself.
The law can't convict you of worry, greed, lust, or hurting your neighbor. Because you're not worrying; you're just concerned. You're not greedy; you're just planning for the future. You're not lusting; you're appreciating; You're not hurting your neighbor; you're just letting him experience the consequences of his action or inaction.
If you're lawyer fails, your last option is the pole vaulter. He lowers the bar of the law so you can get over it. As long as you don't actually do the deed, no harm no foul. So lusting after a woman isn't adultery and being angry at your neighbor isn't murder. But it was in this context that Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees you can't be saved." So you can be saved by keeping the law. Just not the laws you lower, excuse, or check off by your standards.
You expect me to go to the Gospel now, but you're not ready. Back to the grainfield for you. If you're trying to be saved by the law, eventually you'll come to a place where you are pinned between 2. Not everybody recognizes this. Pharisees never do. Broken sinners always do. The Pharisees never recognized that David was confronted with the law that obligated him to provide for his men and the law that said consecrated bread could only be eaten by priests.
Have you ever been here? You have if you're living under the law. The law of obeying your employer and the law of keeping promises made to your family. The law of keeping the 3rd Commandment or keeping your job. Honoring your father or mother and keeping other commitments you made. Feel the pinch? Feel the need to come to rest on one law or the other so you can feel better?
The Pharisees never felt pinched between 2 laws because they believed they kept them all. That's what has them on a Sabbath, watching Jesus traipse through a grainfield. Don't you find that odd? This is like the time in the synagogue where they watched Jesus just to see if He would break their Sabbath law and heal a crippled man they had planted there. If you feel no pinch, you can go right on living with your check lists, your defense attorney, and your pole vaulter. But Jesus in the grainfield wants to pinch you so hard that you feel it.
God didn't give any law to save you. This is contrary to what many Christians believe: "God wouldn't give us laws we couldn't keep. I mean I don't purposely give my kids rules that I know they can't keep." O yes you do if you're trying to prove to them they can't do something. You command the kid to carry a 10 pound sack of potatoes to prove to him he can't carry your 4 litter bottle of Sangria.
Besides God Himself says He never gave a law to save anyone because there isn't one. Galatians 3:21 says, "If a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law." Galatians 2: 21 is even more important. It doesn't just say that God gave no such law but if one had been given then Jesus came into the world, kept the law, and died for our not keeping it for nothing. "If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."
But this bounces off you if you're not being pinched in the grainfield. If you don't see Jesus points out what David did to challenge the Pharisee's understanding of God's law; if you think you're not guilty of breaking the law but others are, you're not coming out of that grainfield with salvation. You're the Pharisee who prays with no sense of irony or guilt: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get."
Can you see yourself? I can see me. The praying Pharisee is the person who thinks he keeps the law by being in church when he is assigned to do something. He is the person who yawns, stretches, and goes back to sleep when the pastor is on vacation and sees no sin here. The praying Pharisee is the pastor who acts one way in a clerical collar and another in a t-shirt and sees no sin in it. He is the person who believes being a Christian is pay as you go. You pay for as much as you use and as long as you pay it doesn't matter if you use anything.
Back to the grainfield for us. Paul very plainly tells you what the purpose of God's law is if it's not to save you. It's a teacher to lead you to Jesus. Let's sprinkle in a little of the grainfield here. Does a teacher exist for the sake of the students or do students exist for the sake of him? We don't say, "There's a teacher; better get him some students." No, teachers serve students. Likewise, God didn't create men for the sake of the law, but He created the law for the sake of men to lead them to Jesus.
Here's where those who can live, have lived, and are relatively happy living under the law get jittery. The teacher only has authority over a student till he leads him to a diploma. The law only has authority over you till it leads you to Christ. It does that by heaping and piling laws on you that you can't keep. It does that by bringing you to places where the law pinches you on both sides and there is no way to come away with a clear conscience based on keeping the law. Only the Son of Man can give that to you here.
In Jesus all laws are kept. Go on; list every one of them you can think of. Not just the 10 Commandments, but all your manmade checklists, all the laws you bring in a defense attorney to get out from under, and all those laws that the pole vaulter lowers so you can get over them. As true Man Jesus lived the perfect life Pharisees only think they do. Go ahead dig through His deeds; no sins there. Dig through His actions; no sin there; dig through His thoughts and you won't find the slime, grime, and crime you find in yours.
Keep walking in the grainfield, not as a Pharisee but as Jesus' disciple. Groomsmen and bridesmaids can't have dour faces in the presence of the Groom, can they? By the way, God's Law specifically said you could walk through the grainfield of your neighbor and eat to satisfy your appetite (Dt. 23:25), but the Pharisees had taken all the joy out of God's grainfield and left only a got to, a have to, and hunger.
Stop. You're about to conclude, "So the disciples were keeping the law." Then why doesn't Jesus go there? Why doesn't He simply quote the Bible saying they could do what they were doing? Because He wants to lead the Pharisees not to the law but to Him the Son of Man who is Lord of all laws. In the presence of the Lord who not only kept all laws but paid the price for the breaking of them drip by bloody drip, drop by sweaty drop, tear by salty tear, the law is done with you, has no power over you.
Now you're really afraid. You're ready to run out of this grainfield, but if you leave without Christ you're running with the law on your back and back to your lists, lawyer, and pole vaulter, and back to certain judgment for you can't keep the law perfectly. Chew on these passages to slow you down. Rom. 10:4, "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." Gal 2:19: "Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God." Rom. 6:7: "He that is dead is free from sin." Rom. 7:4: "You also died to the Law through the body of Christ that you might belong to Him who was raised from the dead."
See a theme here? Either dead under the law or dead to the law in Christ. Either you answer the law's accusations by pointing to what Jesus did and how Jesus died or you try to fend them off with your lists, lawyer, and pole vaulter. You either come out of the grainfield on the back of the Lord or with the law on your back. You come out either condemned by the law or saved by Jesus. You come out thinking you're saved because you don't have a single grain on you, or you come out with 2 handfuls of grain and a clear conscience because your holiness, your salvation, your standing under the law isn't based on what you do or don't do but on what Jesus did and does. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after Pentecost (20150607); Mark 2: 23-28