In our confirmation classes we speak of the two tablets of the Laws, Table number one, the first three commandments, deal with our vertical relationship with God. Tablet two, the other seven commandments, deal with our horizontal relationship with our neighbor.
It is a distinction very easy and useful to make, and, in fact, our Lord used it when the Pharisees asked Him, which was the greatest commandment. He responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40). The fulfillment of the Law of God is love of God and our neighbor.
However, in practice we cannot separate the love of God from the love of our neighbor. The Law of God is one, as God is one. And the Law tells us to look beyond our selfish interests, first to God above and below God, our neighbor.
But we cannot do this by our own strength. That is why our Lord told His disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34). How has Christ loved us?
First, Christ suffered and died on the cross for us, to pay the price for our sins. We are justified in God's eyes by the sacrifice of Christ. Also, in baptism Christ has called us by name and has made us children of God. In the Lord's Supper, Christ offers us His body and blood for the strengthening of our faith and to make us members of His body, the Church.
If we are aware of these things, then it is natural for the love of God and our neighbor to guide our outward actions because the Holy Spirit has changed our hearts. What God wants for us is a total transformation of our lives, a complete change in our hearts and minds. This is not possible without the work of the Holy Spirit by means of Word and sacrament.
But in Jesus' day and nowadays as well, there are those who think that they can measure up to God's righteousness by outward acts. They do not have the love of God in their hearts because they have not repented and received absolution in Christ, so their worship is an empty ritual. And because they do not have the love of God within, they do not show the love of God to their neighbors.
That is why our Old Testament lesson (Provers 25:6-14) says, "Like clouds and wind without rain
is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give."
In our Gospel reading for today, our Lord confronts those who think that they can be justified by outward actions. The Third Commandment says, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." As God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day, He has appointed that one day per week we may meet to receive His gifts in Word and sacrament and later enjoy the company of friends and loved ones.
Understood correctly, the Sabbath day is a blessing for us.
The Pharisees had the idea that fulfilling the Third Commandment consisted only of attending worship and avoiding working for gain on the Sabbath. But they showed their religiosity was false when they would not help a neighbor in need, no matter what day of the week it was.
Jesus said the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" Then He healed a man with dropsy and said to them, "Who among you, if your donkey or ox falls in a well, does not rescue it on the Sabbath?" None of them answered, in the first place, because the Mosaic law allowed for acts of mercy to be done on the Sabbath. In the second place, Christ knew their hypocrisy, in that none of them thought twice about caring for their livestock on the Sabbath, but not for their neighbor.
There is no love of God apart from love of one's neighbor. If we have the love of God, we have the right motive to help our neighbor, in spite of our right to a day of rest. If the Mosaic law recognized this, how much more the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus Christ sacrificed all for us to have the opportunity to live forever.
Furthermore, in his explanation of the Third Commandment, Dr. Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, "We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it."
That is to say, obedience to the Third Commandment is not limited to one day, rather we may listen, learn and meditate on God's Word every day of the week, every day of our lives. In the same way, the catechism explains that every commandment has a much broader application than outward acts and rituals, but the fulfillment of the Law involves all aspects of our lives and our will.
Therefore it is not possible to fulfill the Law and justify ourselves before the throne of Christ with a few good works when we do not have the love of God and our neighbor in our hearts. This love proceeds from the Holy Spirit, Who touches our hearts with the preaching of the Law and gives the strength of faith in baptism and reinforces faith in the Lord's Supper.
As St. Paul says in today's Epistle (Ephesians 4:1-6), there is one baptism, one faith (in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ) because there is one Lord and Savior of us all, Jesus Christ.
So St. Paul says, "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love." Amen.
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