Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church, Fullerton, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
[Jesus said, 12"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."]
The Lectionary has been a tremendous blessing to the Church throughout the centuries, and especially over the past few decades. The Lectionary is a book of readings taken from the Holy Scriptures, with different appointed readings for each Sunday and festival in the church year, including today. The Readings for today differ from last Sunday's and will be different from next Sunday's. Is it an absolute requirement to read from a lectionary? No, because we are free in the Gospel to read from anywhere in the Scriptures. Is it beneficial that we read from a lectionary? Absolutely, because it gives us a certain structure—a certain order—to the liturgical time we employ: the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, the season of Epiphany, the Time of Christmas, the Year of Our Lord—the Year of Grace—Two Thousand Eleven. The Readings place a framework around where we are in the church year. For centuries there has been in place a prescribed set of readings of some sort in the worship life of the Church. What was used in the Early Church is quite different from what is in use now in the 21st century. The Church, in her wisdom, has made modifications to the lectionary as she best believed would serve her people throughout the generations. What we have today as our lectionary is the result of decades of careful consideration and preparation by the Church. Is it perfect? No. Nothing is on this side of heaven. Will it serve the Church well over the course of time? Yes, because we are being fed the very Word of God; we get to behold our Triune God coming down to us in the public reading of His Word.
The use of three Readings each Sunday or festival is a practice we inherited from the liturgy of the ancient synagogue. In that liturgy, there were three readings from what we now know as the Old Testament: one from the Torah, one from the Prophets, and one from the Writings—with psalms prayed and sung between the readings. Today, some 3,000 to 4,000 years later, we still hear three Readings in the liturgy. Generally, one is from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. During the "green" Sundays—and today is one of those Sundays, as noted by the color of the paraments and my stole—the Lectionary follows a lectio continua (a continuous reading) of the Epistles and Gospels, picking up where the Readings ended the previous Sunday. But what is interesting to note is that the Old Testament Reading—generally from the Torah (the Law) or the Prophets—is connected intimately with the Holy Gospel appointed for the day. The Old Testament Reading and the Holy Gospel have a common theme running through them, often accounts depicting similar events. Quite often the connection is the Law or a prophecy being fulfilled in Christ, who is the Center of the Scriptures.
Those who listened to our Lord as He preached His "Sermon on the Mount" were familiar with the Law and the Prophets, as they had heard them read each Sabbath. They heard the Five Books of Moses. They heard the prophecies. They were waiting for the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets to come in the person of the Messiah. They were surprised that this Johnny-come-lately—this Jesus—declared Himself to be that very Messiah, the Anointed One of God. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, the Lord returned to His hometown and read from the scroll of Isaiah, as we hear in Luke 4: 16And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read. 17And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20And He rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." [Lk. 4:16-21 ESV]
What do we hear our Lord saying to us in our text for today? He 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" (v. 12). What is more, He also says in John 5: 36"But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. 37And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. … 39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me." [Jn. 5:36-37, 39 NASB]
The people were amazed because Jesus taught with authority, not like His fellow rabbis, for His authority comes from His heavenly Father, the Almighty God. They were astonished that this carpenter's Son knew the Scriptures so well and dared to call Himself the Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. They were offended—scandalized—because He was not the political Messiah they had mistakenly been seeking, someone to come and free them from Roman oppression. What they got was Someone who came to free them from the ravages of sin. What they also got was mad—offended—scandalized!—because He did not give them what they wanted to hear but what they needed to hear: namely, to repent, for the kingdom of God was at hand, at hand in the Person of Jesus Christ, the One from Nazareth, the Son of Mary and the foster Son of Joseph the carpenter. Someone of such humble origins daring to claim He fulfills the Scriptures—how offensive this was to their ears! In their hardness of heart, stiffness of their necks, and uncircumcision of their hearts they rejected Him. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (Jn. 10-11 NKJV). They rejected Him. They rejected His message of repentance. They rejected the fact that they were poor, miserable sinners. They rejected Him and His message because they hated Him.
This happened almost 2,000 years ago, and, as the Preacher says in the book of Ecclesiastes, "The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been in ancient times before us" (Eccl. 1:8b-10 NKJV). What happened then, two millennia ago, is happening now. They hated God, and so do we. They were sinners, and so are we. They rejected the Word, and so do we. They deserved to burn in hell for their sins, and so do we for ours. You see, there is nothing inherently good in us, for we have all been conceived and born in sin, and to this day we remain spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God, and we don't like to hear any of that. We cannot handle the truth. We shall know the truth, and it shall make us mad—angry at God. Yes, we are all poor, miserable sinners, by nature sinful and unclean, with sins and iniquities too numerous to count, having sinned against God by thought, word, and deed. We have offended—and continue to offend—God and justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. We like to think we're pretty good people…decent folk. But the truth of the matter is that "we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Is. 64:6 NKJV), away from the presence of the Lord…a very lonely place when He departs.
So that we would not perish, our Lord has come, calling us to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. As a matter of fact, the kingdom of God is here! It is here in your very midst. It comes upon your foreheads and upon your hearts, for you have been baptized in and into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It comes into your ears as you hear the grace of God announced to you and your sins forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It comes into your ears again as the Word is publicly read and proclaimed in your hearing, being condemned by the Law and restored by the Gospel. It comes upon your lips as the Lord gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. Where the kingdom of God is, there the King is as well. The King is here! Jesus has come and brings pleasure eternal. He comes to bring us forgiveness of sins. He comes to bring us eternal life. He comes to bring us salvation. He comes to give you His gifts, for "the gifts Christ freely gives He gives to you and me to be His Church, His bride, His chosen, saved, and free!" (LSB 602:1). Christ gives us His gifts, for He truly is the Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Adam and Eve, our first parents and the first sinners. He promised them already in Genesis 3 that their Savior would come from their bloodline, born true God and true Man.
For Christ to fulfill the Law, He had to keep and obey it perfectly, down to the smallest iota and dot (the smallest Hebrew alphabet characters). To keep the Law, He had to place Himself under it. The Christ Child, who by His very birth fulfilled centuries-old prophecies, willingly placed Himself under the old covenant of circumcision and the new covenant of baptism, to fulfill all righteousness. He entered the Jordan River clean as the spotless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He came out dirty with our sins, "for [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21 NKJV). Because Christ became sin for us, He endured the separation from God the Father—the hell—we by our sins have deserved. God forsook His only-begotten Son so that He would not forsake us. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 5: 6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [Rom. 5:6-9]
But because Christ is also the Incarnate Word, the flesh-and-bones Word of God (God Himself), and even as Christ in the flesh died for us. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets with one word: tetelesthai, a Greek word that means "The goal has been reached." It means "It is finished." It means "It has been completed." It means "It has been perfected." Our redemption, our justification, and our salvation have been made perfect in Christ's perfect death. Our dear Lord, with this one word, proclaimed victory over sin and Satan. He paid our full redemption price by shedding His blood and by dying on the cross for us atop Mt. Calvary. The temple that was Christ's body was destroyed, but in three days it was raised, just as He Himself prophesied, as He rose from the dead for us, declaring Himself victor over the grave. His victory is ours! We too shall rise on the Last Day, when the Lord comes in judgment and gathers all the faithful to Himself to spend life in heaven with Him forever, where we will dine at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.
Until that Day comes, our Lord invites us to come continually to His house, for He has established His Word and Table fellowship with us. He bids us to come in and hear of His great love for us, a love so great that He had already in Eden promised and proclaimed the Good News of Himself, the Fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is the message our Lord wants you to hear is "Repent, and believe the Good News." Repent, and believe the Gospel. Repent, and believe that God the Father has forgiven your sins for His Son's sake, on account of the blood He once shed on Calvary's cross and now seeks to give you, along with His body, at His Table, that you would receive His gifts with great thanksgiving.
In our Epistle for today, Paul said to the Corinthians then and to us today, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (2 Cor. 2:2 ESV). Why was this? Paul says in Romans 1: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16a NKJV). Paul says in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth: 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [1 Cor. 1:21-24 NKJV]
Fellow redeemed, it doesn't get much simpler than that: preaching Christ crucified. Without His crucifixion, there would be no resurrection. In the words of the great Easter hymn: "Had Christ, who once was slain, not burst His three-day prison, our faith had been in vain: but now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen; but now has Christ arisen!" (LSB 482:refrain). He did it for you, and His message of repentance and forgiveness is just as powerful now as it was 2,000 years ago, announcing the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The preaching of the cross remains timeless, for it is given for those and to those who crave God's gifts, the craving made possible by the Holy Spirit's converting us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The preaching is for you. We preach Christ the Fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets—for you! We preach God in the flesh as a little baby—for you! We preach Christ crucified—for you! We preach Christ risen—for you! We preach Christ ascended—for you! We preach Christ coming down to you through His read and preached Word—for you! We preach Christ coming down to you in Baptism to drown your Old Adam—for you! We preach repentance in His Name—for you! We preach the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come—for you! We preach Christ presenting His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine—for you, given and shed—for you—for the forgiveness of sins. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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