Our Problem with the Law
Scripture: Matthew 22:15-46
Text: Matthew 22:37-40 & Lord’s Day 2
Sermon by Rev. James Reaves
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Kelowna, British Columbia, 2000
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 17, No. 7
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Man has always had a problem with the law of God, for the simple reason that God gave it to us to expose to us our sin and our misery, and that is something none of us wants to learn about. We don’t want to know what miserable sinners we are so we invent ways to keep it at a distance and not let it speak to our hearts.
Some of the Pharisees were experts at this and did their best to tangle up Jesus so that they would not have to listen to Jesus’ application of the law to their sin-filled lives. Verse 15 of Matthew 22 makes this very clear: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.” They kept bringing their questions to Jesus in the hope of making Him look foolish in His understanding of the law. They didn’t have much success but they certainly tried.
Man tends to use different methods today but he is still trying to escape the message the law has for him. We don’t have Jesus present with us in the flesh any longer but the law is still around and we are still determined to blot its message out of our thinking. Today we question the very possibility of knowing the truth, and if the truth can’t be known we don’t have to listen to the law. The commandments, we say, were written for another day and age and don’t speak to this situation in which we find ourselves.
Take the seventh commandment as an example. It says, “You shall not commit adultery,” and we agree that that was a good commandment for the times when it was first given. But today we know better. We know how to prevent conception and we have antibiotics to treat venereal diseases, so we have eliminated the risks and there is no need to frustrate our young people over the old commandment. Let them have a good time. They are only young once. You see, we are still busy trying to avoid the impact of the law of God. We don’t want to listen to it.
But our efforts today are no more successful than the efforts of the Pharisees in their day. The law is still here and it still holds us accountable to God. If only we were prepared to come to grips with reality, we would still hear it telling us about our sin and our misery. This morning I suggest we do just that.
Let us consider together:
I. The Requirement of the Law;
II. The Failure of Man to keep it; and
III. The Answer of God for our problem.
Jesus sums up the law for us very neatly in Matthew 22:37-40. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
First and foremost, the law requires us to love God. This is not at all unreasonable when we pause to consider who God is and what He has done for us. He is the altogether perfect and lovely One. He is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. He cannot be improved upon. He is the completely loveable One. That is who He is and He has done everything for us that we could reasonably ask. He has created us from the dust of the ground and breathed into our nostrils the breath of life. He has placed us in the most wonderful life-promoting environment of which we know and He keeps both our environment and us functioning. We owe everything to Him. He continues to care for us day by day and moment by moment. He is closer to us than our latest breath, and all this He does in spite of the fact that we have all sinned against Him and don’t deserve a thing from His hand. How could you not love such a God as this?
But that is only the beginning. John tells us in I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” When we had offended Him and deserved His utter judgment and condemnation, He instead loved us and gave His only Son as the propitiation for our sins.
The greatness of such love is staggering. It us utterly immeasurable by any human standard. The gospel invites us to go to the cross where Jesus died and there behold God pouring out His love for us in the sacrifice of His Son. That, my friends, is love!
And how do we respond to such love? The commandment tells us how. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” I find it hard to improve on what Isaac Watts says: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Yes, yes, we should love God totally, with our whole being, heart, soul and mind.
You can try and analyze those components if you like. The heart is the center of our being; the soul the center of our emotions; the mind the center of our thoughts and attitude. But the whole point is that we are to love God completely, first and foremost. That is the first and great commandment.
But that is not the whole law. There is another commandment that goes like this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This follows from the commandment we have already considered, for God has made us, including all our neighbors, in His image and likeness. If we are to love God we must love His image-bearers also, and that is us and our neighbors. We are to love our neighbors because each one, in his own limited way, carries a likeness to God. This likeness may be all but buried because of a lifetime of godlessness, but hidden though it may be, it is still there, and you must love your neighbor. Every one of them, not just your own family, your own people, your own color, but all families, all peoples, all colors. God made them all in His own image and likeness. Love them! Love your neighbor as yourself.
You will observe that this commandment does not tell us to love ourselves. No where does the Bible tell us to love ourselves; it assumes that we already do. And that being true, we are to love our neighbors in the same way. Be as good to him as you would be to yourself.
Love does no harm. Love suffers long and is kind. Love does not behave rudely. Love does not seek its own. You know about love – practice it. Love your neighbor.
Jesus, having told us to love God and then our neighbor, went on to say, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” If you love God, you won’t turn aside to other gods. If you love God, you will worship Him as He directs and not as you yourself think might be appropriate. If you love God, you will honor His name and use it properly. If you love God, you will set His day aside for Him. And if you love your neighbor, you will respect any authority that rightly belongs to him. If you love your neighbor, you will respect his marriage partner. If you love your neighbor, you will respect his property. If you love your neighbor, you will respect his reputation. And you will do all of this from the heart, not begrudging him a thing.
Pick any direction of scripture from all the law or any of the prophets, and you can hang it on one or the other of these commandments. Loving God and loving your neighbor covers everything, and God’s Word says to go do it.
This is where we all get into trouble, for what one person among us can say that he has always kept these two commandments? We haven’t come even close. Listen to Romans 1:21: “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful.” That sounds like us a good part of the time. Also Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.” Or Romans 8:7 – this verse is even worse. “...Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” The fact is, we resent God’s intrusion into our lives, especially when He comes along after we have deliberately disobeyed Him. We want to run away from Him into the bushes to hide, as did Adam in Eden. “God, you just leave me be to work this out on my own. I don’t want you. I want to be on my own.” Apart from God’s grace, that is every one of us, isn’t it? We don’t love God, not as long as He holds us accountable for all of His commandments. We don’t come even close.
And when we come to the second of these two commandments, we don’t come up any better. Listen to Titus 3:3 on this one: “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another.” That’s us, isn’t it? I know that’s me.
I think it started with my parents. They used to discipline me, which I of course thought was grossly unfair. I hated them when they did that. Of course I didn’t hate them all the time. They were pretty good to me most of the time, but I had my moments of living in ill-will toward them. Then there was my sister. She could be okay sometimes, like in those rare moments when she would play a game with me, but she used to tell on me. I would demonstrate my skill in using some of the choice language I picked up in the school yard, and she would go running off to mother. “Jimmy said a bad word!” I mean, why did she have to do that? It seemed she was always getting me into trouble and I hated that. Then when I got out of the house it didn’t get any better. We had a couple of bullies in the neighborhood and I hated them, especially when they were twisting my arm or banging my shins. Then there was the girl around the block who squealed on me when I launched a big snow ball at the old lady’s front door. Boy, did I get into trouble for that! Love that girl? No way, I hated her. Even my friends would let me down and ignore me at times. It wasn’t easy growing up in Ottawa when I was a kid.
We learned about hate very quickly, didn’t we all? It’s just human nature. “We ourselves were also once foolish, isobedient, deceived…living in malice…hateful and hating one another.” Don’t kid yourselves; we haven’t kept these two commandments, not at all. We are sinners. Our hearts are exactly like Jeremiah described them, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Don’t ever underestimate your ability to deceive yourself. “If we say we have not sinned, we make (God) a liar and His word is not in us.”
As Paul concludes in Romans chapter 3, “There is none righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
These two commandments do as good a job as any collection of commandments you can find anywhere, of making known to us our sin and misery. We are miserable sinners, every last one of us.
So what is the answer to this situation in which we find ourselves? The answer is the same today as when preached by the apostles. I Timothy 1:15 says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus came to rescue the very people who found themselves condemned by the law, and in misery on account of their sin. He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. He took their sins upon Himself, and died in their place. “He…who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Leave your sins behind. Come, put your faith in Jesus. He will cleanse your heart and put a new Spirit in you. He will pour His Holy Spirit into your life and make all things new. He is the One who can save us from our sin and misery and change us into different people.
Every now and again I hear someone say, “Oh, you can’t change him” or, “you can’t change her. He/she has always been that way and won’t change now.” And that is no doubt true, because they can’t change themselves. But I am here today to say that God can change them. The gospel proclaims change – change in your life and mine by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look in faith to Jesus. Put your hope and confidence in Him, and see how He changes you and lifts you out of your sin and misery, and puts it into your heart to love God and your neighbor as you have never done before. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” It is time we started to see some lives changed in the Reformed church by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Does Jesus save us from our sins or not? The world is waiting to see the difference the gospel makes in the lives of those who profess to believe it. It is time to leave our sin and misery behind and get on with following the Lord Jesus Christ.
According to the Bible, the law at which we have been looking this morning is “our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” Has the law brought you to Christ? What difference has it made in your life? Amen.