Anchored In Hope - Anchored in the Word
Matthew 5:17 “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.”
This week we are excited to welcome Pastor Mark Brandt as our guest author. Mark currently serves as the Digital Outreach Minister at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa. In addition to being our featured speaker at Family Camp #3 this week, Mark and his wife Michelle find themselves keeping busy keeping up with their three teenage boys. We hope you enjoy what Mark has to share about our Wednesday theme verse for 2022. (Psssttt....if you are in the West Des Moines area, stop by and ask him to sing the Wednesday theme verse song....complete with actions!)
This one statement of Jesus goes directly to the heart of the tension at the time it was shared in what we often refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount”. People were beginning to get hints that Jesus was more than just a man and some of them were probably even hoping he was the promised Messiah! What was at stake here? The people were under the thumb of a Roman Empire bent on keeping them in their place. They partnered with the religious rulers at the time tasked with keeping the people in check. How did they do that? By using the law as a means to control them. Imagine the leaders as Olympic judges who had the sole power to decide whether or not you were made righteous with God. Often times twisting the very law away from its original intent; to bring freedom to God’s people and guide them towards right relationship. Instead, they used it to restrict freedom as a means of keeping power and control.
Let’s go back for a moment to the inception of the law. Moses and the people of God were out of slavery and not yet in the promised land. In their wandering they were lost… both physically and relationally. Imagine your whole life being structured and absent of any personal choice. That was their history. The Egyptians enslaved them for hundreds of years and their lives were not their own. So, when they were finally free, they had no idea how to live in this new freedom! So, God gifted them with the Ten Commandments to help them understand how to understand their relationship to God himself (first few commandments) and with others (the final commandments). They were truly intended to help them live freely!
Fast forward a few hundreds of years and that understanding of the law was no longer being taught. Instead, it was being used as a weight to keep people down. So, when Jesus came on the scene preaching the “new way” the people were hopeful that they would once and for all be brought out from under the oppression of the law! Many of them thought that perhaps it would no longer be binding, and they could instead live freely without being subject to it anymore. Jesus, being the wise teacher that he was, understood this problem and chose to speak to it early on in his longest recorded message to the many who gathered to hear. What was the new message?
Jesus came to bring balance to the law by extending grace! Prior to Jesus, people were made right through ritual. Now they would be made right once again through relationship; a relationship that was no longer going to be bartered unfairly by the religious leaders and instead by a direct connection to the creator himself! This wasn’t the outcome they wanted, but it was exactly what they needed! Jesus would become, in death, the way back to God through LOVE and grace, not through power and control. So, what then was to become of the law?
Jesus would go on in verses 19-20 to say, “…if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great…” The law still mattered! But not as a weapon, but once again a guide for how to live and to be “great”. Jesus called the people again to be obedient for the right reasons.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. For many years I attended and then subsequently worked at Riverside Bible Camp. The old half moon concrete pool holds a special place in my heart! And if you remember that pool, there was a set of rules painted on the wall just inside the entrance of the pool. Why were they there? To make sure that everyone was safe while enjoying the pool. So, if you followed the rules, you experienced freedom and fun within the pool. Well, one day while working at camp, my best friend Kevin and I decided to break each rule in order, to see how long it would take for our friend Linneah, the pool manager, to kick us out. (I should pause here to say that I do not condone this behavior 😊) The first three rules were:
1. Shower before entering the water
2. No running on deck
3. No diving in the shallow end
This presented an opportunity! We could break all three of the first rules with one action. Right after entering the pool gate, we took off on a run (without showering) and dove from the shallow end over the rope into the deep end, right underneath Linneah’s lifeguard chair. You can probably guess what happened next. Linneah kicked us out! Shocking, I know. BUT what we couldn’t anticipate was how upset she was with us. We thought this was all in good fun and laughed it off, but Linneah was visibly upset and took us aside later to let us know she was considering not letting us back in the pool at all that week in addition to removing our lifeguard status. What started out as a joke to us, turned into a fractured relationship with our friend.
What we needed was grace and the means to that was in asking for forgiveness and then agreeing to obey the rules of the pool. Not as a punitive measure, but as a means for right relationship and safety. After apologizing to Linneah, she extended us grace and taught us a valuable lesson in friendship. Our friend loved us in spite of our disregard to what made our pool relationship right. The law balanced out by grace.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus was reminding his people that the law still mattered. He was also helping them understand that he was the means of grace for when they weren’t able to follow the rules; either intentionally or unintentionally. Jesus was the fulfillment of what they had been hoping for, they just needed to understand what that meant moving forward. May you too seek to find that balance of living in freedom under the rules and the unconditional grace when you don’t.
- When have you experienced undeserved grace after making a mistake? When have you extended an extra measure of grace to someone else?
- Which do you tend towards? Law? Or Grace? Why do you have this tendency? Is it different with yourself than it is with others?