Don’t Miss the Point

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

God’s Law is Beautiful!

7th Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 7:1-3, 8:3-4

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “No pain, no gain.” Ever heard that before? It seems like most good things in life come only through some kind of hurt and pain, don’t they? For example, I try to exercise at least 4 times a week. There will be days when I’ll just absolutely dread it, put it off if I can, come up with every reason in the book why I should skip it for the day, claim that I’m just too busy, I think about running and the work involved, the sweat, the fatigue, the tiring, the heavy breathing, and I just don’t want to do it. It’s a struggle. In fact, sometimes I think the only reason why I exercise is because I’m part of a coaching group and I have a personal coach who holds me accountable for a number of different things including taking care of my body physically and if I don’t exercise I know he’s going to call me out and get on my case, so…I do it. But interestingly there hasn’t been one time when I get done exercising that I regret it. The hard work, the sweat, the pain was worth it. No pain, no gain. Right? The same is true with different medical things. I’ve visited quite a few people in the hospital who have had some kind of joint replacement. There’s a ton of pain involved and usually the therapists have them up and walking or using the joint the very next day, it’s not easy, it’s painful, but the reward? Hopefully eventually a working joint without the pain.

No pain, no gain. That’s true for a lot of things in life. In a way that’s also true about God’s law. Throughout the Bible there are two main teachings, they’re found in the OT and in the NT. It’s the law and the gospel. The law is everything in the Bible where God makes a demand of us and tells us to do something. The law also tells us that God hates sin and God hates those who sin. It also says that those who sin deserve punishment and eternal death. The gospel, on the other hand, is totally different. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” The gospel never says anything about “doing” rather the gospel says, “Done! It’s all been done!” Instead of making demands the gospel GIVES. The gospel says, “God loves the world so that He gave His one and only Son so that we might have eternal life.” And if God loves the world then God also loves me.

But both the law and the gospel are good and both serve a proper function. The law hurts. The law causes pain. It hurts us because it shows us clearly just how sinful we really are. Notice what verse 7 and following says, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intend to bring life actually brought death.” Do you catch the logic? I can look at one of God’s commands like the 5th commandment, “You shall not murder.” And think, “I’ve kept that one. I’ve never murdered anyone.” But then God comes along and says, “Do not covet.” That forces me to take things deeper. That forces me to see that God isn’t just interested in my outward activity or my outward appearance. God looks right at my heart and right into my mind. God judges my thoughts, my motives, my intentions, my desires. And now I have to rethink that 5th commandment. Maybe I haven’t actually murdered anyone…but…have I wanted to, even for just a quick moment? Have I always thought kindly about others? Have I ever wished ill on anyone? Have I always shown perfect love to…everyone?

And now, if I’m honest with myself, I’m spiritually spinning out of control, for I haven’t come close to keeping the true nature of the 5th commandment! I AM a murderer in God’s sight and God says very clearly that no murderer will inherit eternal life! (1 John 3:15) And every aspect of the law does that to us. Think about the first and greatest commandment: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. If you really kept that commandment, you would always be thinking about God, you would never have one doubting thought, God would always be your number one priority, your decisions would be always based on what would God want me to do, you would never let money, stuff, job, things, people, family come before your relationship with God, you would always be thinking about God and His love for you. What about the 4th commandment? Always honoring and respecting those in authority over you. Never once bad mouthing someone in government, always praying for those in positions of leadership, always paying taxes with a joyful heart. What about the sixth commandment? Never once having a lustful thought, perfectly helping others with their marriage, perfectly caring and love your spouse, never being selfish. Ouch! God’s law deals not just with our outward actions, but with our thoughts, our attitudes, our desires, our motives, our intentions. God’s demand is perfection and we’ve failed and it hurts.

From time to time you hear something like, “I sure hope I don’t die while I’m sinning.” If you think that, you really don’t know what sin really is. Of course you’re going to die while you’re sinning. All of us fall far short of what we ought to be all the time. You see, the law doesn’t just tell us what NOT to do or be, it also tells us what we SHOULD do and be. Not being and not doing what we ought to is also a sin. The law demands perfection. If you’re not perfect, you’re living in sin. The reality is, we’re sinning all the time because we’re failing to be what God demands all the time. And that’s what Paul says, “I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.” It brings death because each of us fails to keep God’s commands all the time, in other words, each of us deserves nothing but death and hell forever.

And that’s what makes the law so important. It forces you and me to see my complete and desperate need for a cure. In other words, the law drives me to Jesus, to Jesus’ cross, where I see the full horror of the law’s curse – there in the body of Christ sin is being punished fully and completely. But there is the gospel! There is the beauty of God’s love. At the cross, God is NOT punishing me! God is taking MY punishment upon HIMSELF! Salvation has nothing to do with ME coming to GOD, but God comes to me in wonderful love, mercy, grace. He GIVES me forgiveness. He tells me everything has been DONE for my salvation. My sins have been paid in full. So, I’m constantly sinning because I’m failing to be perfect all the time, but at the same time I’m constantly forgiven because of Jesus. “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” But if the law hadn’t struck me first, I would never be ready to hear about a cure, never be ready for that wonderful good news of the gospel. So, the law is beautiful for it leads me to Jesus!

I think sometimes we get the wrong idea of what repentance means. Sometimes people will say, “I hope that I have a chance to repent before I die.” That’s not right. Really, the whole life of a believer is to be one of repentance. That doesn’t mean that you feel bad all the time and believing doesn’t mean that you feel good all the time. Repenting simply means knowing that you’re a sinner who deserves to go to hell and believing that Jesus forgives you all the time, every minute of every day you’re forgiven. Sometimes people think that we have to enumerate all of our sins in order to be truly repentant. But the truth is, repentance simply means knowing you’re a sinner and trusting Jesus died to pay for your sins.  And living in repentance it changes our whole attitude about the law.

Here is where the first part of our text is so important. Paul uses the example of a marriage. The law of marriage ends at death. If a man is still living and his wife goes to be with another man, that’s adultery. However, if the man dies, then his wife is free to marry another man. Death brings about the end of the law. Similarly, “you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.” In other words, we’ve been set free from the law. You don’t HAVE to obey any law. Keeping God’s laws or not keeping God’s laws isn’t going to get you one inch closer to heaven. God has set us free from slavery to the law. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” God has set us free. You see, you don’t HAVE to follow God’s laws. Christ followed them for you. But here’s what happens: when we see how desperate we were in our sins and how God graciously rescued us, we want to serve God in a new way, out of thanks for His grace and love to us.

And so, God’s law becomes beautiful to us. Because as I live according to God’s law, God brings blessings to me.  Let’s think about the 7th Commandment, you shall not steal.  Can you imagine how different life would be if everyone obeyed the 7th Commandment?  You would never need to lock your house, or your car, or your locker, or anything else, because no one would ever steal.  In fact, you wouldn’t even need locks on anything! If you wouldn’t need locks, you also wouldn’t need keys.  Can you imagine how nice it would be to never have to wonder where you put your keys?!? J   And you’d be able to lay down your wallet anywhere, and you could give access to your accounts to anyone, and you wouldn’t have to have encryption technology on the internet, etc, etc, etc.  Wow!  Life would be really great if everyone obeyed just the 7th commandment!

And that’s true for all the rest of God’s laws.  When I fear, love and trust in God above all things, my life gets better, for I’m focused on God and the eternal blessings He’s won for me!  That will allow me to keep the things of this life in perspective, will allow me to make it through good times and bad times with an even keel, etc.  When I love my fellow man as I love myself, my life gets better, for my relationships will be stronger, and I’ll be putting the best construction on all things and therefore will have more contentment, etc., etc.  And so the law is beautiful!  For it guides me to have a real life, a life which works!

No pain, no gain. Sometimes I feel like just quitting exercising. It hurts! But when I’m done I see it was all worth it. We might like to quit hearing the law, to quit hearing that God is holy, that He demands holiness, and that we’re sinners.  It hurts.  But, it’s sure worth it!  For the law leads me back to Jesus and His forgiving love; it guides me in living in a way which actually works.  So we agree – God’s law – it’s a beautiful thing!  Amen.