Gospel then Law
July 24, 2022 anno Domini
In the wedding liturgy the groom always goes first. He is the first to declare his intent to marry this woman. He speaks his vows first. He gives the ring first. I’m guessing in our male hating culture with cries of patriarchal oppression some churches have already undone the liturgy and given women the lead.
So why is it that way? Was it just a bunch of male pastors writing the wedding liturgy over beers at an pastor’s conference in the 4th century? No. The liturgy is that way because it reflects God’s bond to His people.
Look at God’s wedding vows in Exodus 20. Long before God gave the Ten Commandments, He gave Himself to Israel. He vowed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to His Israel. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” How does God begin the commandments? Not with a command, but with His vow, with His love shown in His deeds. (Read Exodus 20:2).
This may sound strange to our Lutheran ears, but the Gospel came before the Law. God’s gifts come before His requirements. In the beginning God created everything for humans to use. He created man to receive His gifts and then He created woman as a gift to the man even as the man would be a gift to the woman. Only after this love and giving did God speak of Adam and Eve’s part, of their responsibility to Him – Be fruitful. Multiply. Fill the Earth. Have Dominion. Don’t eat from that tree in the middle of the garden.
By my count that’s five commandments and four of them were positive. Adam and Eve you’re married. Have sex so you have children. Keep this up until you fill the earth which you already rule. They only had one don’t – don’t eat from that tree. That last command was the test of their union with God. Were they satisfied with the love of God, or would they love themselves and be unfaithful? When they ate of that fruit they filed for divorce, but God did not let them go.
On Mount Sinai God renewed His wedding vows to His Israel after He had brought them out of slavery. He promised to carry them over the threshold of the Jordan into His land. He would dwell in their midst in His house. God gave Adam and Eve five commands after giving them the whole world. He gave Israel ten after He redeemed them from the slavery of their adultery. These are the rules of life with God.
You shall have no other gods.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You might remember from catechesis that the Holy Spirit uses the Law for three purposes in our lives. The first purpose is to curb gross outward sin. Throughout human history every civilization has functioned by expecting people to keep those last seven commandments. They are sometimes called the natural law. Everyone has a feint sense of these in his heart because we are all created by God. Honor your mom and dad. Don’t take another person’s life or wife. Keep your mitts off your neighbor’s property. Don’t lie and be content with what you have and work for what you want.
The second use of the Law is to convict you of sin, to convince you that you broke the rules, and you deserve God to divorce you forever. This use is called the mirror. The Law is one of those mirrors in the fancy department stores that don’t exist anymore. There’s three mirrors and the reflections create mirror upon mirror. You look in that mirror and you can see more of yourself than you ever wanted to see. That’s what God’s law does. It shows that you have other gods – your health, your children, your money, your pleasure. You misuse God’s name – mostly by not using it often in prayer and using it too often as an explicative. Are you daydreaming right now? That’s third commandment. Jesus tells us anger is murder and lust is adultery. By the time the law is done with us we cannot stand to look at ourselves.
That’s good because you can’t save this marriage of God and man – only Jesus can. The Law reflects our sins, but it also reflects our Savior. Who was the only man to fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Who was the man who never misused God’s name, but glorified it always? Who never missed church and always had God’s Word on His mind? Who honored His Father when He came to earth and His mother when he hung on the cross? Jesus. He did that for you. We always remember that Jesus died for our sins, but we forget He lived for our righteousness. He kept every commandment always. He never sinned. You want to know what a real man looks like – look at Jesus. Every Word and every deed He did He did for His bride, for you, to save you, to love you, to for you so He could bring you back to God..
The third use is what Paul talks about in today’s Epistle. By baptism you are united to Christ and in that way, baptism is like a wedding (hence the customary white gown). In baptism Christ gives you everything He has. You are united with Him in a death like His and resurrected to a life like His. These are the facts about a baptized Christian. Your bridegroom Christ has covered your sins. He has guaranteed not happily ever after, but life ever after. On the last day he is going to carry you over the threshold of the resurrection to see Him face to face. How do you know? You have been united to Him in baptism.
Now Paul asks a very important question – how are you going to live with Christ? Are you going to live like you’re single and do your own thing? Or live like you and Christ are one? Paul puts it this way, “Are we going to continue in sin that grace might abound?” He answers clearly, “By no means.” The Greek is the most emphatic no that you could say. In English it might involve some swear words. No, Never, Absolutely not.
If you are united to Christ, you desire to live by the rules of His house. Your heavenly bridegroom loved you to death and if you believe that you know His Word is good for you and you desire it.
Martin Luther was fond of saying, “You’re not a Christian if …” You’re not a Christian if you don’t go to confession. You’re not a Christian if you take communion less than four times a year. You are not a Christian if you live in open and willful sin.” Luther wasn’t being legalistic. He didn’t say these works lead to your salvation, like going to communion five times a year makes you a Christian. He was confessing what Saint Paul confessed. If you are united to Christ, you follow the Word of your bridegroom. You love His law because He is good. You know He is good because He loved you to death and gave you everything you need to live. You delight in the Law of the Lord, your Bridegroom delighted in loving you, redeeming you, and uniting Himself to you. He leads. You follow. He saves. You trust. He speaks. You delight in His Word. And that is a heavenly union. In the name of Jesus. Amen.