Rule of Law
Third Sunday in Lent
Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
One assignment my Sociology class received while in college was to make up a game for children to play, complete with rules to follow. It was one of the most difficult assignments to complete. As for why it was difficult for me is because I never had to make up any rules in my life. Even the childhood games I played in my youth were all passed down from older children who had learned the rules from other children.
The rules at school already existed when I showed up. Same with the rules of the household. New rules did come into existence from time to time. And older rules sometimes became unnecessary and were no longer enforced.
The rules of our childhood are the stepping stones to the rules we all must obey as adults. As adults, we see other aspects of our lives which spawn new rules to govern everything from speed limits to how we engage an enemy in times of War.
When I was a child playing war games or gunslingers of the Old West, one of the rules was; if you were killed in the game, you could not re-enter the game until you had counted to 10. Today, these types of games are played on gaming machines with big screen T.V.s. The rule is still the same. If a player is killed in virtual battle, that player must be revived; and it usually takes about 10 seconds.
Every day of our lives, we seem to get more rules. Sometimes the rules change and evolve. Some rules are forgotten for a long time until something happens to reawaken them from their slumber. Some rules are for games and may even seem a bit silly. Like a rule you have to count to ten after you have been imaginarily killed so that you can come back to life.
Order cannot be maintained without rules. To avoid anarchy, we make and enforce laws. These laws are the rule of the land. It is amazing how closely they reflect the rules of the household in which we are raised. We are not to assault each other. We are not to imbibe illegal substances. If something does not belong to us, we are not to touch it.
We must even abide by the laws of nature. Whatever goes up must come down. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Matter or energy cannot be created or destroyed. These are the rules that hold our physical world together. Because of these laws of matter and energy, we are able to place one brick atop another. These laws allow us to transmute kinetic energy into electrical energy.
Yes, we obey many laws and rules of many different forms every day of our lives. Those who dare, or in their ignorance, may try to go against these laws and they suffer the consequences. The child who transgresses the rules of the household receives punishment in some form. The adult who disobeys the civil or criminal laws receives punishment. The scientist or explorer who defies the laws of physics may destroy himself or others.
Even in that perfect world at the beginning of time, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had an important rule, a law of the land that they were to follow.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” [Gen 2:15-17]
We know what happened when Adam and Eve broke the law of our Creator. The consequences of their actions are with us to this day.
The trust and righteousness of God’s holy word was broken. Humankind transgressed against God. We sinned.
Unlike our child’s play, we could not count to ten and make it like new. We could not call out a ‘do-over’. We could not say, ‘I didn’t mean it. Pretend like it didn’t happen.’ From that moment on, our Father in heaven started making rules for us to follow.
‘Be holy, for I the Lord am holy.’ [Lev 20:26] ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.’ [Gen 17:1b] ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’ [Ex 20:3] From the top of Mount Sinai came the Law we know so well. The top ten rules of God’s household, the law of His creation.
The Ten Commandments have survived the ravages of time and of man. If anyone needed proof that God exists, let them look at these laws that have been in existence for thousands of years and have not changed. We believe the laws of God are written upon our hearts. (Ps 37:31, Romans 2:15) Those who deny God argue that they are a good idea, created by the mind of human kind, to maintain order in society.
Out of all of the commandments, one in particular seems to be disappearing from even the hearts of people. Although adultery and coveting our neighbor’s possessions are high on the list, it is not the most denigrated commandment of our Lord. No; the very first commandment, the very first law of creation is that which is vanishing from our hearts and minds. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’
We have no civil or criminal law counterpart in our society to this first statute of God. In fact, our very Bill of Rights, in the first amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… In our human wisdom, we have stated that it is against our law to limit you to any god manmade or otherwise.
We are not able to govern ourselves. Because of our sin, we will always choose the path of personal desire or gain. Remember those kids on the playground? What happens when they decide to share a candy-bar? Whoever breaks the bar in half, usually takes the bigger piece. That is selfishness and if the division of the candy-bar is contested, we instantly have coveting of a neighbor’s property.
We cannot walk blameless before God. We cannot be holy like our Creator. We often put ourselves before God. We are in constant conflict with the law of God and with our sin. Even as we are God’s children, this is no game. The death that comes as payment for our sin is real and permanent. We cannot count to ten and jump back up whole and healthy. We cannot stand before the throne of judgment on that last day and say, ‘I’m not really dead, the sin missed me.’
Yet all is not lost. We have someone who has paid the price of our sinful lives. Jesus Christ took our burden of sin from us. He took all of our lying and cheating and murdering and swearing and coveting to the cross. Most importantly, he took our ungodly worship of our own depravity to face the judgment of the Almighty God.
Dying on that cross, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ said, ‘You are dead to me. Such unrighteousness cannot live in my presence.’ This is why Jesus cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ [Mark 15:34b] When he had breathed his last, our sin against God, our breaking of his law died with him, for in death all debts are paid.
Because Jesus was truly the Son of God, this is not the end of the story. Jesus counted to three. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” [John 2:19] was what Jesus said to the Jews who demanded a sign. That temple which was his body did rise again complete and in all righteousness, in victory over death.
Now when the Devil comes to us with his lies and temptations, we can stand in all confidence in the salvation of our Lord and Savior. With the shield of faith, we, as the Apostle Paul says, ‘are able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.’ [Eph 6:16] The Devil may do his worst, but through by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can tell the Devil, ‘You missed me!’ I am alive again in Jesus Christ and now you are dead.
By the blood of Christ, you are made into a new person who can walk blameless before God. You are now holy as God is holy. You are now righteous as he is righteous. Now when we stand before the Lamb on the throne of judgment, he does not say we are dead to him, but that we are alive and without blemish or spot.
This is certainly a wonderful thing. How joyful it is to be a child of God. How wonderful to be at play in the fields of the Lord. The new covenant between God and his people is to love one another as Christ has loved you. Which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus says:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Matt 22:37-39]
Live this law that is now written on your hearts through the baptism in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit now lives in you so that you can love your neighbor, so that you can think of others before yourself. You no longer need to keep the biggest piece for yourself, you are now free to give as the Lord gives to you. The only rule left to follow is the rule of Christ Jesus in his kingdom.