In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us that life with God is built on two strong legs: The old and the new.
What does Jesus mean?
When Jesus began teaching, preaching, and healing, He crashed into the staid orthodoxies of first century Judea like a nuclear hand grenade.
People didn’t know what to make of Him. He threatened the iron-fisted rule over people’s lives with God exerted by the scribes, the teachers, of what we know as the Old Testament.
These scribes were experts on what God’s Word said in the Old Testament, but unlike the people of faith in the Old Testament to whom that Word was first revealed--people like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David, Ruth, Isaiah, and Rahab--they didn’t know God.
They had boiled God down to an implacable philosophical proposition, a grim judge who dispensed blessings only to those who kept His Law.
Now comes Jesus saying things like, “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.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus is saying, in effect, “You can’t keep the Law fully. You’re incapable of it. The old law was meant to point you to that fact and to your need of Me. And that’s why I’m here: To obey the Law perfectly for you so that, if you will trust in and follow Me, My obedience will cover your sins and change your relationship with God. And it won’t make you feel that it’s OK to indiscriminately violate the old law. It will make you seek My help each day to be obedient, just because our relationship has been made new.”
But for all that was new about Jesus, those who really listened to and followed Him heard the echoes of the old.
The God Who, through Jesus, breathes His Holy Spirit on His Church to give it life is the same God Whose breath first gave life to Adam and Whose Spirit moved over the waters and made creation happen! In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh, God takes on our humanity, enters our lives.
The person who follows Jesus can come to know God as Father, just as Jesus did.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we have a new respect for the old law, not because we think that if we obey it, we’ll be saved from sin, death, darkness, and futile living...but because of our thankfulness that Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross, we see that God’s Law, as reflected in the Ten Commandments, the way Jesus lived is how we aspire to live.
I took my dad to lunch the other day. I’m 63. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to please my dad now more than ever, not because I think that he’ll withhold his love from me if I don’t, but because I know how much he loves me already.
This is like the new reality that Jesus came into this world to proclaim and to die and rise to bring into being. He moves me from feeling I have to obey God, to wanting to obey God (even though I often resist Him) because I know that He loved and died and rose for me despite the death punishment I deserve.
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The scribes of the old religion were shaken by Jesus. They were afraid of what might happen if people became Jesus’ disciples and actually believed that they could speak and live intimately with God, read and know His Word, pray in Jesus’ name, teach others how to have life with God.
They wouldn’t be in control; God would be.
The Holy Spirit would be unleashed in believers’ lives, freeing them to live without fear of death, empowering them to love God and to love neighbor, confident, as our second lesson for today puts it, that nothing could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (By the way, the fear of letting God take control of our thoughts didn't go out with the first century scribes. There may be nothing that terrifies any of us more than just letting go and letting God take control of our lives. "Mark," a wise older pastor told me once, "the biggest problem in the Church is that we're afraid of the Holy Spirit?")
So what difference does this all make to you and me?
Just this: The Word of God, Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God for one reason, it points us to Jesus as the way, and the truth, and the life. The Bible, this perfect and authoritative witness of God by God is a treasure chest and when we read it through the prism of Christ’s death and resurrection, it brims over with the life and love of God for us. (As someone has said, “The Bible isn’t humanity’s word about God, it’s God’s Word to humanity!”)
To spend time in God’s Word--reading it, praying about it, reflecting on it, soaking it up not as stagnant print on a page but for what it is--an urgent love letter from God--is to know God and it is to know life.
Old and new, it points us to the truth we read in 2 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” The Bible is a living storeroom and powerhouse filled with the infinite treasures of God.
The Word reveals the Gospel to us. Romans 1:16 say: “...I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
It is this powerful gospel that Christ detonates repeatedly when we dare, by faith, to take in God’s Word, old and new.
In those who believe the Bible’s message, crafted by the Holy Spirit, written in the blood of Jesus, life abounds.
It ushers us into God’s Kingdom.
And just how valuable this kingdom Word is, Jesus shows in a string of parables in today’s Gospel lesson.
Jesus says the kingdom witnessed by His Word is like a treasure so valuable that when a man finds it in a field, he spends everything to have it.
It’s like pearls so amazing that when someone encounters them, they sacrifice all to have them.
It’s like a net laid down by God, a net in which you want to be caught so that you can be part of the gospel kingdom, so that you will never be separated from God.
And it is by taking from this treasury, old and new, that we who are believers in Jesus can face each day, help others to do the same, and let others know the good news of new life that they they too can have with Jesus.
Years ago, the US government worked to allow Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith in the old Soviet Union to come to this country. I remember reading in a news magazine about one of these Russian Christians who emigrated to America. In the Soviet Union, it was difficult for him to get or keep a Bible. It was forbidden to own one. But in the United States, he met people who had as many as six Bibles in their homes...many of them left unopened.
Fellow disciples of Jesus, Jesus did not spend centuries giving us His Word just so that we can ignore it.
He didn’t give us the gospel of new life through faith in Jesus so that we could blend in with the rest of the roiling, selfish, dying world.
He didn’t open the way to the Kingdom of God so that we could treat our faith like an occasional trip to McDonald’s.
We’re to be scribes of the new kingdom, steeped in God’s Word, filled with the power of the Gospel, so that we can live in the confidence of God's grace and share Christ and His Gospel with others.
If you’re not spending time with God each day, you’re missing out on a treasury of intimacy, grace, love, and guidance.
So, please consider taking up the practice of daily quiet time. I aim to do this five days a week.
In quiet time, you read a bit of Scripture each day, ask God to show you the truth He wants you to see for that day, and ask God to help you to live that truth. Then, pray for the chance to share your faith so that you can share the kingdom of God with others.
Our Navigators’ life and learning discipleship team is now beginning to pray about who God wants to participate in the next wave of discipleship small groups. (Our goal is that one day, every member of Living Water, plus many of our friends and neighbors, will be involved with these groups.) Be open to their invitations.
But you don’t need to wait for an invitation: Seek out others with whom you can study and pray and grow together. (I or other of our Navigators team will be happy to help you get started, just as a new group of men recently has.) God’s Kingdom is available to any who willing to receive Jesus and take in His Word, old and new.
Listen: I don’t need to tell you how difficult life can sometimes get. In any given week, I speak with any number of people who feel discouraged, even hopeless.
But neither they nor we need to be kept down. The devil wants to keep us down; but Jesus wants to lift us up! Even in the midst of life’s difficulties, we can have the very power and the kingdom of God filling our lives.
The treasury of God, old and new, is open to any willing to receive it. And it should be available through any disciple willing to share it.
Today, I ask you, be that open and available disciple.
Make it your daily aim to live in and spread God’s life and love and kingdom wherever you are.
Here’s a simple plan for being a disciple: Meet God through His Word daily. Soak it up. Spill it out. Repeat each day.
Meet, soak, spill, repeat.
Meet, soak, spill, repeat.
This is the life of a disciple, a scribe of God’s Kingdom. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This is the text for the worship message yesterday morning.]