The First Step of Faith

Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” from the Gospel according to St. Matthew.

The Law of Moses is an important topic in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Jesus made reference to the Law to assure the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jews that he respected the Law, and would not abolish it.

If Jesus were to teach that he was above the Law, then he would be condoning the breaking of the Law, and as he tells his listeners, whoever breaks one of these Laws, and teaches others to do so will be the least in the kingdom of heaven. In his letters to the various churches, St. Paul seems to saw that we Christians are no longer under the Law, that we do not need it as a tutor. So there may be some confusion about this. Do we need to follow the Law of Moses or not? Is the Law still relevant to our lives?

There are those who think that it is not relevant to us, because the Law of Love is the only Law that Jesus taught. They are fond of saying No Hate, which is not a bad thing, but the message behind it is not only to love everyone, but to accept everyone as they are, and that their behavior in this world does not matter, because if you are a good person, then God will love you and accept you into heaven.

This, I am afraid, is one of the oldest known heresies addressed by the councils of the Holy Church; Gnosticism.

In this modern version, it can be boiled down to this: There is a God, and he (or maybe even she) loves everyone, no matter what we do, and good people go to heaven. And I might add, if you don’t accept this, you are a hater.

These people have no familiarity with the Bible, and they don’t really want to read it, either. Who needs that dusty old book when you have the true knowledge of God?

So how can we reconcile the various views of the Law found in Holy Scripture? To get a better idea, we must understand the purpose of the Law.

When the LORD called Moses to be his prophet and to lead the people out of Egypt, he wanted to form this unruly mob into his chosen race that would obey him, and lead lives worthy of their calling. They needed laws to know how to obey the LORD, and how to treat each other.

The kernel of the Mosaic Law is found in the Ten Commandments, and it is these that form the basis of all other laws in our society. The goal of the Law was to make the LORD’s chosen people righteous, meaning to be perfect in the sight of God.

The Pharisees get kind of a bad rap, because they seemed to fight Jesus at every turn, but their underlying motives were pure; The obeyed the Law, and they wanted everyone else to obey it, too. In their minds, they were doing exactly what the LORD wanted.

Jesus, on the other hand, tried to remind them that to follow the Law in such a rigid and slavish manner made them miss the point. He tried to get them to see that there was no hope of ever being made righteous under the Law.

His words today tell us that he did not abolish the Law, but he fulfilled it. He fulfilled its purpose for righteousness by becoming the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He came to teach them, and us, that righteousness can only be attained by following, believing and obeying Jesus as Lord and Master.

He taught that adultery was wrong, but even the thought of it made you guilty of breaking the Law of Moses, which means you could never be righteous before God because your thoughts would betray you. He taught that if your hand causes you to sin, you should cut it off in order to be righteous under the Law, and the same for your eye.

I would rather keep my eyes and my hands, wouldn’t you? Jesus gave you and me a way to do that. We taught us to repent of our sins, and to turn and follow him as our Lord. He fulfills the Law by making all who turn to him righteous in the sight of God the Father.

This is Good News, folks! It means that when we repent and turn to Jesus we do not have to suffer the punishment that we deserve. Jesus took that punishment for us and had it nailed to the cross. St. Paul told the Corinthians that he “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” St. Paul did not need eloquent words, or the wisdom of this age to proclaim this. These would only get in the way, and take power from the Cross. It is our faith, our belief in this Savior we cannot see, trusting in the power of the Holy Cross, that saves us from death and destruction.

The first step in this journey of faith begins with Holy Baptism, the sacrament of new birth, of regeneration into a new Life in Jesus Christ. The apostles baptized entire households of people in their day, and we know that all households included infants, because all good sons brought their wives into their father’s households, and they were fruitful and they multiplied, and so on, and so on, and we can safely assume that they promised to bring up their children knowing Jesus and following him.

We baptize infants because we continue to baptize entire households, and their parents and God parents make the promise to see that the child is brought up knowing the Lord. We we get to continue that tradition today. Let us welcome the newly baptized into the household of God. Amen.

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