Where Does The Law Lead?
Where is this going? Years ago there was a child who was taking piano lessons. The teacher had the child begin by learning scales and memorizing key signatures. And the child was patient for a little while. But then, finally when the work of practicing was actually work, the child told the teacher, “where is this going?” The teacher had the child scoot aside on the bench and then played a beautiful, breathtaking piece the child had never heard before. The child then knew where this was going. And he threw himself at the work in front of him. This morning we look at two of the ten commandments. But we do so with a goal. We ask, “where does the law lead?” And God’s word will answer that question. In Exodus 20, we read: “8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8–11 NIV11-GKE)
In the words we are reading here Moses is with his people at Mt. Sinai. And there, through Moses, the Lord is giving the law to his people. And, as we are taught in catechism class when we are young, the first and foremost task that is getting done when we look at the ten commandments is that these commandments show us our sin. But my dear friends in Christ, that’s only where we begin with these commandments. They lead to an entirely different place.
So, at the foot of Mt. Sinai the Lord‘s people heard these words, that they should find rest in God’s word. But instead, in their hearts what they found was resistance to God’s word in their hearts. For, to them, the sermons that Moses preached hurt their feelings. And they didn’t like that. The bible study classes he taught were too long to them. But has anything changed? Every faithful preacher of God’s word has to deal with people who get angry when Jesus exposes their sin. And even before he gets in the pulpit, he has to deal with his own sin, Jesus poking and prodding his conscience because of his sin. And every faithful teacher deals with people who make time for food for their bodies, but no for food for their souls. There are herds of people who come into church, but hoards of people who rush out of church, not staying to learn and grow in God’s word. We, all of us, are the same as they were. God commands us to find rest in his word, but instead we find resistance in our own hearts.
When we see our sin, our hearts turn to Jesus. And this morning is an amazing example of how Jesus was different than we are. Where does the law lead? In us, the answer is often resistance. But for Jesus the answer was perfect wonder. What you have to picture when you read these words in our gospel for today is the boy Jesus at 12 years old who is amazed, enthralled, and fascinated at God’s word. And his wonder at God’s word is perfect. In fact, it’s so perfect that, when he starts sharing God’s word with the teachers and professors of the day, they are caught up in Jesus’ excitement and wonder at the word.
Where does the Law lead? It leads to perfect wonder—but not yours. The law leads us to see Jesus’ perfect wonder at the word in our place. The Law leads us to see our gracious, forgiving heavenly Father looking down at us and seeing not our sin of resistance, but instead his son’s perfect wonder in our place. That wonder that Jesus had forgives our sins of resistance. But it does more than that. It leads us to have the same awe and wonder as Jesus had. In the Large Catechism Luther says this:
when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living. Even if no other benefit or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be motivated by the realization that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight.1
The law starts out showing us our sin. But it leads us to Jesus, who has had perfect wonder at God’s word in our place. But he also, by his Holy Spirit gives us that same perfect awe and wonder. For we have this promise that God’s word delivers forgiveness, drives out fear, and destroys Satan’s work. The law leads to perfect wonder. But leads also to another place. We read: ““Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV11-GKE)
In these words God was commanding his people to respect their parents for one important reason: God put them there in a position over them. And with this then, God establishes all authority figures. But instead of respecting them, they rebelled against them. At the end of his life, Moses has to call them stubborn and stiff-necked. For they despised his authority, and through that taught their children to despise all authority.
We too have to confess that we are guilty of this sin. We have not shown our parents respect as we should have. When we are young, either because they embarrass us or we think we know more than they do, we rebel against them. When they are old we ignore them because, yes, once again they are telling that story we have heard them say a hundred times. And all of that is the opposite of respect.
So the law starts by showing us our sin of rebellion. But where does it lead? It leads once again to this boy Jesus in the temple. If there’s ever been a time when you’ve been embarrassed at your parent’s weaknesses and failings or thought you knew more than they did, just look at Jesus. Jesus was perfect and omniscient. And yet, at the close of the gospel for this morning, we hear that Jesus stops teaching the teachers. He humbles himself and obeys his parents and goes home. Look at the pleasing work Jesus did for you. He obeyed his Father in heaven. And that work pleased our Father. He obeyed his parents here below. And that work pleased them. Jesus fulfilled this commandment for us, so that when our Father in heaven looks at us, he does not see our embarrassment at or our rebellion against our parents. Instead, he sees the pleasing work our Savior offered up in our place.
But Jesus doesn’t stop at that. Through his word, the Holy Spirit changes our heart so that that where there was rebellion, there is the desire to follow and worship and please our Father in heaven. And here in the fourth commandment is a beautiful way in which we can get that done. For it is not just work. It is pleasing work. God looks down when we respect our parents by listening to them and obeying them and he is filled with joy, wonder, and awe. For one of the best ways we worship God is by obeying the people sets up to do his work on his behalf. Again, we do this not to appease God’s wrath. Jesus appeased God’s wrath by with his pleasing work in our place. No, we do this purely out of thanks.
And so, musical scales and musical keys lead to the making of a musician. But where does the law lead? It leads to perfect wonder at the treasures there in God’s word. It leads to pleasing work—that I can work by respecting my parents and my Father in heaven is so very pleased with that work. Amen.
1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 400.