The First Sunday after Christmas
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
“And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.”
There are three types, or three divisions, to Law in the Old Testament—the civil law, the ceremonial Law, and the moral law. The Old Testament civil law deals with the Jewish state instituted by God through Moses. These laws pertain to disputes between individuals. They are not all that different from the laws of our own country and state. And they have come to end. They are no longer in force, as it states in Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the Lawgiver . . . until Shiloh [that is the Messiah] come.” Thus when the Messiah came, when Jesus was born in the flesh, the Jewish state itself, along with its laws, was abrogated. Jesus brought it to its completion. He fulfilled the Old Testament civil law. And now the Church is the new Israel. They are the true children of God, not born of blood, or the will of the flesh, or the will of man, but by the will of God, adopted by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The OT ceremonial laws deal with ceremony or rituals that were to be observed in the external worship of God. Thus the dates and ceremonies of feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, of Pentecost and Tabernacles, of Dedication and the Day of Atonement are prescribed. So also are the cleanliness codes that deal with the rites of purification for the priests and those who come to offer sacrifices. These, too, have come to an end. They have been fulfilled, brought to completion in the coming of Jesus Christ, as Psalm 110:4 states of Him, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” and Hebrews 7 clarifies, “If there was fulfillment through the Levitical priesthood, then why was it still necessary to mention another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek and not the order of Aaron? For when there is a removal of the priesthood, there is necessarily a removal of the Law as well.” He was circumcised on the eighth day. He had two turtle doves offered on His behalf for all the first born who open the womb. They no longer pertain, for the Temple of God, the rites and ceremonies thereof, have been fulfilled with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is the Temple of God. He is the priest and the sacrifice.
The Old Testament moral law is summed up in the Ten Commandments, which is further summed up by the law of Love, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” This Christ also fulfilled, and by so doing, He removed the keeping of the Law for our salvation. Salvation is now attained by God’s grace through faith without the works of the Law. But they are not thus abrogated. They still stand. They still stand because they are part of God’s very nature. For Christ says, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful,” and Peter says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Mercy and perfection are essential to God’s very nature. Since God is eternal everything that belongs to His nature is eternal. Thus the command still holds. We are still to strive for these things by following the Ten Commandments, but our salvation does not depend on our keeping the Law, it depends on Christ. And He fulfilled the Law for us—on our behalf and for our benefit.
Everything our Lord did while on earth, he did for us. He submitted to His own Law for us and fulfilled it for us. That is the purpose of His coming. That is why the eternal Son of the Father became man, why He took up our flesh, why He was born of the Virgin: to fulfill the Law for us. Everything that the Law required, he fulfilled. And He fulfilled it for us. Christ had to be true man in order to act in our place under the Law and fulfill it for us.
This is His active obedience. It is how the Son of God begotten of the Father from eternity and true Man born of the Virgin Mary, actively did all that the Law of God requires. As St. Paul wrote in Galatians 4, “When the fulness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons,” and again in Rom 5, “Just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous.
Jesus kept the Ten Commandments. He kept the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. He did it for us. That means He did it in our place, as one of us, true man of a rational soul and human flesh, for our benefit. And since He is true God, equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, this fulfillment of the Law counts, not just for one man, but for all of humanity. This means, that those who believe and are baptized, are righteous in the Father’s sight, for the righteousness of Jesus by fulfilling the Law is applied to them by the power of God’s holy Word and blessed sacraments.
But that is not all. He not only kept the Law, He also allowed the Law to do to Him all that justice demanded it do to us. He came to be a sacrifice, to be a substitute not only in fulfilling the Law by His active obedience, but to fulfill it by his passive obedience. Everything our Lord did, he did it for us. Thus, Christ, true God and true man, suffered and died for our guilt because we failed to keep the Law. As St. Paul wrote in Colossians 1, “God has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Because the eternal Son of God became man, took up our flesh, He became our substitute in life and in death. He took our place in death, so that we could have His place in life. He who knew no sin, became sin. He suffered in the agony of His soul, the guiltless guilty. All so that we would be forgiven and saved.
This is why He came. This is why the Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—all take pains to point out that Jesus was obedient to His Father’s will. If we are to be saved, we need a substitute. We need a substitute who perfectly kept what is required of us. We need a substitute to take the punishment for what we have failed to keep. And Jesus did that for you.
But more than simply accomplishing it for you. He distributes it to you. For everything our Lord does he does for us. He provides a way for what He accomplished for you by means of his active and passive obedience to be given to you here in time for all eternity. He applies it to you in the preached Word. He pours out His mercy upon you by means of the Word-infused Water of Holy Baptism. He gives to you His perfect life and holiness through the eating and drinking of His Body and Blood in the Holy Communion and sanctifies you though the same. You receive the Holy Spirit. You become living, breathing, walking, talking Temples of the most holy Trinity.
Thus, everything that was required of the Law of Moses has been accomplished for you by Jesus. You are perfect as He is perfect. You are holy as He is holy. You are merciful as He is merciful. You grow strong into the fulness of faith. You are filled with the wisdom of Christ. And God’s favor rests upon you. And now you return to your homes to live out this faith and wisdom in service to one another. Amen.