4-6-23 Maundy Thursday

April 6, 2023
Passage: Galatians 6:1-18
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Paul’s passionate defense of the Gospel ends with a passionate appeal to love one another. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Do good to all, especially those of the household of faith. There were those who accused Paul of preaching against good works, against love, because he insisted that our good works and our love don’t save us. It happens every time you faithfully preach the Gospel. It happened to Jesus himself, when the high priests hand Him over to Pilate, they say – “if He were not an evil-doer, we would not have handed him over to you.” Stephen, the first Christian martyr, the accusation against him is that he is forbidding good works – “this man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against the law.” When Martin Luther brought the Gospel to light again, he was accused of the same thing – he’s telling people they don’t have to do good works. There is this fear, and it is a fear that comes from the false religion of our flesh which is hopelessly self-righteous, there is this fear that if you tell people their sins are all forgiven, that God loves them unconditionally, that there is nothing left for them to do, Christ has done it all, His blood has paid the price completely, then they will think they don’t need to do good works, don’t need to love at all. I had a woman once refuse to have her child baptized because we said Baptism forgives all sin, washes it away in Christ’s blood, and she was afraid her child would use it as an excuse to be naughty, to sin more.

And of course this does happen. People do abuse the Gospel. The worst scandal you’ll see in the church is Christians behaving like heathen, fighting with one another, holding grudges against one another, gossiping about one another, refusing to forgive, or just living a sinful lifestyle. St. Jude calls them stains on our love feasts.

So Paul tells the Galatians and us to behave like Christians, to love – he always does this after preaching the Gospel, in all of His letters. But he makes no excuse for preaching the Gospel of free forgiveness. No, he doubles down on it. God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. No boasting in my love, only in Jesus’ love. No boasting in your good works, only in Jesus’ good work. Anyone who examines his own work, Paul says, will see what he has to boast of, and it will end up being a heavy load he has to bear. This is why we sing, “When all my deeds I am reviewing, the deeds that I admire the most, I find in all my thought and doing that there is naught whereof to boast.”

We boast in what our Lord has done. And the love we have for one another, the love Paul urges on the Galatians and on us at the end of this epistle, is founded firmly and completely on the love of Jesus. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Paul calls it the law of Christ. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. What is this? What is he talking about here? What is the law of Christ? It’s the command you just heard Jesus give on the night he was betrayed, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. As I have loved you, that you love one another.”

It would not be a new commandment at all if it were simply the command to love. God’s been commanding that since the world began. All the law is summed up in one word, Love. Jesus calls it a new command because of the words, “As I have loved you.” That’s new, because now the New Testament is given, in Jesus’ blood, on the cross and in this Sacrament.

Jesus had just shown them how He loved them. He had stripped himself down to a slave’s clothes, taken a towel, and washed His disciples’ feet. This is the image that Jesus wants imprinted on our minds and souls. He our Almighty God and Maker and stoops down to clean the filth off His disciples. He is, as Isaiah calls Him, the suffering Servant. God becomes one of us to suffer for us. Jesus says it, “I have come not to be served but to serve and to give my life as the Ransom for many.” His great service to us is that He takes our place under the wrath and punishment of God. He bears our sins. He bears our burden, the heavy yoke. We sing it in the hymn, “I do not merit favor Lord, my weight of sin would crush me.” It is a burden too much for you, it would crush you, but Jesus takes it off you and puts it on His shoulders in order to give you the yoke that is easy and light. This is the law of His love, of the Father’s love, that to redeem a slave He gives His Son.

But Jesus’ stance as our Servant doesn’t stop when He cries out, It is finished. We call what we are doing now, or what God is doing now among us, the Divine Service, because it is the Divine that serves us here. When Jesus said, “I am among you as the One who serves,” He was speaking of an enduring presence with us, a serving that lasts to the end of the world, which is the Lord’s Supper where He feeds us with His body and blood and forgives us all our sin. When He washed the disciples’ feet, He was showing them and all future Christians, you and me, what His stance toward us will continue to be, as a Servant, who condescends to wash all our filth away. When He says to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part in Me,” He says it to us all. Peter may have blurted out some nonsense when he said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head,” but this is the Christian impulse, when Jesus condescends to clean us of our sin, we say, More, Lord; again, Lord, I will come back tomorrow and the next day with more sin, only clean me Lord. To have part with Jesus, to belong to Jesus, is to have Jesus serve you, wash you, feed you, forgive you. Martha learned this lesson as she bustled around the house doing good works for Jesus only to hear Jesus tell her that Mary, who did nothing but sit there as Jesus served her, Mary had chosen the better portion, which would never be taken from her. When Jesus tells you He is with you always even to the end of the age, He is saying He is among you always as the One who serves. And you find that here.

This is what Saint Paul spent the entirety of his letter to the Galatians saying. And then He tells them to love. He is following the lead of his Master. Jesus tells His disciples to love only after He has washed their feet and given them His body and blood to eat and to drink. This is the way of God. The same reason God gives His commandments on Sinai only after saving His people from slavery in Egypt. First God’s love, first God’s serving, only then ours.

But our Lord does establish love among us. Paul tells us we are new creations. We are born again of God’s love to love one another. He gets very specific about what this love looks like too. And you’ll notice it looks like Jesus. Jesus bore our burdens, so we are to bear one another’s. Jesus told the adulterous woman and many others, Go and sin no more, and love speaks these same words: “if anyone is caught up in a transgression you who are spiritual restore such a one with a spirit of gentleness.” This is far from the sissy love of our time that embraces all kinds of sin instead of confronting them so that they can be forgiven. Jesus cared about heavenly things, about the preaching of the Gospel, about seeking first the Kingdom of God, so our love looks like supporting the preaching of the Gospel, sharing with him who teaches it in all good things. Jesus called His true brothers and sisters, His family, His friends, those who clung to His Word, so we pay special attention to the faithful, to the Church, doing good to all, especially to the household of faith. Paul even says that he bears in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, which means he’s suffered – he’s been stoned, flogged, he’s got the marks and bruises to show it – and he’s done it happily to defend the Gospel. That’s what love looks like, because that’s what Jesus looks like. Our Lord says it, I came into the word to bear witness to the truth, and He was flogged and He was crucified to give this truth to us.

So it makes no sense to worry that if we preach Jesus and give Jesus, if we confess Him, we will forget to love. No, it is exactly the opposite. When you are failing in your love for others, when you are burdened with a guilty conscience because you have grown tired of bearing others’ burdens, when you have put the pleasures of this world above the pleasures of Christ’s kingdom, when you have once again found yourself boasting in your own self, you don’t simply need the law to tell you to knock it off, to start loving again, to pull yourself up and get with it. No, you need the burden lifted, you need Jesus to serve you, to clean you, to show you again that He will forgive you and has not cast you off.

So He comes among you as the One who serves. He has instituted this Supper not as some burdensome observance, not as another religious rule to follow. This is His testament to you that the love with which He laid down His life for you endures forever. The body He gives you to eat and the blood He gives you to drink is the continuation of a love for you that was before you were born, before even the world was formed, the love of God manifested in your Lord Jesus Christ, in His life for you, His bitter pains and death, His resurrection. Build your love on His love, as the branch is in the vine, and return to it constantly, as He has invited you, do this often, and in due season you will reap the eternal fruits that Jesus gives, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

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