Last weekend I got to go back in time as the class of 1984 from Unity High School in Petersburg met for our 35th class reunion. 5 out of our graduating class of 9 enjoyed a meal together in East Grand Forks. While we caught up on the latest news about our children and pets, we also spent time recalling memories from our teen years. We talked about how a student death in our early teens impacted our lives. It was the day that Darren Schmidt, a class ahead of us and a freshman at the time, was killed in a car crash. We talked about teachers and various classes that we loved and hated. We also talked about activities outside of school. It was a time when we couldn’t wait to grow up and be adults. Then we could eat what we wanted, stay up as late as we desire, go where we want when we want. Living with our parents, there were times when we felt like slaves with no choices.
The harsh reality is that when we got older, we couldn’t stay up all that late because we had to go to work. Eating junk food makes you feel sick and sugar brings painful trips to the dentist. Our parents are the guardians that keep us safe and tell us no out of love.
Paul uses similar language in his letter to the Galatians as he talks about life under the law. “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
The meaning of the word “guardian” in this case was the slave who accompanied a schoolboy to make sure he didn’t get in trouble on the way to school and to see to it that he actually got there. You might say that the Law of Moses kept the Children of Israel in check.
If you think that your childhood was difficult, think about the lives of Old Testament Israel. There were all kinds of ceremonial laws that they were to keep. These laws dictated when and how they were to make sacrifices. A quick glance at the book of Leviticus reveals some pretty intense stipulations. Here are two quick examples. 14 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 15 “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the Lord, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued[a] in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. 16 He shall also make restitution for what he has done amiss in the holy thing and shall add a fifth to it and give it to the priest. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.
17 “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the Lord‘s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity. 18 He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. 19 It is a guilt offering; he has indeed incurred guilt before the Lord.”
These were penalties for sinning unintentionally. Sounds harsh. One had to constantly be on guard. You would have to constantly be thinking, what did I do wrong today and what do I now need to do to be cleansed from that sin? It usually involved some kind of animal sacrifice. In that case, Paul tells us that the law was present to be a guardian, to keep one safe.
How might this apply today? With the Fourth of July less than two weeks away, the shooting of fireworks has begun. Not just after a Larks victory. On Friday night it started at 10:30 and continued until at least 11:30 pm. The sounds don’t bother us all that much. However, Jasper has a panic attack. When he is frantic, we can’t rest. I am especially sensitive to those of you who have been in combat and these sounds take you back to a place and time when you had to take cover. So is lighting fireworks late at night a sin? My research indicates that ND State mandates that fireworks be sold June 27-July 5. According to my calendar we aren’t quite to June 27. There are limits on how late they can be fired in certain places. I honestly don’t know if our neighbors were breaking any laws. In spite of that, they were certainly not being considerate of their neighbors. I wonder how they might respond if we were stand outside their window at 5:30 am with a recording of barking Jasper from the night before. Whether modern laws for fireworks or matters regarding life or marriage, the Lord desires to protect us and has our best interest in mind. A great question to ask might be: “How can I serve my neighbor?”
We also know that none of us can keep the law. My thoughts as I listened to the thunderous blasts from the fireworks and Jasper’s panting and barking were not so kind. We are all sinners who deserve punishment. What we deserve and what we will get are two different things. Yes, we will die for the wages of sin is death. However, because of Jesus we will not suffer the unending torment of hell where there will be eternal suffering and separation from God.
I had the privilege of baptizing Ainsley Ruth Remnyse in her parent’s back yard yesterday. Her parents and sponsors spoke in her behalf when asked if she renounces the devil and all his works and all his ways. Her sins have been placed upon Jesus. She has put on Christ.
In your baptism you too have put on Christ. You are now covered in His holiness, His righteousness. He has set you free, having forgiven all of your sins. He paid the full price for your sin through His perfect life under the Law and then His painful death upon the cross. His third day victory over death is your victory over sin and death and the devil.
We could not free ourselves from slavery to the law. It had to be done for us. Galatians 4:4 is a verse worth remembering. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)
When the time was just right, God sent His Son. Everything was right. Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem as the prophet Micah, had prophesied. He was born of a virgin as Isaiah had written hundreds of years before. He was a descendant of David. He was born of a woman, fully human with eyes and ears and nose and tongue. He felt pain. He cried. He laughed. He was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin. He is truly God. “God sent forth His Son.” He is the eternal Son who was present at Creation who entered time and space to redeem us, to buy us back from our slavery to sin and Satan.
He is the One who freed the naked man who was tormented by demons. He had not lived in a house, but among the tombs. After Jesus sent the demons into the herd of pigs, people came out to see what had happened. “They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind… The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8:35, 38-39)
Just as this man was clothed and desired to be with Jesus, in your baptism, you are clothed with Christ. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned person, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, and as the Small Catechism continues, “That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.”
Yes, the Law still does its work, not so much as a guardian as a mirror which clearly reveals our sin, our shame, our guilt, so that we might confess our sin and look to the cross where our sin was punished, once and for all, through the bloody sacrifice of Jesus. As a result, you have an amazing inheritance, one where there will be no pain or sorrow or death.
Following the example of the man set free from demons, it is now our joy to boldly proclaim throughout the whole city how much Jesus has done for us. It is a simple message of a tiny babe born in a manger to a virgin mother, a baby who would live under the Law and then be condemned for our breaking of the Law so that you and I might be restored as children of God. He fulfilled the promise spoken to the devil in the garden by crushing the serpent’s head. It was all out of love for you, a poor miserable sinner. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Rejoice baptized child of God. Your sins are forgiven. Your inheritance awaits you. Now that is something to which we can truly look forward.
The last stanza of the sermon hymn sums it up nicely.
Holy Spirit, eternally proceeding from Father and Son, enlighten with Your divine wisdom all who will serve as electors in our Synod in the coming days. Grant that they may vote their consciences with honesty and integrity, and that through this election Your divine will may be done, the Savior glorified and His Church built up to the glory of God the Father. Amen.