If you want to know God — not only about Him, but God Himself — then hear, O Israel, what the Lord your God speaks to you. Listen to what He says. Hear His Word. That is your real life, that is what is good and true. For God reveals and gives Himself to you by the Word that He speaks.
If you would live with God, therefore, hear and heed what He says, and remember all that He has done. For He is the Author and Giver of life, and in love He has created you for life with Himself. So it is that He also reveals Himself to you in love, that you may know Him, and believe and trust in Him, and love Him. Not for His benefit, but for your sake, that you should not die but live.
Before you were ever conceived in your mother’s womb, the Lord your God loved you and desired to give you life. Consider, too, the Exodus that He has accomplished for you, how with His mighty arm and His outstretched hand He has brought you out of Egypt. Likewise consider the Covenant that He has made with you, the Blood by which He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, atoning for your sins, cleansing you of all unrighteousness, and calling you to be His very own.
The Exodus that He has made for you — not only for those who came before you, but the Exodus that He has made for you — is by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who took your sins upon Himself, bore them in His Body, laid down His life for you in love, and took it up again by faith in His Father. So has He opened up the Life everlasting to you in body and soul. And so are you baptized into Him, you are washed and cleansed in His Name, you are given His Holy Spirit.
He has sealed His Covenant with you, as well, by feeding you with His own Body and giving you to drink of His own Blood. “This is My Blood of the New Covenant,” He says, echoing the words of Moses at Mt. Sinai, but fulfilling them in Himself, and so bestowing the Life of God upon you.
So does God the Father speak to you by His Son. This is the sort of God He is, One who gives Himself to you in love. Who is Love. You do well by living according to His Word, by heeding His commands, by living as He has directed — by faith in His promises. If you would do right, if you would do well, listen to what He says, and obey the Lord your God. He has made you His own dear child, a son of God in Christ. You, therefore, shall be perfect, as your Father is perfect.
In what does this divine perfection consist? It is love, which is the fulfillment of the Law. In love for God you are to love your neighbor as yourself. That is the Royal Law, the Law of your King.
This is your perfection. This is what your life with God is to be like. That you love your neighbor, as you are loved by God. You are to love the Lord your God because He first loves you, and He is your greatest Good, your Life, and your Salvation. And you are to love your neighbor because you have become like God, recreated in His Image and Likeness — in Christ, the incarnate Son.
You are to love your neighbors, each and all of your neighbors, for the sake of Christ Jesus, as the Lord your God loves you in Christ Jesus. It is in mercy that He has forgiven you all your sins, reconciled you to Himself, and graciously adopted you to be His own dear child in Christ Jesus. So, then, you are to be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful. The one who is not merciful shall be judged as a transgressor of the Law. But you are to forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you, in the same way that your Father in heaven freely and fully forgives you all your sins.
In the Kingdom of God, it is not fairness nor the justice of punishment but forgiveness that reigns. Forgiveness of sins gets to the very heart of the Law, because it is an exercise of love and mercy. Of course, if the Law were kept perfectly in love, there would be no need for forgiveness. But as you relate to your neighbor, you find that your neighbor sins against you in many ways, and you find that you likewise sin against your neighbor in many ways. And in all of these sins between yourself and your neighbor, you sin against heaven and before God. The Law brings that to light. It tells you what love is to look like, and so it shows that your life does not always look like that.
In many and various ways, day after day, you fall short in your love, and you sin against even your own family and friends. And as you move beyond those most basic vocations and stations in life, you make comparisons, distinctions, and judgments regarding your other neighbors in the world, showing partiality to those more to your liking, to those who are more like you, and to those more likely to return your favors and advance your agendas. But such favoritism is contrary to the Law.
You have a special attachment and responsibility to your own husband or wife, and to your own children, of course. But aside from such vocations, one neighbor is to be to you as another. And you are to love your neighbor. You are to be kind and do good even to those who are at enmity with you. You know that Jesus says so. You are not to turn away from your enemy in his need but in love you are to help him as you can, as opportunity permits. And if he slaps you, turn the other cheek. If he takes your coat, then give him the shirt off your back. How hard it is to love like that!
The Lord teaches you that, even in your anger, you are not to sin against your neighbor. So what shall you do with your anger? What shall you do when you’ve been hurt? How do you offer right sacrifices, as the Psalmist calls you to do? Do not offer anything to God apart from reconciliation with your neighbor. If you come into the presence of the Lord your God and presume to offer Him anything while at odds with your neighbor, then you take the Name of the Lord your God in vain. Then you are trying to purchase His favor, while you continue to live contrary to His will.
If you would offer to God right sacrifices, then sacrifice your pride, and sacrifice your ego, and sacrifice your hurt feelings. Sacrifice your bitterness, and forgive your neighbor his trespasses against you. Sacrifice yourself and your selfishness, in order to love and serve your neighbor. Sacrifice your lust for revenge, and seek instead to be reconciled to your neighbor in peace.
Do not presume to come into the presence of God and claim that you love Him while you persist in hating, hurting, and harboring resentment and ill will against your neighbor.
Demonstrate and exercise your love for God by loving each and all of your neighbors, as the Lord your God loves you, and show no partiality among them. For the Lord makes no distinction. The Lord is merciful to all who call upon His Name. But how and why, then, is He a “jealous” God?
The Lord is not jealous in the way that you envy your neighbors and covet whatever God has given to them. The Lord is not jealous of who you are, what you have, or what you do, for He is the One who has created you, given you life, and entrusted to your stewardship all that you possess.
The Lord is jealous, not in selfishness, but in love for you and all His people. He is jealous as a Husband for His own Wife, as a Father for His own Children. He would not have you enticed or forced away from Him, seduced or stolen away from Him, by any other god. For He alone is your Life and your Salvation, and He wants you to live and not to die. He jealously guards and keeps you close to Himself, not as though to derive His life from you, but so that you might live in Him.
What, then? The Law of the Lord is not unjust but righteous. The love that it requires is good and right, holy and wise. And as it thus confronts your sins, your lack of love, and all your covetous desires and selfishness, the Law shuts you up and silences all of your excuses and rationalizations. Along with that, it actually makes your sins that much worse! Not because the Law is evil, but because its holiness and righteousness stir up and exacerbate the wickedness of your sinful heart.
The Law will not enable or allow you to make yourself better, to turn your life around, or to set things right with God. The Law rather reveals how helpless and hopeless you are. It aggravates your sinful heart, mind, and spirit, because it requires that you be altogether different than you are. As it commands you to love, you are all the more embittered against both God and your neighbor.
In truth, the entire world is guilty before Him, for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve have fallen under the condemnation of the Law. And you are no exception, no matter how hard you try. Even when your outward behavior is at its very best, your sinful heart and fallen flesh remain at odds with the Lord and His Law. You do not love as He has created you and called you to love.
But Christ Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God the Father, and He alone has lived as the true Son of God in the flesh. So, if you would know God — not only about Him, but Him — hear the Word of Christ, and know that He has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them.
He speaks of a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and pharisees. But that is not a new and better set of rules and regulations, which you might keep and fulfill with a bit of effort and a little luck. It is the righteousness which He obtains for you and bestows upon you in holy faith and love.
This one Lord Jesus Christ approaches the Altar of His Cross and offers Himself as the good and right Sacrifice by which He reconciles the whole world to God. For He unites both God and Man in His Body. The wall of hostility, the accusations and judgments of God’s holy Ten Commands, and all the punishments of the Law, all of these are finally satisfied, resolved, and removed in Him.
It is in Christ that you know the Love of God. Not abstractly, but very personally. Not intangibly, but in the very substance of His own Flesh and Blood. He is not far away from you, but He draws near to you. In Him you know mercy, not merely as an example, but as God’s grace toward you. He knows your sins better than you do, and yet He does not hold them against you. He rather forgives you all of your sins at His own expense, and He credits you with His own righteousness.
It is in Christ Jesus — by His Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead — that you have Peace with God and the perfect Sabbath Rest for your body, soul, and spirit that God always intended.
It is one of the saddest ironies in all of salvation history that the Sabbath Commandment has been received and regarded as one of the greatest and most difficult burdens of all. Where God intends to give His people rest, you resent His grace and the gifts of His mercy as a demand upon your time (or what you regard as your time), as an inconvenience to your plans and aspirations in life. The Lord calls you and invites you to rest yourself in Him and to rejoice in the Liturgy of His Gospel, and you wearily respond, “Do I have to?” So much for loving the Lord above all other gods.
And yet, as a determined Father, as a patient and persistent Parent, as a loving and long-suffering Husband, the Lord your God continues to call you Home, back to Himself in Peace, to enter into the Sabbath Rest that remains for you and all His people in Christ Jesus. For all the ways that you have refused to hear and heed His Word, resisted and disobeyed His Law, and taken His Name in vain, the Lord Jesus has laid down His life and taken it up again, that you should live in Him.
In yourself, in your fallen flesh and sinful heart, there is enmity and conflict, animosity and hurt, so much bitterness, and so many regrets. Things have not been right between you and God, nor between you and your neighbors. And as a consequence, you have been cut off, isolated, lonely, and alone with all your sins and griefs and sorrows. Or so it has seemed to you, and so it has felt.
But you are not alone. For Christ has come to you in mercy, and He is here with you in the midst of the wilderness under the Cross. He comes not to punish you for your sins, as you deserve, but to set you free from your sins and from the power of death. He comes, not as your enemy, but in order to befriend you, though you have been at enmity with Him. He comes in peace to love you.
He brings you into fellowship with God. For He has baptized you in His Name and poured out His Spirit upon you. His God and Father is now your God and Father in Him. His Church is now your House and Home, on earth as it is in heaven. His people are your family. As He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood, you are bound together with all who are His own.
As Christ has offered Himself for you on the Cross, so does He offer Himself to you in His Church. So does He love you, and so do you learn from Him to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Such love is the fulfillment of the Law, which is yours in Christ by the gift of His Gospel, as He daily and richly forgives you all your sins in His grace, mercy, and peace.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.