Our text contains a unique feature. It has the only sentence in the New Testament having two subordinate until clauses, and the insert does a good job of translating it. "Until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of pen will by any means disappear from the Law, until everything is accomplished." If you've listened closely you will be on pins and needles, until you hear this sermon.
That first until clause should chill you to the bone. "Until heaven and earth disappear not the smallest letter or least stroke of the pen will by any means disappear from the law" is nothing but condemnation.
Condemned is a doable law. Condemned are all those who explain the Law in such a way that they keep it. Jesus gets into this later in the Sermon on the Mount. He says you're guilty of murder even if you hate someone. You're guilty of adultery even if you just lust after a woman. We say we've just got hard feelings. We say we're just a girl watcher. Jesus says, "You're a damned guilty sinner."
What you don't realize is how silly we look when we try to cut down the law to our size. We're like boys with a moveable basketball goal. When I was growing up all basketball goals were set and didn't move from the 10 feet high standard. From 5 years old to 8 years old, tough if you couldn't get the ball through the hoop. When my boys were young all the goals were moveable. From 10 feet regulation all the way down to 5 feet. Now you might think this was only a good thing, and for the most part it was until they got to dunking. They would lower the basket so they could easily dunk the ball. And when they did the whooped and hollered and pumped their chests as if they were Kobe Bryant slam-dunking the winning basket.
They were none of those things, and the silly part wasn't that they were having fun but that they were acting as if they actually had dunked a basketball on a regulation goal. And the silly and sinful part with us is that we think God is pleased with us because we do our best or keep His Law to our standards. We turn that 1 John 3 text around. We think if our hearts don't condemn us neither does God.
Jesus says that until heaven and earth disappear not one dot of an i or one cross of a t shall disappear from the Law, ever. Condemned is anyone who thinks love or special situations provide exceptions to the law. We could again go to the Sixth Commandment. TV tells our kids that as long as they love each other sex outside of marriage is okay. We tell ourselves that cohabiting couples loving each other isn't the fornication God says it is. And our society tells us that love makes gay marriage acceptable.
Yes, there are easy pickings in the 6th Commandment to expose those who hide sins that God condemns, but such things are just as easy to find in the first three Commandments. A loving parent can't help but worry about her kids. Normally, I wouldn't be in favor of Christians praying together with non-Christians but this was a once in a lifetime situation. You don't have to go to church to be a Christian.
We just can't get it through our heads that the God who commanded that the man gathering wood on the Sabbath day and the boy who took the name of the Lord in vain be stoned, is our God. The God who wouldn't allow Moses to enter the Promised Land because he struck a rock rather than talked to it, is our God. The God who banished Adam and Eve from Paradise and condemned them to eternal death for a bite of fruit, is our God. The God of Creation and the Old Testament Church is our God too.
Yes, that's another thing the first until clause condemns: Those who use "it's the 21st century" as an excuse. Even though heaven and earth haven't disappeared, they think that at least some of the jots and tittles of the Law have worn away because, "Hey, it's the 21st century." Back at the beginning of the 80s a popular pastor in the LCMS produced a cassette tape series entitled "Preparing Laymen for the 80s." I thought it stupid. What was so different about the 80s? I'm sure someone is doing something with twitter, facebook, or other social media to prepare laymen for the 21st century. Well God declares He changes not. Because our world has embraced generic Supreme Being religion, abortion, living together, homosexuality, and truth as an individual choice, it doesn't mean God has or ever will.
The Law works wrath; the Law always accuses, so people always look for ways out from under it. Make it doable; make your actions acceptable; make it inapplicable to your times. But look around you: are heaven and earth still here? Still see sky or stars above you; still feel the earth beneath your feet? Then all of the Law, down to the very least part of the least letter, is still in force and still applies to you...until.
That's right; there's a 2nd until clause. Jesus says, "Not the smallest letter not the least stroke of the pen will by any means disappear from the Law, until everything is accomplished ." So has everything in the Law been done?
At Christmas we celebrated that God sent His only Son into the world, born under the Law to redeem those under the Law. Jesus accomplished, finished, completed, fulfilled all the Laws. So much as missing a dot of an i or forgetting to cross a t of the Law meant damnation for you. James says so. "Whosoever keeps the whole law and offends at one point is guilty of all the Law." Well Jesus got every jot and tittle. Not one demand of God, not one requirement of the Law, not one commandment did Jesus miss. His dying words could be, "It is finished," because it was. The Law was accomplished.
Note that Jesus didn't just say that He came to fulfill the Law but the Prophets too. The Prophets predicted that the Lamb of God; the Suffering Servant; the Seed of the Woman would come. They predicted His innocent life but they also predicted a particularly guilty and gruesome death. The Law doesn't only command certain things be done; it demands that certain things be suffered. Your conscience tells you this. It tells you not only what you should do but what you should suffer for not doing it.
The punishment for your sins is the other shoe that must drop. That is often worse. It's like in the cartoon or sit-com when one character gets to hit the other with no warning. The wait is agonizing. The one to be hit can't stand the wait. The Law keeps us ever waiting till the other shoe drops. That other shoe dropped kicked Jesus into hell itself, where for 3 dread hours on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all punishments the Law demanded and all that the Prophets predicted.
Not the smallest letter of the Law or the least stroke of the pen disappears from the Law until...Until what? Until you do your version of the Law? Until you have a good excuse not to do it? Until the 21st century dawns and nullifies the Law? No, until everything is accomplished. And Jesus said it was at His death, and His Father showed He agreed by raising Jesus from the dead. Now, what does St. Paul say in Romans 10:4? "Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to all that believe." The rest of our text brings the full force of this truth home.
"Until the 12th of Never" is one of the great love songs ever written. It plays on the expression "12th of never." That's a figure of speech to express something that will never, ever happen. That's the flavor of the last part of our text which in the insert begins with "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments..." What the insert misses is that this part begins with, "Therefore." What Jesus says in this sentence is related to and follows from the two until clauses. It also misses the fact that Jesus isn't talking about someone breaking a commandment but literally "loosing" one.
See how this fits? People who loose commandments appear to provide some relief to burdened souls. The Metropolitan Church loosens the 6th commandment as it pertains to homosexuality (http://www.mccaustin.com/homobible.html) But they're not alone virtually every mainline church accepts living together and homosexuality. Again that's not the worse. Most mainline churches teach that God has many names and can be approached by any faith. People in such churches, even if they have a feeling that their leaders are selectively teaching the Scriptures still call them least in the kingdom of heaven.
Then you have those churches that are champions of the Law. These spit hellfire and brimstone. They emphasize those jots and tittles. You won't find these churches practicing or teaching anything but full on obedience to the Law. They don't embrace the sins of the 21st century or any other for that matter. Even outsiders have to call them great in the kingdom of heaven.
What I've just put before you is the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes could find their way around any Law they had a mind to, and the Pharisees were regarded as champions of the Law. The people thought both groups were certainly in the kingdom of heaven. Whether called least or great they were in the kingdom. But Jesus closes our text by saying in effect: "Until the 12th of never they will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Put it all together. Those who loosen the Law and those who practice and teach every jot and title have two things in common. 1) They are in some form or fashion called in the kingdom of heaven. 2) Until the 12th of never they won't enter.
To actually enter the kingdom of heaven it takes more righteousness than can be gotten from the Law. O outwardly the Law will allow you to call someone least or great in the kingdom of heaven based on how they keep it, but actually entering heaven is another matter. Whoever misses the smallest letter or least stroke of the pen of the Law can in no way enter heaven. The entrance is closed until all of the Law has been accomplished. And accomplished it was by Jesus' innocent life and guilty death.
Until we come to faith in Jesus, we either loosen the Law or champion the Law, and in either case it will be until the 12th of never that we enter the kingdom heaven. Relying on the Law to save you, you have to wait until the heavens and earth disappear. But relying on Jesus, you only have to wait until He has accomplished everything in the Law. The crucifix, the empty Tomb, Water that regenerates, Words that forgive, and Bread that is His Body and Wine that is His Blood all shout, "Done!" Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday After Epiphany (20110206); Matthew 5: 17-20