Religious Leaders Behaving Badly With The Law?

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Ten Commandments are very good if a person uses them properly. But that is the problem, isn’t it? Many times we do not use the Ten Commandments properly. (See 1 Timothy 1:8)

Take, for instance, those religious leaders in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. They grabbed ahold of the Law, divided it up, and used it to try and trap Jesus. For them, the Law was a tool that they could manipulate and use to accuse Jesus. That is to say; they were not using the Law properly.

But doesn’t our Lutheran Confessions say that the Law accuses? Isn’t that one of the proper roles of the Law – to accuse?  

Let’s pause here a moment and consider the 10 Commandments. The Lord God has given us the gift of the 10 Commandments etched on our hearts, etched on stone tablets, and printed in the Holy Bible for several purposes.  

First, the Law is given to function like a curb or a fence. The Law protects God’s good gifts. You see, God gives you the gifts of authority, life, marriage, possessions, a good reputation, and contentment. These are good gifts, which is why God says to us not to dishonor authority, murder, have sex outside marriage, steal, slander, and covet. When we dishonor authority, murder, have sex outside marriage, steal, slander, and covet, well… we pervert and poison God’s good gifts. And so, we could say that one of the purposes of the 10 Commandments is God telling us to knock it off. The 10 Commandments keep us from doing stupid stuff to ourselves and others - that would ruin His good gifts of authority, life, marriage, possessions, a good reputation, and contentment.  

Secondly, the Holy Spirit works through the Law to give you the knowledge of sin and then bring about conviction of sin in your conscience. In other words, without the clear guidelines of the Law showing you and me what is right and what is wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork. And so, the Law shows you what is good, true, and beautiful, and it shows you what is sinful, false, and bad. For example, when we steal a cookie from the cookie jar, the Law says, “thou shall not steal a cookie!” The Seventh Commandment reveals that we have sinned, and the Holy Spirit leads us to a troubled conscience and repentance.  

But this is where we must pay special attention. Yes, the Law reveals sin and then accuses us; however, this happens so that we may be led to repentance of sins and then ultimately the forgiveness of sins.  In other words, those religious leaders – that Lawyer, to be precise – were using the Law to try and trick Jesus and lead Him into a scenario where they would have the upper hand on Him. They were using the Law to try and condemn Jesus and then potentially shame him, and then, in the end - they would have power over Him. The Law was being used as a tool of power to destroy Jesus and put them above Jesus.

I can remember reading a book about 15 years ago on this subject. It talked about contemporary religious leaders using the Law improperly, just like those Pharisees, Sadducees, and that Lawyer. In other words, modern religious leaders spiritually abuse people when they use the Law to accuse a person of condemnation but then fail to deliver the Gospel for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  But why would they not deliver the Gospel to poor miserable sinners condemned under the Law? The answer: modern spiritually abusive religious leaders withhold the Gospel for the sole purpose of controlling and having power over their followers. Again, this is exactly what was going on in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew. They were using the Law as a trap.  

Dear friends, perhaps we could simply say it this way: the Holy Spirit works properly through the Law to protect us from our old Adam and bring us to repentance so that we are prepared to receive the Gospel. Or, we could say it this way: the Holy Spirit properly uses the Law to bring us to humility so that we may receive the blessed grace of God in Christ Jesus through the Gospel. However, when mankind uses the Law improperly, we apply the Law to those around us, to condemn them and burden their conscience so that we can shame them, manipulate them, and control them to whatever we want them to do for us. Bluntly stated: when the Law is used improperly, we are not protected, and Jesus is withheld from us.  But when the Law is used properly, we are protected and prepared to receive Jesus. The end of the Law is Jesus, not a religious leader’s agenda. 

Tragically, I am reminded of a story where a pastor would grip the pulpit and preach a fire and brimstone sermon each week. He would preach the Law for 10 minutes, and then he would preach the Gospel for about 60 seconds, and then he would return to preaching the Law for another 4 minutes. In other words, this pastor wanted to make sure the church knew their sin, which they did. Then he talked about Jesus really, really quickly because he knew that he was supposed to do this. But then, after 60 seconds of Jesus, he was very determined to get right back to the Law. But why? Well, the pastor did this because he did not want to lose his spiritual control of the church. In other words, at the end of the sermon, he would issue demands, threats, and force so that he could get the condemned parishioners to engage in supposed good works, be more godly, and act like pious parishioners according to his desires. The sermon was one big pile of shame and spiritual manipulation that left everyone in constant condemnation and fear. And the pastor? Well, he felt empowered and in control because the end of the Law was not Jesus but himself. And so, tragically, as you can already tell, there was no room for Jesus in this pastor’s sermons, and the Holy Spirit was kicked out of the church because the pastor was using the Law to his agenda.  

As a result, half the church just stayed home on Sundays.  

“Why go to church when you already know that you are a sinner and then you are not given any solution to sin? It is better to just stay home.”  

The other half of the church, well, they stayed in the church, and they did everything possible to try and alleviate the burden of conscience and to satisfy the shame of the pastor. They essentially lived in spiritual abuse, doing their best to make the pastor happy and appease the Law that weighed heavily upon their conscience.  

Baptized Saints, the Law was never meant to trap you and leave you in condemnation, shame, manipulation, or spiritual abuse. The Law is God’s good gift to bring you to contrition, repentance, and sorrow for sin, so that you may be ready to hear about the Savior for sinners – Jesus Christ.  

When the Law is properly used, it will curb your old Adam from blowing up God’s good gifts. And when the Law is used properly, it will reveal sin in you so that the Holy Spirit may reveal Jesus to you.  

And Baptized Saints, this is the great news: there is no condemnation in Jesus Christ. He is the end of sin; He is the end of condemnation; He is the end of shame and guilt. He is your life, your freedom, your satisfaction, and your atonement. He comes only for sinners so that sinners may not be left with a guilty conscience but left hearing, “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.”  

Baptized Saints, may the Law of God bring you to dust and ashes. But may the Gospel of God resurrect you to life and salvation, for you do not belong in condemnation and left under accusation – muddling around in this life with despair. But instead, your ears are meant to hear the Gospel that you are forgiven and that you belong to Jesus, who will produce good fruit in you by the power of the Spirit while sustaining you in this life unto eternal life forever.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

CLICK HERE to 'Like' on Facebook
CLICK HERE to 'Follow' on Twitter
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean