The older I get the less I like mirrors. I don’t think I’m aging, but the mirror says otherwise. And mirrors don’t lie. Mirrors show you what YOU REALLY LOOK LIKE, not what YOU THINK YOU LOOK LIKE. Mirrors show me things about me that I’d rather not see – wrinkles, age spots, a bald head. The older I get the less I like mirrors.
The law of God is like a mirror. When we look into the law of God, we see ourselves for what we really are BEFORE GOD. And we never look as good as we think we do. One look into the mirror of God’s Law and we shriek, “Woe is me! I am undone.”
“You shall have no other gods besides me,” says the Law of God. But we’ve got a legion of other gods besides the one, true God – especially money. But there’s also my career and my hobbies and my friends. And the truth is, when push comes to shove, I willingly put them all before God because at heart, I trust that these things can save me more than I trust God. The law makes me look bad.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” says the Law of God. I thought looked okay because I’m not one of those people who use foul language and I don’t like it when I hear others use that GD talk. But neither do I use God’s name the way I should, “to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise and give thanks,” to witness to my neighbor who doesn’t know Christ. The law makes me look bad.
“You shall remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” says the Law of God. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” “Well I’m here aren’t I?” That should make me look good before God. But I can hardly hear His Word for all of the other thoughts running through my head. And as for holding His Word sacred, the truth is, I hold a lot of OTHER WORDS more sacred that God’s Word. The law makes me look bad.
“You shall honor your father and mother” says the Law of God. “You shall not murder.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal, or bear false testimony against your neighbor, or covet what belongs to your neighbor,” says the Law of God. And before you can count to 10, I’m a bloody mess because I live as if it were “every man for himself.” The law makes me look bad.
On the outside we may think we look pretty good before God. But that’s the trouble, it’s just the ‘outside’ of us and God sees the ‘inside’ of us. And He gave us His Law so that we might see the ‘inside’ of us too. And when we see the ‘inside’ of us the way God sees the ‘inside’ of us, it’s not a pretty sight. And “wretched man that I am” is all we can say.
And now we’re ready to hear our Epistle reading for today, from Romans, the 3rd chapter.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
The Law of God is like a mirror so “that every mouth may be stopped.” Which is a polite way of saying, “shut up!” Because the more you try to defend yourself the deeper you dig the hole. “My circumstances, my environment, my parents, the government… ” Nothing works. There are no excuses.
It’s not helpful to compare yourself to others. “Have you seen what is going on OUT THERE LORD?” “I could be a lot worse.” “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like these drug dealers, child molesters and mass murderers.” “I say my prayers and go to church and give my money. I even brought a nice Jello-mold in the shape of Luther’s seal for the pot-luck supper today.”
“And the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:11-13). One look into the mirror and the only thing there is to say is, “Kyrie, Eleison.” The whole world is accountable to God.
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Which doesn’t mean that we should stop looking into the mirror. It doesn’t mean, ‘if it makes you feel bad you shouldn’t do it.’ Which seems to be the prevailing attitude towards God’s Law. God’s Law makes us LOOK BAD and FEEL BAD about ourselves, so we’ll ignore it and write new laws that make our sinful, decrepit lives look good – at least TO US.
No, keep looking into the mirror. The first of Luther’s 95 Thesis said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘do penance,’ He willed that the WHOLE life of the believer would be one of repentance.”
You never stop looking into the mirror of God’s Law. Because as soon as you do you forget what you really look like and you get up off your knees and start boasting to God about how good you look.
“So, then what becomes of our boasting? It’s excluded.” “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…” “For ALL HAVE SINNED and fallen short of the glory of God…” NO EXCEPTIONS. NO EXEMPTIONS. And No buts about it. Except for this one.
“BUT NOW, the righteousness of God has been made manifested APART FROM THE LAW….”
The best news you will ever hear is summed up in those two words. “BUT NOW.” The entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, His incarnation, His passion and death on the cross, His resurrection on the 3rd day, His ascension into heaven, His coming again on the Last Day, is all compressed into those two words – “BUT NOW…”
“BUT NOW” stands in direct opposition to “ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALLEN SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD…”
“But now” means that God is doing a NEW THING, an unheard of thing, an utterly surprising thing. He has established a “NEW COVENANT.” “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer.31:34).
Here we are, trying so hard to look good before God according to the Law – “look at what I’ve done, look at what I didn’t do.” But as it turns out, God doesn’t judge us by the law. He judges us “apart from the law.”
- No longer is it a matter of “thou shall and thou shall not.” “But now,” it’s “LOOK WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU WHILE YOU WERE DEAD IN YOUR SINS.
- No longer is it a matter of “this you must do to free yourself from your past and your future. “But now,” it’s “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”
- No longer is it a matter of, “this you must do if you want to be saved.” “But now,” it’s “This believe – you have been saved.”
“This righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The great but now” that echoes throughout all creation for all who have ears to hear, is that God put forward His Son Jesus Christ to stand in front of the mirror. “God put Him forward as a propitiation by His blood…”
He is the perfectly obedient One – who has kept the law perfectly. Not only outwardly according to the letter, but inwardly with a true heart. And God has “put Him forward” – to stand in front of you – to block you from His sight so that all He can see is Jesus.
“But now” “God put Him forward” to bear our fallen and broken nature. You want to know what we look like before God according to His Law? Just look at Christ cursed and crucified with YOUR SIN. Look at Jesus hanging from the cross, rejected by God and forsaken with YOUR GUILT. “God put Him forward” to stand in front of that mirror that accuses us – that He might be accused IN OUR PLACE.
It’s not by your keeping the Law that God is pleased with you, but by Christ’s keeping the Law ON YOUR BEHALF.
- It’s His works not yours that God is pleased with.
- It’s His wounds, not yours that heal you.
- It’s His cross, not yours that bears your awful load.
- It’s His death, not yours that has paid the ransom due.
- It’s His righteousness not yours that makes you righteous and holy before God.
“But now,” when you look into the mirror of God’s Law, you see with those eyes that have been transformed by the Holy Spirit that ‘see’ what they ‘hear.’ You see what God sees – not you, but His beloved Son, with whom He is ‘well pleased.’ And you gasp with repentant joy. For you are “radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish…” (Eph.5:27).
So it turns out there is a distinction after all. All have not sinned. There is One who has not. “There is only one who is good.” And it’s not you. It’s Jesus Christ. It’s not about what you must do or have done. It’s ALL about what He came to do and has done FOR YOU.
Actually, this is just what the LAW AND THE PROPHETS BORE WITNESS TO all along, if only we had listened more and not been so preoccupied with boasting about ourselves.
- When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God sacrificed innocent animals and covered their shame and guilt with those skins. That was Christ’s skin that covered Adam and Eve and that now covers YOU.
- When Abraham took his son Isaac to the mountain to sacrifice him – God provided a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. And Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son, that ram was Christ who was sacrificed instead of YOU.
- When Israel was in Egypt, death passed over every house marked with the blood of a lamb – and that lamb was Christ, whose blood now marks YOU.
So, “Then what becomes of our boasting?” Do we boast to God about ourselves, and what good people we are or how well we keep His Law? Are you crazy?
If you want to boast, boast about this to the Devil. “I am a baptized child of God. I am baptized into the death of Christ Jesus, my Lord and I have already died to sin, and furthermore, I have already been raised from the dead into His new creation. And “nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, my Lord.”
Vs. 24, 28
“For are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”