Released

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The amazing work of the organizations which rescue and rehabilitate animals is something to be celebrated. When a television show broadcasts stories including the moments one of these animals are released back into their natural habitats, it is heartwarming to watch. As an observer, a person can only imagine the sense of freedom and exhilaration the animal must experience at the moment of release.

The passage from the letter to the Roman believers speaks of being released. This release comes through the actions of Jesus Christ. Christ releases us from the law of the flesh, the law which we who are flesh could not fulfill was fulfilled when the Son became flesh and offered himself for all sin. This law of the flesh is fully met in the flesh of Christ. We are released from any condemnation and placed within the law of the Spirit. We are set free from the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit.

Having the truth in this passage revealed to us should cause a feeling of freedom and exhilaration within us. Like the rescued and rehabilitated animals mentioned above, we have been given a new lease on life. The fear of being condemned had been removed. What has held us and created a deadly situation for us was destroyed by Christ. Let us live our life in the Spirit, free from the power of sin and death.

New Creation

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Galatians 6:1-16 (NIV)

Have you ever encountered someone who wishes everyone to be aware of all of their successes and accomplishments? At one level this can be important when applying for a job or new position. There is a need for self promotion in these circumstances. The issue arises when this is taken to the extreme and the work which the person is doing is to make oneself look good in the eyes of others. It is even a greater issue when the individual makes demands upon others so they may boast about themselves.

Today’s passage is found in the letter Paul writes to the believers in Galatia. Paul is speaking to the Galatians regarding the encouragement by the Jews to the Galatians to be circumcised. Paul says this is entirely because they want to boast about their success in converting the Gentiles to be followers of the law. He indicates this is hypocrisy because those making this request as a part of the law are unable to keep the law themselves. Boasting should be limited to the cross of the Lord. Being a new creation is more important than upholding a section of the law.

The emphasis which Paul makes to the Galatians is the boasting here should be about how we are a new creation through the cross of Jesus. Our boasting comes not from any action by us but the action of our Lord. This new creation counts far beyond our ability to adhere to a law. Adherence to the law shows an emphasis in our actions. The actions of the Lord are far greater and more important. 

Freedom Responsibilites

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15 (NIV)

As children mature, they make efforts to establish their independence. This is first noticed around the age of 2 when they enter the “me do “phase. Once they reach the milestone of legally driving, this striving for independence increases in leaps and bounds. No longer dependent on parents or older siblings to chauffer them from place to place, they begin exploring the world and its offerings on their own. Graduating from high school marks another turning point in their goal for personal independence. Each stage of new found freedom increases the level of responsibility to use these freedoms without causing injury to self or others.

Today we hear Paul’s words in regard to responsible use of freedom. He has been writing to the Galatians concerning confusion over their living under the Law. Paul points out that by believing in Christ, they no longer are bound to the Law. They have a new freedom. He expresses to them that this freedom should not be used to obtain their own wants and desires solely but it should be used in service to one another. Paul reminds them that they are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If in their freedom they attack and steal from each other, it will be mutually destructive.

The nation in which we live provides many freedoms that are not available in other countries of the world. We are able to share our thoughts aloud without fear of being restrained, tortured, or put to death. We choose where we live, what we purchase, and how we live without a government dictating any of that to us. These freedoms have some restrictions placed upon them in the interest of public safety. There are still steps which need to be taken to ensure these freedoms are available to ALL people within our borders. Yet we remain one of the nations which affords its citizens more freedom than others.

As Paul points out, we also are free of retaliation by our God when we do not adhere to the Law of the Old Testament. Because of the grace shown to us through Christ, the punishment of the Law no longer hangs over us. We live as ones who have been freed.

However, as mentioned in regards to children obtaining independence, with our freedoms come responsibilities. Whether talking about our civic freedoms or our spiritual freedoms, we must exercise them in light of how our neighbors might be impacted. The words we use or the actions we take should not have us as the sole focus. In light of human advances, we are more connected to each other in much broader ranges than ever before. If we use our freedoms in ways that negatively affects others then we will begin a path of mutual destruction.

Be grateful for the freedoms which have been obtained for you, but be responsible and loving in how you exercise them.

By Faith

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29 (NIV)

Raising children can be a challenge at times. When children become mobile, parents must begin establishing boundaries. Boundaries are important to attempt to keep children safe and to help them learn what behaviors are beneficial and what ones are harmful. These boundaries change and adapt as the child ages. Through the teenage years, the youth attempts to establish some independence which often results in pushing back at boundaries. Eventually the child matures enough that the boundaries, which the parents established as an act of love, are no longer necessary.

In the passage from Galatians, we hear of a similar transition. Paul writes that prior to the arrival of Christ, God needed to establish boundaries, or the Law, to guide humans so they would remain safe and choose beneficial behaviors. God did this as an act of love just as parents do when they give children boundaries. When Christ arrived, we no longer needed the Law as our guide but instead we look to Christ’s teachings. We also no longer would be justified by our obedience to the Law but now by our faith in Christ. Christ made all people children of God, not only those who were from a certain heritage or any other human classification. Paul says that any who are in Christ are now heirs to the promise of Abraham.

The clear message which Paulis communicating to us today is we are full children of God by faith and not adherence to a set of rules. Faith in Jesus Christ releases us from having to be under the guardianship of the Law. This faith, believing in the teachings and saving acts of Jesus, has led to our adoption into the family of Abraham. We are a part of Christ when we believe in Christ. All of us have always struggled with fulfilling everything in the Law but now this is no longer the standard. Our new standard is having faith in Jesus.

By Faith

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:1-14 (NIV)

For the longest period in the history of our nation, the principles and ethics of society were based on the Puritan code of conduct. One principle that governed the everyday lives of the people was the importance of self reliance. As our nation expanded to the west, self reliance aided settlers in establishing new homesteads in unsettled territories. Like all principles, there are good and bad aspects when it comes to self-reliance. The positives include independence, pride in our achievements, and obtaining a variety of skills and knowledge. Some of the negatives include an unwillingness to accept assistance, an arrogant or boastful attitude, and failure to acknowledge the contributions of others.

Paul writes to the believers in Galatia expressing disappointment in them. He is disappointed because they have begun to adopt the idea that by their own works they are justified before God. Paul reminds them that they began to believe in Jesus Christ not because they were following Jewish law but because they heard of the saving acts of Christ. Paul points out if they choose to take a self-reliant path of using their works to be justified, they will fail. Only by believing in salvation through their faith in Jesus Christ can they succeed.

Even today there are still individuals who follow an understanding that only self-reliance based on their own work can guarantee the favor of God. This leads to a constant effort to do better, be better in actions, and an adherence to a prescribed set of standards. Time and time again disappointment and a sense of constant failure accompanies the efforts of these Christians. Paul reminds us of a better way. By having faith in Christ, we can be relieved of the burden of living “good enough.” Our reliance on Christ and his saving actions eliminated our need to rely upon ourselves. Then our good works become a response of gratitude instead of a way to justify ourselves.

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.

The Intent

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Matthew 12:1-14

A television show which premiered last year, All Rise, has become a show which I enjoy. The story line is about Judge Lola Carmichael, a former prosecutor, who is appointed as a judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. I think the reason I like the show so much is that while the character can be idealistic at times, she desires to uphold the intent of the law more than the letter of the law. She exhibits creative and compassionate ways in fulfilling the intent.

Today in our reading from the book of Matthew, we encounter Jesus attempting to educate the Pharisees on the intent of the Sabbath rules. The Pharisees are the “lawyers” of the Jewish Law. They are to understand and interpret the laws which God has given the Hebrew people through the voices of the prophets, priests, and leaders. This group of Pharisees take issue with the actions of Jesus and the disciples. They have interpreted the disciples nibbling on grain and Jesus healing the shriveled hand of a man in the synagogue as doing “work”. Since this “work” happened on the Sabbath, it is violating the Law which states that no work shall occur on the Sabbath. (See Exodus 20:10)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees on their application of the Sabbath rules. For Jesus, the purpose of the Sabbath is to make sure people are taking time to rest themselves and to focus on God. He would probably say that these two items are the intent of the law regarding the Sabbath. Doing actions which are necessary, i.e., feeding your body or saving a sheep from drowning, are not violations of the intent. Likewise, healing someone or providing for the needs of a person is not violating the intent.

The focus of Jesus is the intent of the Law, not the letter of the Law. This focus serves as a guide in our lives, how we understand Scripture, and how we apply God’s direction to us and others. Like Judge Carmichael and Jesus, we need to look at the purpose of these things. Our goal should be to ensure the intent is being followed. Striving to enact every word, dot, and crossing of t’s eliminates compassion, mercy and forgiveness.