Christians and the Law (Old Testament)

Christians and the Law
Matthew 5:13-20

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Some of you may know that I grew up on the south coast of England. And one of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was to go to the Southsea Arcade. The Arcade was an outdoor theme park, of sorts, not too far from where we lived. 

If I think about it now, it was sort of more like a county fair than a theme park. You could get cotton candy and fish and chips. There were games that you could play if you bought tokens.

I used to love driving the “bumper cars” with my sister. Actually they were called “dodgems” or “dodgem cars” and my Dad used to remind me that this meant the point of the game was avoid people rather than hitting them as hard as you could, a lesson that I never learned. 

Somehow giving and getting whiplash seemed much more like fun to me than scraping through a near miss.

One of the other  attractions there was the house of mirrors. Perhaps you’ve been to one or heard of them.

One of the features of the attraction are mirrors that distort your reflection. The mirrors are either converse or concave and the shape of the mirror alters the reflection of yourself that you see. 

Part of the attraction is seeing yourself as unusual and confusing reflections–some humorous and others frightening.

Let’s face it, we all have an image of ourselves–what we think we look like, what we think we sound like, how we think we come across to others. 

That’s what makes it so hard to see a video of yourself or listen to an audio recording of your voice. Inevitably the camera will show you an angle on yourself that you’ve never seen before and you’ll think, do I really look like that? Or, you’ll hear a recording of your voice and think do I really sound like that?

In fact, it wasn’t until last year that I regularly saw video recordings of myself preaching. Before COVID I had precisely one video recording of a sermon, now I have more than 40! 

And it’s hard to get used to seeing yourself on video–it changes how you see yourself. As Jesus discusses the law here, we begin to see that the law, is among other things, a mirror that shows us who we are. 

Without the law–that is, without an objective standard of morality outside of ourselves–we often find ourselves standing in front of a mirror that makes us look good. And when we gaze on ourselves in this mirror we find ourselves thinking things like: 

“I’m not that bad.” 

“I’m not like so-and-so.” 

“There are worse sins.”   

In other words it’s a mirror that shows us only favorable comparisons and reduces the law to something manageable like not being a mass murderer.

We’re going to see that Jesus’ use of the law points us to the absolute grace of God in rescuing us from ourselves and also points to our powerlessness to keep the law in a way that pleases God.

The law is, in other words,

(1) a window that shows what God requires of us 

(2) it is a mirror that shows how short we fall, 

(2) a scale that distinguishes right from wrong, and 

(3) a compass that shows us how we ought to live.

There are two sections of the Scripture and I’d like to take them in reverse order:

So, we’ll begin by looking at verses 17-20 where Jesus talks about his relationship with the law. 

Then we’ll look at verses 13-16–where Jesus describes what a community that keeps the law looks like.

“The Law and the Prophets”

First, we need to explore what Jesus means when he describes his relationship to the law. Or, put another way, how do we relate to the law now that Jesus has come into the world?

Jesus is pretty direct when he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” 

Does this mean that things like observing the Sabbath on a Saturday or not eating a calf that has been boiled in its mother’s milk or shellfish, etc, are still binding on us as Christians today? Should we keep kosher? 

I don’t think it means that.

First, we see that Jesus spoke of “the Law and the Prophets” as not being abolished. What did he mean by this phrase? 

The “Law and the Prophets” was a regular expression Jews of Jesus’ day used to refer to the entire Old Testament. (See Matthew 7:12; 22:40; Acts 24:14; 28:23; Romans 3:21.) 

In Romans 3:21 the Apostle Paul writes, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—”

In defending himself against his accusers in Acts 24:14 Paul said: “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets…”

The Old Testament comprises the Holy Scriptures or the sacred writings of the Jewish faith. It was through these writings that Jews thought they could understand the will of God and have eternal life (John 5:39, 45).

What Jesus said, then, was the Old Testament as a body of “God-breathed” literature would not be set aside or abolished. His concern was not specifically the Sabbath or the Ten Commandments. It was the entire Old Testament.

The Old Testament is God-breathed and useful just as is the New Testament. And so when someone like Andy Stanley questions whether we need the Old Testament or not, you should take note. To say that the Old Testament is somehow deficient or out-of-date expressly disagrees with what Jesus himself said on the matter, as we have just noted.

Jesus says that he has not come to do away with the law and the prophets–the Old Testament–but, rather, to fulfill them.

We should notice that Jesus did not tell Christians to “fulfill” these Scriptures down to the smallest letter and least stroke of a pen. 

He said he came to fulfill the Holy Scriptures.

What did he mean by this? The Greek word for “fulfill” Gk., isplerosai

According to Greek scholars, the nuance and meaning of this word is difficult to express in English, and several possibilities have been offered. 

  1. Jesus came to accomplish or obey the Holy Scriptures,
  1. to bring out the full meaning of the Holy Scriptures,
  1. to bring those Scriptures to their intended completion,
  1. to emphasize that the Scriptures point to him as Messiah and are fulfilled in his salvation work.

The Expositor’s Commentary on Matthew concludes (143): 

“The best interpretation of these difficult verses says that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets in that they point to him, and he is their fulfillment. The antithesis is not between ‘abolish’ and ‘keep’ but between ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.’”

It is certainly a proper understanding of Jesus’ intent to say that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets in himself—in his life and salvation work, and that the Scriptures pointed to him.

Remember, the book of Matthew was written to prove from the Jewish Scriptures that Jesus fulfilled the requirements of messiahship. 

Matthew often said Jesus acted “to fulfill” what was said through one prophet or another (Matthew 1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17, etc.). 

You can read through the book of Matthew and note all the times that a reference is made to the Old Testament as being fulfilled in Jesus.

Jesus said in Matthew 3:15 that “all righteousness” should be fulfilled in his actions.

 Luke 24:25-27, 44-45 and John 5:39-47 are also instructive on this point. 

These verses show that Jesus was interested in showing how the Hebrew Scriptures had himself as their object. He was the Messiah of whom all the Jewish holy writings had spoken of.

So the Law and the Prophets point to Jesus as the Messiah and as the one who fulfills all of the requirements of the law.

The law then becomes a mirror to show us who we are–both in Christ and apart from Christ.

The law shows us what God requires of us and it shows us that it is impossible, beyond our ability, to keep it perfectly. 

That’s why Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In other words, he takes as an example the group of people most commonly associated with keeping the law at the time: the pharisees. 

It’s like saying, “Unless your popularity surpasses the Kardashians” or “Unless your wealth surpasses Jeff Bezos” — it’s a way of showing just how impossible the task of keeping the law actually is. Take the people most thought of it as keeping the law and then exceed them and you’ll still fall short!

So, the law shows us the scope and the immensity of God’s holiness. And it also shows us how desperately short we fall in the attempt to fulfill it. 

It’s important to note that we don’t “keep” or “obey” the law in order to earn God’s favor or to make God like us. If we did, the would truly be the worst possible news because it would be a sentence handed down on us telling us that we could never be in fellowship with God.

Our attempts to live by the law are simply attempts–not to earn God’s favor–but to live the way of life that God has given to us. 

This is where the first part of the Scripture passage comes in:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Keeping the law–in Jesus’ view–is a revolutionary way of life that marks us as Jesus’ disciples, the church. It is the outward evidence that points to an inward reality of grace in our lives. 

In her book Bearing God’s Name: Why Sinai Still Matters, Carmen Imes puts it like this: 

“The law envisions a different kind of life, characterized by self-discipline and self-giving love. Imagine a community where every member actively worked to love and protect their neighbor!” 

In a sense, as Jesus points out, the law and the prophets can be summarized 

‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself”’ (Mt 22.37-39). 

It is pithy and to the point. 

Classic Jesus.

Embracing the law of God helps us discover our true selves as the people of God. Deuteronomy says, “What does the Lord require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you this day for your good?”  

Here we see that the law of God is a gift of  grace that is the foundation of human flourishing. 

It is not “busywork” assigned just to please the arbitrary whims of a capricious deity. The law of God simply shows us what human beings were built to do—to worship God alone, to love their neighbors as themselves, to tell the truth, keep their promises, forgive everything, act with justice.

When we move against these laws we move against our own natures and happiness. Disobedience to God sets up strains in the fabric of reality that can only lead to break down.

We can sum all of this up by saying that the law is a mirror, a window, a scale and a compass as I said at the start of our time together:

(1) a window that shows what God requires of us 

(2) it is a mirror that shows how short we fall, 

(2) a scale that distinguishes right from wrong, and 

(3) a compass that shows us how we ought to live.

And for those reasons it’s not something we can leave behind, but it is not something that we ultimately trust to deliver us from our sins.

Our deliverance comes from Christ alone.

Let’s pray.

The Great Reversal

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor  …

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11 NIV

In Plato’s Republic, the famous philosopher writes about the allegory of the cave. In the allegory, a man lives in a cave. He’s shackled there so that he cannot move about in the darkness and he cannot turn to the left or to the right, all he can do is look at the cave wall directly ahead of him. 

Behind him is a fire. It’s light casts shadows upon the portion of the wall that the prisoner can see. So, at best, the prisoner can merely see the shadows of people moving around or the shadows of what they are carrying. Plato says that, to the prisoner, these shadows–as limited as they are–are reality. 

After all, it’s all the prisoner has ever known. The prisoner is completely ignorant of all of all that lies beyond the cave. He has never experienced direct sunlight. He doesn’t know the sensation of a cool breeze on a warm afternoon. He hasn’t experienced snowflakes melting on the warmth of his skin or the steam of warm breath on a cold winter morning. All he knows is that sliver of reality that is directly in front of him and all he sees is a shadow of a real thing rather than the thing itself. He is a prisoner, a captive both of his cave and of his ignorance.

Then, Plato supposes that one of the prisoners is released. He climbs up and out of the cave. As he emerges, he is confronted by the scorching sun and the biting wind. He hears all sorts of sounds that he has never experienced before. 

He’s told that this, rather than the cave, is reality. What would he do? Plato surmises that he would immediately retreat to the cave. It is, after all, the only reality he has ever known. And the real reality beyond the cave would be too much for him. Even if he wanted to, the prisoner would find the real world beyond belief.

Plato wasn’t a Christian, but he was onto something. 

You see, the message of the Christian faith is that we all begin life in a cave. And we all naturally experience a reality that is limited. 

We can’t rescue ourselves from the cave because, after all, we don’t know we’re in a cave to begin with. 

For the Christian, salvation from the cave of sin and death can only come through the power of God who, by the working of his grace, liberates us from our bondage to sin.

This is a message that stands at odds with the dominant message that our culture communicates to us. Our culture tells us that we know ourselves perfectly and that we need only be true to ourselves in order to have the best life possible. 

Our culture assumes that our self-knowledge is complete and accurate. We’re told that in order to be free we need to be autonomous–self-governing and making decisions with respect only to our own inner compass. Even among Christians the god we proclaim is often one who simply blesses our opinions and prejudices rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The gospel of John tells us: 

“This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

John 3:19-20

But, you say, I find myself wanting to do the good and the right–imperfectly, obviously. That’s good! Every time we find ourselves wanting to do the good and the right, it is the grace of God at work in us. 

The Christian message is, according to Paul,

“…is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

1 Corinthians 2:6-8

He continues, in verses 13 and following,

“We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

We are all, apart from God’s activity in our hearts, “natural men and women” who are about as inclined and as capable to escape sin and death as the man in Plato’s cave. 

We need liberation.

And it is this liberation–from sin, self, and death–that Jesus accomplished for His people on the Cross. 

The Heidelberg Catechism asks:

Question. What…benefit to we receive from the sacrifice and death of Christ on the cross?

Answer: That by His power our old man–that is the natural man, the enslaved man, the guy in the cave–is with [Christ] crucified, slain and buried; that so the evil lusts of the flesh many no more reign in us, but that we might may offer ourselves unto [Christ] a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Q/A 43

It is this liberation that Christ accomplished during his passion, his death, and in his resurrection and his ascension.

Again, The Heidelberg Catechism asks:

Question. What benefit do we receive from the resurrection of Christ?

Q/A 45

This is the “so what” of Easter:

Answer: First, by his resurrection He has overcome death, that He might make us partakers of the righteousness which by His death He has obtained for us. Secondly, we also are now by His power raised to a new life. Thirdly, the resurrection of Christ is to us a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.”

Q/A 45

So, in Christ’s death and resurrection we get three specific spiritual benefits: 

(1) Christ conquers death, and Christ makes us beneficiaries of this victory

(2) Christ gives us a new life, a new heart–one that is free from the cave of sin and sees spiritual things more clearly.

(3) Christ promises--gives a pledge, that is, a down payment or earnest money, if you will–to guarantee our resurrection.

And here’s where we connect with Isaiah 61. 

This passage from Isaiah is the passage of Scripture that Jesus chose to speak on when he started his ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus’ reading stops at the very beginning of verse 2 of Isaiah 61. And I’ll tell you why: because the resurrection of Jesus Christ–and our resurrection life with him–begins now! 

This isn’t some far off, ethereal hope that one day we will be sitting in the heavens strumming a harp and enjoying the sun.

No, resurrection begins now. 

It begins with a changed heart–inward transformation. In the deepest parts of ourselves, salvation involves the reorientation of the compass of our lives. 

You see, we are by nature born with a compass that deviates from “true north.” And unless that inner compass is renewed, reoriented, aligned to true north, it will always and ever lead us astray and away from the true source of all delights, even Jesus our Lord.

What’s remarkable about the Christian message is that God himself–God the Son, Jesus–intentionally enters the cave of our sin and of our guilt and takes apart the shackles that bind us there. He takes us in his arms and he leads us up and out of the darkness, the dankness, the squalor of the cave and he leads us to freedom.

There we are able to breathe deeply the fresh air of grace. He binds our wounds. He takes the filthy, tattered rags of our own righteousness and, having washed and cleaned us, gives us new clothes–the clothes of his righteousness that cover over the multitude of our offenses. 

It is, in short, the greatest of reversals. Rags to riches. Death to life. And it starts now. Here. In this world, broken as it is. 

We are to live the resurrection. And it is the resurrection life that Jesus gives us that allows us to be the church that Jesus wants us to be, and the people who Jesus wants us to be.

You see, the church is not a building although the buildings that host our worship ought to be beautiful and tasteful pointing to the holiness of God. 

The church is a people. In a recent letter to the editor, theologian and Anglical Bishop N.T. Wright put it like this:

“The earliest Christian writings insist that in the Messiah ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek’. The book of Revelation envisages Jesus’s followers as an uncountable family from every nation, tribe, people, and language. At the climax of his greatest letter, St. Paul urges Christians to ‘welcome one another’ across all social and ethnic barriers, insisting that the church will thereby function as the advance sign of God’s coming renewal of all creation.”

N. T. Wright, Letter to the Editor

It is the character and the life of the church as the people of God that makes the gospel plausible to a society that is, quite frankly–and perhaps understandably–not all that interested in what we have to say.

Isaiah puts it like this:

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

As we reflect on the power of God that caused Christ to be raised from death, and the new life he gives to Christ’s followers, let’s remind ourselves, too, that the power of the resurrection must produce the fruit of change in our life and in our life together.

We are, in a sense, the change that God would see in the world.

So, let’s get started.

Amen.

The importance of idleness

It turns out that idleness is central to creative work. Perhaps I should put it differently. Incubation is central to creative work.

And by incubation, I mean a period of time in which you spend your energy on an unrelated and undemanding task. It could be taking a walk, doing some laundry, working in the garden, or even taking a shower or brushing your teeth.

This article from the BBC goes into more detail.

It’s long been recognized that writers have unique rituals and habits that facilitate their creative work. Mason Curry details some in his book Daily Rituals. What ties most of these writers together is that each made room for intentional idleness. Few are the writers who can sit at their desk for twelve hours of continual composition.

It occurs to me that modern workplaces–at least before COVID–are designed for linear attention and sedentary work at a desk. In my mind, this makes offices more like prisons than studios.

Few offices, for example, have windows that open, taking away the pleasant sensation of a cool breeze on a spring morning or the sound of birds nestling in trees–the things that make for periods of productive daydreaming during the work day.

Fewer still have gardens or lounges or other amenities designed to offer third spaces for the sort of activites associated with incubation. Is it any wonder that American workers are miserable?

For this reason, many find the office to be their least valuable space–it’s great for low-level work, but virtually useless for any significant deep or creative work.

It’s time to rehumanize our work environments. It’s time to realize that homo sapiens aren’t brains on sticks. We are whole people who need whole environments that offer more than a place to sit while we crank out widgets.

The Brightness of Grace

The First Sunday in Lent 2021

The Brightness of Grace

Romans 5:6-8

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


The September 11, 2002 issue of TIME magazine features the story of then 31-year old Genelle Guzman. Genelle was the last of just four people caught in the debris of the Twin Towers to be found alive.

After the planes hit the World Trade Center, Genelle was descending a staircase from the 64th floor of the North Tower. 

Steel beams weakened to their breaking point. Solid concrete was pulverized. But somehow her body found an air pocket. Her right leg was pinned under heavy concrete pillars. Her head was caught between stacks of wreckage. But somehow she was still alive. 

For twenty-seven hours Guzman lay trapped and seriously injured. 

In recent months before the attacks Genelle had started attending the church called Brooklyn Tabernacle, and wanted to get her life turned around. 

So while she was stuck in the rubble, she started to pray. She’d trail off into sleep — wake up and pray some more.

Shortly after noon on Wednesday the 12th, she heard voices. So she screamed as loud as she could, “I’m here! HEY, I’M RIGHT HERE!” 

A rescue worker responded, “Do you see the light?” She did not. 

She took a piece of concrete and banged it against a broken stairway overhead–probably the same structure that had saved her life. 

The searchers found the noise. Genelle wedged her hand through a crack in the wall, and felt someone grab it. 

She heard the voice of a rescuer–her savior, in a sense–say, “I’ve got you,” and Genelle Guzman said, “OH GOD, THANK YOU.” It took another 20 long minutes, and then she was saved.

In many ways, Genelle Guzman represents the spiritual plight of all people. We are buried under an enormous mess of sins — ways we have wronged our perfect God. Like Genelle, we have no hope of freeing ourselves. 

We’re stuck. In need of rescue. 

But by admitting the need to be forgiven — by reaching out and saying, “God, help me! I can’t get out of this unless you save me,” we can be confident that he hears and helps. 

That’s what we remember that God reached down into the rubble and saved us by the death and resurrection of Jesus.


Paul’s words here in Romans 5 are short  and to the point. He’s clear that God is the primary actor in these verses. It is God who acts. We respond. It is God’s timing. It is God who saves. It is God who, in His Son, dies for us in order to save us. 

From start to finish, our rescue is a work of God.

At Just the Right Time

God’s Timing

Paul uses this phrase, “At just the right time.” What does he mean by that, I wonder? Perhaps you wonder too? How was it the right time? Why? Is there a wrong time for rescue, for salvation?

We can look at the words of Jesus in John 17 in order to try to answer that question. Just before the events that will ultimately lead to his crucifixion, Jesus prays what’s called his “High Priestly prayer” in John 17. And there he says, “Father, the hour has come…” And he goes on to pray for himself in facing his upcoming ordeal and to pray for his people, ourselves included–that we may be one as He and the Father are one.

Then, in the Book of Acts, Peter delivers his sermon on Pentecost–found in Acts 2–and he tells his listeners that Jesus was delivered to the Romans according to the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (v. 23).

So–bringing us back here in Romans 5–it’s just the right time because it is the time that God has ordained for salvation. 

The timing of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension accords with the plans that God made in eternity past to redeem a people from the fallen race of humanity. 

It was God’s choice and he chose ancient Palenstine in the Roman Empire.

God had a plan. God has a plan. He has a plan for redeeming his people. And he has a plan for equipping and sending his people into the world as witnesses. He has a plan for us. And in 2021 we are going to be intentionally talking about that plan, discerning what it means for us as a people, and then living into it. 

Our Weakness

It’s also the right time because it was the time of our deepest need. According to Paul, it was the right time because it was the time in which we were powerless to save ourselves. God acts when we are “weak” (6), “still sinners” (8) and “enemies of God” (10). It’s when you’re weak that you need to be rescued. It’s the perfect time for a savior.

In C. S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in The Chronicles of Narnia, there’s a character named Eustace Scrubb. And Eustace is a know-it-all. He’s the sort of kid who’s too sophisticated to believe in God. He thinks God’s a myth. He believes in science, progress, and technology.

Eustace gets into Narnia. Narnia–if you’re not familiar with the books–is the land where the books are set. Narnia is a world that’s sort of parallel to ours. The world is ruled by Aslan, a lion, who is the one true King of Narnia and sort of a Christ-figure. 

Eustace makes all sorts of trouble in Narnia. No one likes him. And finally his stubbornness and willfulness results in his becoming a dragon–because everyone knows that the gold in a dragon hoard is bewitched. And Eustace begins to have “greedy, dragonish thoughts” and falls asleep among the treasure, waking up as a dragon.

So Eustace, now a dragon, realizes his folly. He recognizes he was wrong. He believes that Aslan is real and that he is the true King and Creator of Narnia. And he repents–he turns away from his old ways, and he turns to God, and lives in a new way.

And he wants to become a boy again–because he knows that under all those scales that’s what he really is, a little boy. He tries to cut away his scales, but every layer of scale that he removes, reveals another layer, sort of like an onion. No matter how hard he tries, he cannot peel it away.

Then Eustace describes how Aslan rescued him. In his own words,

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I, as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

Like Eustace, we cannot peel off the scaly skin of our sinfulness, of our brokenness, of our habits. 

Like Genelle Guzman we cannot lift the beam from on top of us and pick our way out of the wreckage of sin. 

We are powerless. 

We can’t do it.

But God can. 

God will. 

God has.

At just the right time–when we needed it most, when we were at our weakest, when we were farthest from God–Christ died for us, the ungodly.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He say in John 10:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

He knows his sheep–he knows you, warts and all. He lays down his life for his sheep–for you, for me in full awareness of our brokenness–on Good Friday. Then he takes his life up again on Easter Sunday and gives us everlasting life.

Friends, this is good news of the gospel. Don’t try to move the pillar. Don’t try to rub off your scales. Don’t try to save yourself. Don’t trust in your good works or your upstanding character. Those things cannot save you. 

Jesus can. So say yes to him today. 

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ,

You are the center of heaven’s happiness,

the wellspring that fills saints and angels.

There is as much happiness in you as happiness exists.

Whatever excellency is in heaven, it is in You.

Whatever belongs to glory is found in You.

You are all good things to all your saints in heaven:

beauty to their eyes,

honey to their mouths,

perfume to their nostrils,

health to their bodies,

joy to their souls,

light to their understanding

content to their wills.

You are time without sliding,

company without loathing,

desire without fainting.

You are Alpha and Omega, the beginning and ending.

All the virtues, beauties, and goodness

in people, animals, trees, and any other creature,

are nothing but passing sparks compared with your glory.

You are dust

Prayer before the Imposition of the Ashes

Gracious God, You created us out of the dust of the earth and breathed into us the breath of life.By Your hand we live and to Your hands we return when all our days are done.
Grant that the awareness of our mortality may lead us not to fear, but to faith.
In our weakness teach us to look to You for strength, in our failures to turn to You and find forgiveness, and in our dying to await the gift of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen

Imposition of Ashes

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Blessing

The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen.

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