This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Galations 6:2
Dear friends, on this Good Friday evening, I want to meditate briefly with you on just one verse, namely, Galatians 6:2. It says in Galatians 6:2, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
This is an extremely interesting verse. Entire books have been written about this verse, and it is the subject of many Ph.d dissertations. The reason why is because it has a phrase that occurs nowhere else in Paul’s writings. Paul refers here, and never in any other verse anywhere, to “the law of Christ”.
I think you can all concede that this is bizarre. The law of Christ? What is that? In all of his writings, Paul regularly speaks against the law. He downplays the law. He says we are saved by grace, by faith alone. He emphasizes law is not the way to go. Even just a few verses earlier, in chapter 5:22,23, he says, “the fruit of the spirit – you know this passage -- is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and then he says “Against such things there is no law.” No law at all. And then just a few verses later he suggests there is something called “the law of Christ.” What is that?
Now we know that Paul is not against the law of Moses. The ten commandments, and so forth. Paul says God gave that to us so that we might know our sin, and so that we might know how to live thankful Christian lives. So Paul is not anti-law. But nevertheless, this is the only time, ever, that he uses such a curious phrase. The law of Christ. What is that?
Martin Luther already, in his commentaries in the early 1500’s, was very intrigued by this lonely occurrence of this phrase, the law of Christ. He thought maybe it is just something to do with love, love being the fulfillment of all the commandments of Moses. Love God and neighbor, that is the essence of all the commandments, says Jesus himself, and maybe that is all that Paul means here when he comes up with this unexpected wording, “the law of Christ”.
But no, that can’t be, that is not the answer, for Paul already shows he knows about that whole approach when he says in Galatian 5:14, “The entire law is summed up in a single command, Love your neighbor as yourself.” So by “law of Christ”, Paul must be indicating something else, something different than a mere summary of the law of Moses.
The answer to our mystery, I believe, is actually connected to Good Friday, and that is why I preach on it tonight, Good Friday. This verse is essentially about Good Friday. I got my ideas from a very insightful article by Dr. Graham Stanton. He says look, the letter to the Galatians is the most anti-law book in all of Paul’s writings. Galatians emphasizes in radical terms how much we are to be free of the law and how much it is true that we are saved apart from the law, only of grace, and that law has nothing to do with salvation. Away with law, is the whole atmosphere of the book. And therefore, says Stanton, we need to be very incredibly precise about what Paul could possibly mean here by saying “the law of Christ”.
The meaning has to come, somehow, from the rest of this letter. And it does. It is, in essence, a Good Friday meaning. In the very first chapter, in verse 4 already, Paul describes Jesus as “the one who gave himself for our sins”. Then in chapter 2, Paul says “The son of God loved me and gave himself for me.” And now at the end, he says, we have to do for each other what Christ did for all of us. We have to give ourselves for each other. And he calls that “the law of Christ.” “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
This means that on the cross, which we remember tonight, on that cross Christ was obeying a law. It was a law of his own making. It was for Jesus a kind of non-negotiable bottom line. He told himself “I shall carry the burdens of my people. I must.” So he did. He became obedient to his own idea, obedient even unto death. And now we are supposed to act like that. Caring for each other, bearing each other’s burdens, has to become a kind of compulsory part of our makeup. It is not an option.
Good Friday was not an option for Jesus. He had to die for us. It was a law. He wrote it himself. I think we often see the cross as something Jesus wanted to do. He chose to do so. We forget that he could not avoid it, because he himself had made it unavoidable. He had turned his death into a necessary requirement. I “must” bear their burdens.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Are we too easy on ourselves? Do we figure, okay, we are saved by grace, and now it would be really nice if we would also try to act a bit more like Jesus did and that we would try to be more loving to each other, both in the church and in the world? As if it were an option? As if there are various opinions that could be articulated about this new ethic of the Kingdom?
It is a law!! You must suffer for each other, because Christ suffered for you, because he placed himself under the same law he now applies to us. It is called “the law of Christ.” That law is not just a general vague principle, as in “the principle of the thing.” No it is a divine order!!
Recall those strange words right after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ. It says, Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man “must” suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he “must” be killed, and after three days rise again.” Remember that strange phrase in Luke 22:23, when Jesus reflects on the betrayal by Judas, “The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed…..”
My friends, we were not really saved apart from the law. We were saved because of the law. It was called the law of Christ. The law that says you have to bear each other’s burdens. Christ took that law so seriously, he was so conscientious, that we ended up with Good Friday.
It is not an easy law to obey. For us it is very hard to be thorough about this law. For Christ even it was very hard. He prayed to the Father, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. But not my will, but yours be done.” And the answer came from heaven above, “My will is your will. You, my son, were the one who came up with this whole idea. It is called the law of Christ. You were the one who passed this legislation in the heavenly court room, before you took on flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. You were the one who codified it and said this one can never be trespassed against. The cup cannot pass because you yourself said it should never pass. The law of Christ, you declared, should be the operating rule of the entire universe. And now you ask for this cup to pass?”
Ah, my friends, we have no choice but to do good. We can’t just add that on to our basic Christian convictions. It is the most basic Christian conviction of all. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” May Good Friday be good for you, in the sense of horrible, because you realize you keep getting into trouble, because you have no way out. You are obeying the law of Christ. I hope you suffer for taking on sorrows that are none of your concern. For they are your concern. As Christ was concerned for you.
The homeless, the hungry, those devastated by war, those overwhelmed with grief and guilt and depression, those on the outside looking in, those who are sick and those who are in prison, the wayward, the wacky, the difficult people, the ornery individuals, they are all your concern, because they were Christ’s concern. They are all of fundamental importance to you, because they were of fundamental importance to Jesus. “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
We can not be content with merely recommending the Christian life when the Christian life became a reality on this earth after Christ obeyed an order. That is good Friday. It is an order, to which Christ subjected himself, and to which we subject ourselves. This all has a name. It is sometimes called the Gospel. It is often called “the Good News”. It is, in short, “THE LAW OF CHRIST”. Everything can be summarized by means of this one phrase, a phrase that only occurs once in the whole Bible but captures the whole meaning of the Bible; The Law………….Of Christ…………
Please enter in silence
As you enter please take a stone to hold during the service. We will place these stones by the cross later in the service.
L: The Lord be with you.
P: And also with you.
L: The Light has come into the world.
P: But the world loved darkness rather than light.
L: Come, let us worship the Lord, who was obedient even unto death on a cross.
Sing #384, When I survey the Wondrous Cross
CONFESSION OF FAITH
The Apostles Creed
Scripture: Galatians 5:16 -- 6:10; Text = 6:2;
Sermon: THE LAW OF CHRIST
Hymn of Response: #380:1,2,7 “O Perfect Life of Love”
The Shadow of Betrayal.........................................................................Matthew 26: 20-25
Song: #386:1,2 “Ah Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?”
The Shadow of Desertion............................................................ .Matthew 26: 31-35, 56b
Song: #381, Go to Dark Gethsemane
The Shadow of the Agony of the Spirit.......................................................Luke 22: 39-44
Song: #386:3,4 “For Me, Dear Jesus, Was Your Incarnation….”
The Shadow of Accusation...........................................................................Luke 23: 6-12
Song: #380:3,4,5 “No Pain that We Can Share, But He Has Felt Its Smart”
The Shadow of Crucifixion.........................................................................Psalm 22: 1-18
Song: #383:1-3 “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”
The Shadow of Death..................................................................................John 19: 28-37
Song: #377:1,2 “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
The Shadow of Burial.................................................................................John 19: 38-42
Song: #377:3 “Were You There When They Laid Him in the Tomb?”
Symbolic Action: Laying our burden down
L: Could we all now take in our hands
the stone we have held during the service. (Pause)
Stones are what people wanted to throw at Jesus during his life;
stones are also what surrounded him in the tomb
and through them he pushed his way back into life on the third day.
Could we, as we remember our Lord’s death and see how he was crucified by the action or the apathy of people like ourselves,
remember that it was for our sins he died?
Let us remember the wrong things in our life which burden us,
threaten each other and offend God.
And after we have recognized what these things are,
let us give them to God to take away.
For Jesus is the one who said, “Give me your burdens,”
and Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
We’ll be silent for a moment and then we’ll sing,
“We will lay our burden down.”
And as we sing, we can, if we want to, take the stone
representing our burden, and lay it at the foot of the cross.
We will lay our burden down,
We will lay our burden down,
We will lay our burden down,
In the hands of the Son of God.
L: Let us listen to these words of Jesus, spoken directly to us:
Reader: I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep
and I lay down my life for them.
There is no greater love than this
that a man should lay down his life for his friends
and you are my friends, if you do what I have commanded.
Whoever believes in me, I will never turn away.
Whoever has faith in me, even though he or she dies, will live forever.
Now I am going to my Father and your Father,
and to my God and your God, but I shall come back
and take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.
The Christ candle is taken away.
The Christ candle is restored.
L: May Jesus Christ, who for our sakes became obedient unto death, even death on a cross, keep you and strengthen you.
The Christ candle is carried down the aisle and into the world.
The people leave in silence.