In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. [Amen.]
When you saw this morning, brothers and sisters, the holy Gospel coming out in the hands of the newly ordained Dn. Daniel, lifted high in the little entrance, I hope that your hearts and your ears were opened to that movement. It’s not an act of vain repetition in the liturgy. The small entrance is a proclamation of our Savior’s public ministry, of the power of his word and teaching. So when you see the Gospel book being borne out by the deacon, you ought think, “Here comes my Savior for me. He’s coming to speak to me. He’s taking his position on the mountain, and soon I will hear his word.” This is what the Church intends by that action. It’s not because the priest and deacon’s legs are getting stiff from standing for an hour and a half, we need to walk a little bit; that’s not the idea. [Laughter]
To hear our Savior’s words, as the apostles Luke and Cleopas did on the road to Emmaus, if you heard in the Orthros gospel of the resurrection this morning, is to be changed as a person. Their hearts were burning. Not just warm: they were on fire, because Jesus was in their midst. His image was cloaked before their eyes. They didn’t recognize him yet, but when he spoke to them, when he interpreted the Scriptures to them, their hearts erupted in flame. This is not God’s intention only for Luke and Cleopas; this is God’s intention for us all: to hear his word and to have it penetrate the very recesses of our being, to go all the way to the human heart, and to cause that heart no longer to be cold or hard but to become a flame. This is our ambition. This is what we hope for. Now when you get to the epistle lesson and you hear the gospel, pay attention with that in mind, with a heart wanting to be penetrated by the word of God.
In the epistle lesson today, speaking of hearts, you had St. Paul reveal a portion of his inner life. Very unusual for an apostle to do that. He said, “My heart’s desire”—this is how the epistle started—“My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them,” that is, the Jews, his kinsmen to God in the flesh, who had not yet become Christians, “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” This is what consumed the heart of the apostle; it was the salvation of his kinsmen. He goes on, and he speaks about the state of his brethren in the flesh. He says, “For I bear witness to them, that they have a zeal for God,” like he had a zeal for God before he became a Christian. He was a great zealot. An ignoramus—yes, he was a great scholar, but the most important question of life, “Who is Jesus?” he had wrong. He was a great zealot for God, but not according to knowledge, and it took the face-to-face confrontation with our Savior from heaven on the road to Damascus for him to have his blinders removed and to become a man of wisdom and to have a zeal according to knowledge. St. Paul says that many of the Jews were in the same condition that he was in.
I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, not accepting the righteousness of God, they have invented their own righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.
This is St. Paul’s word about the condition of the Jews. At heart, what is the problem? The problem is that they cannot see Jesus Christ in the law, and therefore they have not accepted God’s solution for us and they have invented a figment of their own minds; they’ve created their own system of righteousness. This is called, brothers and sisters, legalism. Legalism, and I want to say a word to you about that most dangerous spiritual disease.
Let me tell you one thing that legalism is not. Legalism is not zeal. St. Paul commended the Jews for their zeal. He criticized them for their ignorant legalism. Legalism is creating your own set of dos and don’ts, and usually we create sets of dos and don’ts that we can happily fulfill. So the legalist system, if you are a proud person, then in your system of righteousness, that you think if you perform you will be able to be at peace with God, probably won’t include teaching about being humble. And the lustful man, in creating his own legal spectrums, his own system, probably won’t have anything in there about chastity. And the greedy man, in creating his own legalistic system, won’t have anything in there about the glory of charity, almsgiving, and voluntary poverty.
What’s the problem with legalism? The problem with legalism is that it establishes a standard of righteousness which is human, and, unfortunately for the legalist, it is not shared by God. So one might think that he’s doing really well, according to his own creation, and find himself standing before God, and God saying, “I’m unimpressed. I’m unimpressed with what you’ve created.”
St. Paul says the position of all mankind is rather to accept the truth, that the law of God, the standard of righteousness, is so beautiful, so penetrating, so deep, that no one can open their mouth before God, no one. No one who has sense about him, spiritually speaking, would ever say, “I’m in a good position with God,” based on anything that we’ve done. We don’t speak that way as Christians. We are in a good position with God because of him. This is verse four of our epistle lesson this morning: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.”
I want to say just a word about that. What does it mean that Christ is the end of the law? It means several things. The word that St. Paul wrote is telos. Telos is the word that we translate in our English Bibles “end,” and it means lots of things, actually. It does mean the terminus, for sure. And believe me, brothers and sisters, we need to hear that. Christ ended the law, and the whole Jewish way that had been inspired by God for a childish age, for an age when human development, spiritually speaking, was quite low. The Incarnation had not happened, humanity and divinity had not been joined together, flesh had not been deified, baptism had not been instituted, Jesus had not fulfilled the law in his own life, he had not offered himself as an atonement for our sins on the cross, he had not conquered death, he had not triumphed over the devils, he had not broken out of the tomb and risen from the dead.
Never read the Old Testament and say, “Oh, it’s so glorious. I wish I lived back then.” No, no, no. No, no, no. Certainly there are many glorious people—Abraham and the patriarchs, and Moses, and Samuel and the prophets—and they take our breath away. But they were dying to live in our age. The apostles said they were yearning to see Christ in the flesh. Isaiah who wrote about the cross didn’t get to see it until it took place. Never think that you want to be back there. It was a low age. Even those who were great that we admire were not living Christian lives. They had multiple wives, concubines. The standard was really quite low.
Why am I telling you this? I am telling you this because all of those things are over. Christ is the end of the law. No more temple. How much clearer could Jesus be than his prophecy that not one stone would be left upon another, and that actually being fulfilled under the Emperor Titus when the Romans came and decimated the temple? No more temple, and with it no more Aaronic priesthood. The priests were cut off. That old, shadowy priesthood which was not Christ’s but Aaron’s—is no more, and it will never be again. It is impossible. Genealogical lines don’t exist. The records are destroyed. Christ saw to that, for he is the end of the law. No more Holy Land. Sorry. No more sabbath keeping. No more dietary regulations.
Now, you may wonder, “Why is Father making such a big deal about this?” The reason is because we’re often tempted, we Christians, to forget that Christ is the end of the law. In my life, I’m constantly confronted with it, not just because there are lots of heterodox Christians who live around us who believe this, all sorts of them who think that there’s something neat about the Jewish dietary laws, lots of Christians who want to meet on Saturday instead of Sunday. One time I was getting ready for a funeral, and one of the members of the family was with me. I was trying to comfort him and take him to his father who had passed away. We walked to the coffin together, and I kissed his dad, and he went: “Ohh!” I looked at him. I said, “Is that your father?” He said, “No! He’s gone. That’s just his body. And the Scriptures forbid us to touch the dead.” I looked at him, and I said, “What Scriptures would that be? I didn’t know you were a Jew. I thought you were a Christian.” Moses’ law said you touch the dead, you’re defiled. You’re defiled.
And this poor boy forgot that Christ was the end of the law, that not only do we touch the dead, no longer are we afraid of the dead, the dead are afraid of Christ! Death is afraid of us. What do you mean we don’t touch the dead? We kiss the dead! We treat the corpses of our beloved in the light of the resurrection as Christians. We don’t quiver and shake any more at the face of death. Death quivers and shakes at the face of him! Christ is the end of the law. It’s no more, and we’re not bringing it back. It served its purpose. The purpose of the law was to bring everyone to receive Christ, to be prepared. And when Jesus came, he fulfilled it. That’s another meaning of the telos here. Christ is the end of the law; it also means he’s the consummation. He’s the fulfillment. He has lived it perfectly, and he has brought it to its new life. It died with Jesus, and it has been transformed and resurrected with him, and we’re living it. The law of Christ lives. The law of Moses is dead.
Now I want to end this reflection about Jesus being the fulfillment of all righteousness and being our hope and confidence by reminding you that this disease of the Jews, of legalism, which is not zealotry… Sometimes when we see someone really zealous, we’re tempted to tell them they’re so legalistic. What we mean is: They’re more zealous than I am, and I’m feeling a little guilty. Sometimes that’s what’s really happening. Legalism is not zealotry. This temptation of the Jews, to be legalistic, isn’t just a temptation for them. It can happen to us. It’s possible that we who have been formed and fashioned by the Gospel and by our Savior’s salvation, we can forget that he is everything for us, that he is the core of our life, that he is our hope, that he is our joy, that he is our salvation, now and forever.
And sometimes we can create our own systems within the Church. “Well, if I just go to the feast days, I try to keep the fasts, that makes me right with God.” It’s not true. It’s not true: that is legalism. We have to be converted every day. Did you hear that last Sunday? That was the most profound sentence in His Grace Bishop Joseph’s sermon. He was talking about his own background, and he’s been Orthodox since he was a boy. His family, he doesn’t know how many generations goes back, but that none of that matters with regards to salvation, none of it. What matters is that he has Jesus Christ. And he said this word: he said, “I convert. I convert to Jesus Christ every day.” It was a beautiful word.
This is the same for us; it’s the same for us. We must choose to put aside any alternative system. We must see Christ as the terminus, the goal, the fulfillment of the law of God every day. And rest in him and imitate him and love him and try to be like him every day. This is the Christian way of life. This is God’s intention. This is how human beings are meant to live. St. Paul says if you do that, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. May that be our destiny. Amen.