Eternal Savior Lutheran Church

A member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

2688 North Park Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
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March 1 – Those Who Sit On Moses’ Seat

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Matt. 23:2-5

Devotional Thought For The Day

This is Jesus’ instruction as to how to process the preaching and teaching of legalists. A legalist believes that our relationship with God is based upon how well we are doing at keeping His law, doing righteous deeds, and living a good life. Therefore, they also believe that human beings [especially themselves] are capable of performing well enough to earn God’s approval and favor. Therefore, their inner spiritual dynamics are a process of excusing away their sin [which their consciences reveal to them] and doing enough “good” works so that in their calculation God must surely be pleased with them. Part of their logic is that God must surely grade on some kind of a curve, with a passing mark lower than perfection [if they have even a shred of honesty], and so part of their calculation involves being able to identify themselves as being better than the majority of people.

If legalists are to preach and teach to others [which their pride and arrogance demands] they must be able to demonstrate an external superiority over others in “good” deeds – so “they do all their deeds to be seen by others.” This too is part of their inner calculations – making the people around them believe that they are superior to them, and whoever they can so abase becomes a part of their witness list, items on their “proof” list of their superiority. When others turn to them for help, for advice, for instruction as to how to improve, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” The effect of this is to further abase, demoralize, and discourage others – precisely because this helps them to elevate themselves in their own minds and in the minds of those whom they have deceived. The effect of this on those whom they instruct is a crushing burden that creates utter despair – and there is no mention of God’s gracious mercy, forgiveness, and salvation [which alone can lift mankind’s burdens] because such a dynamic of true gospel [good news] contradicts and destroys the legalist’s “faith” and theological construct. This is why they crucified Jesus.

The grinding difficulty in all of this, for those who have integrity, who are honest with themselves and God, who are “humble and contrite and tremble” at God’s Word [Is. 66:2], is that we recognize that the legalists are teaching and encouraging us to do good and moral things – and so we extrapolate that if they are telling us the truth in moral matters, they must also be truthful in conveying their superiority and in teaching the principle that if we were only good enough we would be able to rise closer to their exalted level of moral success and “godliness.” So Jesus clearly reveals their devious error, their lying and hypocrisy – and warns us not to be like them. Rather, He encourages us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28] In the face of the “heavy burdens” which God’s law [and the legalists] place upon us, we who are sinful human beings out of whose hearts come all manner of evil [Mark 7:21-23], Jesus provides a simple instruction: “Repent, and believe in the gospel [the good news].” [Mark 1:15] That “good news” is not some “grievous burden,” but rather the truth which lifts all burdens from us – that Jesus is “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” [John 1:29], and that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16]

So we are to believe Jesus, to believe in Him, and certainly not the delusional misbelief, false faith, and false teaching of the legalists [and they are all around us, some even within the church – Lord, have mercy]. But when it comes to the moral things they encourage – well, what is good is what is good, and those who know the goodness of God’s gracious love, mercy, and redemption in Christ Jesus, who believe in the gospel, are certainly eager to do what is good. So we do not rebel against what is good, and despise it, and do just the opposite so as to “spite” these legalists. Instead, Jesus encourages us to do what is good and right – but for the right reasons, out of faith and gratitude to God for His love, out of true love for God and others, and certainly not to “be seen by others” so that we can elevate ourselves above them. Those who come to Jesus grasp the blessed joy of God’s goodness and grace, and the truth of Jesus’ way: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” God grant each of us this blessedness of true faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God!

Prayer For The Day

Dear Lord Jesus, we continue to meet those who seek to lay heavy burdens on us, who exalt the law as the way back to God, rejecting and despising You as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Thank You for Your blessed invitation to come to You and learn from You. Keep us safe from the horrible hypocrisy of legalists, and blessed under the yoke of Your gracious love and salvation. Amen.