Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, February 6, 2011
(Motioning with hands) Up and up and up and then—nothing.
I was with my parents and my sister on a family trip, and we were driving from Tampa to Sanibel Island, driving across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that goes across the bay, and as we got to the high point of the bridge, we looked over at the other lane and that lane just stopped. Made our stomachs drop just at the site of it, seeing this bridge just end, an open-ended bridge high up in the air above the water. No wonder why that side of the road was closed.
Up and up and up and then—nothing. We were safe in our lane, but I still had a sensation of falling, a sensation of the bottom dropping right out from under us. I remember craning my neck to see through the back window, to keep seeing where that bridge ended. There was this bridge waiting to be connected to the other side of the bay.
That’s the image I want you to have in your minds this morning, the image of a bridge that leads up and up and up and then just stops. I want you to have that image in your mind, because that’s kind of what Jesus is saying about the Law and Prophets, saying about the Old Testament. When Jesus 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,” when He says this, it’s like He’s saying, “I didn’t come to knock down the bridge; I came to finish it, to connect it to the other side of the bay.” The Old Testament leads up and up and up and then—Jesus comes to complete it.
As my professor, Dr. Gibbs, wrote about this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, “the Old Testament story…was incomplete, forward-looking, waiting for God’s decisive in-breaking and rule” (CPH, 267). It’s a story waiting to be completed, waiting to be connected to the other side, waiting for Jesus to break into history, to bring His kingdom, to make the story complete.
It’s a bridge waiting for the rest of it to be built, and Jesus is the rest of that bridge. The bridge leads up and up and up and then—there’s Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Promised One, the Savior that brings all things to completion.
Jesus will live the perfectly righteous life that His people could not. Jesus will die in our place on the cross. Jesus will rise again to conquer death. Jesus will ascend into heaven. Jesus will come again to bring us to eternal life with Him. Jesus will complete this bridge to eternal life; Jesus will complete this story.
Now, why does Jesus bring this up in the Sermon on the Mount? Why is He making this point that He didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament but to fulfill it, to bring it to completion?
Well, apparently Jesus didn’t want His disciples to get the wrong idea. Jesus was going to say some things that sounded new and different, but He wasn’t there to do away with the Law and the Prophets. He might be saying some things in a new way, but He wasn’t tearing down the first part of the bridge. He was there to complete the bridge. He came to fulfill what the Old Testament had said. He came to be the Savior that had been promised to the people. He came to finish what God had set out to do since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God had been working out a plan to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. And now Jesus is saying that He is the One who will bring this plan to completion, He is the One who will build the rest of the bridge.
And the disciples needed to hear this, needed to know that no matter what people accused Jesus of, no matter what the religious establishment said about Jesus, that the truth is that Jesus came to do exactly what the Old Testament had promised, He came to bring salvation to all people through the forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace of God. It’s up and up and up and then—Jesus. It’s the Old Testament story waiting for God to break in and bring about a completion of the story and make the way for the bridge to be complete.
And maybe that’s where we’re at, maybe we’re with the disciples sitting on the side of the mountain, maybe we’re wondering if Jesus really came to do away with the Old Testament or if He came to complete it, maybe we’re wondering what the Old Testament has to do with us or whether we can just sort of ignore that part of the Bible, but I don’t know if that’s so much our struggle.
Maybe we struggle with that question at times, but I’m wondering if this passage doesn’t more apply to another question we might have, another question that might occur to us more often.
I think the truth is that many of us may feel like life leads up and up and up and then—nothing. That this whole thing about believing in God leaves us at the end of an open-ended bridge, high up in the air above the water.
It’s not so much that we struggle to believe that Jesus came to keep the Law and the Prophets. We can see how Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament, and so that part we get, that part we see, that part of the bridge is still there.
Maybe our real struggle is believing that there’s more to the bridge, that the bridge has been completed, that Jesus came to bring us all the way to the other side of the bay, that Jesus came to bring us to life after death, that the bridge goes up and up and up and then—there’s really something there, there’s more to the bridge, there’s a connection to the other side, there’s hope beyond wherever we are on this bridge. It’s up and up and up and then—there’s Jesus, there’s a Savior, there’s hope beyond today.
So if that’s our struggle, then we’re going to hear these words of Jesus in a completely different way. We’re not as concerned about the first part of the bridge; we need His assurance that the second part of the bridge is there, that we’re gonna make it to the other side of the bay, that God’s not going to just leave us there hanging up in the air above the water, that this bridge is going to bring us to the other side, that this bridge is going to take us to eternal life, that Jesus really is the fulfillment, that He is really the One who will bring the bridge to completion.
We need this assurance, and that’s exactly what we find in Jesus. He didn’t come just to repeat what had already been said in the Old Testament; He came to fulfill all of the promises. He didn’t just come to tell us the same thing—that God loves and will save us; Jesus came to do the work of love, the work of salvation, the work necessary to save us from sin, death, and the devil. He didn’t come just to be on the first part of the bridge; Jesus came to be the second part of the bridge. Up and up and up and then—Jesus. And then—fulfillment. And then—completion. And then—the way to everlasting life.
Life is going to leave you up in the air, leave you at the edge of the bridge, leave you wondering just how you’ll go on, leave you standing there staring out from an open-ended bridge wondering how God is going to bring things to completion. Life is going up and up and up and then—nothing, it’ll seem like nothing, it’ll seem like there’s no answer for the future. Life’ll do that to you, but in Jesus, there’s hope. In Jesus, there’s a promise. In Jesus, the bridge continues.
For instance, many of us have Lori Jakolat on our minds today, a member of this congregation who at the age of 47 passed away this week after a battle with cancer, a woman who touched so many lives of people in this congregation and the people around her, a woman whom God used in many ways. Lori’s passing may make us feel like life goes up and up and up and then—nothing.
But this is exactly when the words of Jesus come into play, come to remind us of the greater truth, come to remind us that it’s up and up and up and then—Jesus. And then—completion. And then—eternity. And then—the promise of life after death. The bridge continues, the bridge stretches to the other side of the bay, the bridge makes it across whatever tragedies lie in our path, the bridge reaches across even when we can’t see it, the bridge reaches across to salvation.
The bridge reaches across and shows us that Jesus didn’t just come to repeat the past, didn’t just come to repeat the Old Testament. Jesus came to bring all things to fulfillment, bring all things to completion, bring us to life after death—a promise that now holds Lori in peace and joy and comfort, a promise that can lift us up above the troubles of this world.
We started with this image: Up and up and up and then—nothing. The image of a bridge that just stops high above the water. Do you have that image in your mind? Are you remembering that life sometimes leaves you feeling like there’s no way to go forward?
Well, if you have that image, if you know that feeling, then I’m asking you to picture the rest of the bridge coming into place, the rest of the bridge taking shape. I’m asking you to picture fulfillment, to picture what it means that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, to picture how God makes salvation complete in Jesus, to picture how God gets us beyond the “Bridge Out” sign, how God gets us beyond what troubles us, gets us beyond what causes us to feel like there’s no way forward.
Picture the bridge being complete, and then you start to get an idea of what it means to picture Jesus as your Savior. Picture the bridge being complete, and then you start to get the idea of what it means that Jesus did everything necessary to get us off this bridge and onto the dry land of eternal life. Don’t just picture yourself up at the top of the bridge staring down at the water. Picture yourself walking the rest of the way down the bridge, a bridge that’s complete, a bridge that will get you there, a bridge that will bring you to eternal life.
Up and up and up and then—Jesus. And then—fulfillment. And then—complete. And then—a complete bridge spanning the whole bay. And then—a complete way to salvation.