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The Broken Law – LD2, Q3-5


The Broken Law

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 2, Q3-5

In this lesson, we shall look at Lord’s Day 2 Q.3-5 where our instructor begins to develop his theme for the first section of the catechism, the theme of misery and wretchedness due to my sinful nature.  But first, read Matthew 22:34-40   In Lord’s Day 2, Q3. We are asked, From where do you know your sins and misery?  The answer that we must give is ‘From the Law of God.’  Where do I learn that I am a poor wretched sinner?  In The LAW.  It is appropriate that we look today at a question posed by a lawyer.  ‘Which is the great commandment in the Law?’

The context is found in a series of questions that the Pharisees had put to Jesus to try to deceive him into making an error, over which they could condemn him.  The questions were: “Should we pay taxes to the state? (Pharisees & Herodians in an unholy alliance)”   “The nature of the resurrection. (Sadducees – the theological liberals of the day, materialists)”  “The greatest of the commandments. (A scribe or lawyer)” The first two were easily disposed of, they were after all a little trivial, even ridiculous.  But this last one was more serious.  It was asked by a layer, and it even sounds sincere, only that we are told that the lawyer was ‘testing him’. 


1. The Testing Question.  

This lawyer would have been deeply immersed in the minutiae of the Law. He would have sought to elaborate on it and hedge it so that he could keep the law.  The Pharisees shortly after this categorised 613 commandments, the Misnah!  248 positive commands, telling the Jew what he must do to keep the law and 375 negative commands telling him what not to do, in case he breaks the law.  Each one designed to stop you from breaking the commandments.  But such Pharisaism was FALSE RELIGION. Here’s why…. Romans 3:20   Romans 7:7  But this question was not to help the lawyer’s deeper understanding. It was to TEST Jesus. 

2. The Perfect Answer.  Jesus’ answer helps us in understanding the Law. He gives us a precise summary of the whole law, in two simple statements, each corresponding to the tables of the law:-  

  1. Our Duty to God. Deuteronomy 6:5 and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might..  We are to LOVE GOD with:-
    1. Undivided Heart. That means that nothing is to come before our emotional desire to love and please God. 
    2. Undivided Soul. Our whole inner being should be God-focussed. How does my personality reflect Christ?  Generally, it doesn’t. 
    3. Undivided Mind. Our thoughts are only to be God exalting. It’s difficult to keep the kind under control, no matter who you are!  
  2. Our Duty to Others. Leviticus 19:18. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.  Love them. No matter who they are!  Regard them as neighbours.  Even when they are our sworn enemies.   Serve them. Even if they are totally ungrateful. 

So here’s the law’s demands.  We are to love God with undivided hearts, and to love our neighbours with the same intensity and to the same extent as we love ourselves.  How many people do you know who can do either of these?  How many CHRISTIANS do you know who can do either of these?   Our instructor puts it like this in Q4:What does God’s law require of us? A. Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: 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. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.   

3. Obeying the Law?

So was the lawyer right then?  Would we be able to love God and our neighbour perfectly and so please God?  Certainly not!  Our catechist in Q.5 asks “Can you keep all this perfectly?”   Our answer is “No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.”  Romans 3:10-12  

In fact in his natural state man HATES God, and hates his Law. He hates other men, and he even hates himself!   Even the most religious of men are consumed by hate. Think of these testers of Jesus – confronted by Christ who is the Love of God Incarnate – and who hate him with a vile destructive hatred.   Can I keep the law perfectly? No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbour.  We are imperfect and there is nothing we can do to perfection. We fall short. That’s why we need a Saviour. So who then could keep the Law?  Just One. Jesus fulfilled all God’s Law for us. Matt 5:17-18  


In Marks account we read that the lawyer agreed with what Jesus had said!  Mark 12:32  

How could Jesus tell a testing legalistic sinner that he was not far from the Kingdom?  Simple, the man knew that Jesus was right, that he was unable to keep the law perfectly, and that is, as we have learned, the very first stage in the sinner’s redemption.  To know that we are sinners, to mourn over that sin, and be convicted by it, to repent of it and turn from it and flee to Christ for forgiveness and mercy and salvation.  And that is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of one whom the Lord is calling to Himself.

© Bob McEvoy April 2021

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