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  • Writer's pictureVicar Matt Doebler

Matins Devotion: October 20, 2022

In our reading from Deuteronomy we hear how the law of Moses promotes justice by curbing the anger, hatred, and violence that dwells within the hearts of men. Moses instructs the people to establish six cities that are to be used as a place of refuge for anyone who, through pure accident, causes the death of another. So let’s say that you are out chopping wood one day with your neighbor and your axe head suddenly flies off of the handle and strikes you neighbor in the head and kills him. Because the death was accidental, Moses says that you may flee to one of these cities of refuge. There you will be protected from any blood relative who may, in their hot anger, decide to seek revenge.

But then Moses adds a caveat. These cities are only meant to protect the innocent—never the guilty. So let’s say that you are angry with your neighbor for some reason, and your anger turns into rage, and eventually your rage boils over into hatred, so that one day you lie in wait for your neighbor and kill him. In such a case, Moses declares that you are guilty of the blood of your neighbor. There is no longer any place where you can flee for protection. If you try to hide out in one of these cities of refuge, the elders of the city are instructed to seize you and hand you over to your neighbor’s avenger so that he can execute justice and carry out the sentence of death that you have earned.

This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is so much greater than the law of Moses. Because under the law of Moses only the innocent were spared—there was no mercy for the guilty. And the problem with the law is that none of us is innocent. As Paul says in Galatians, “we know that no one is justified—declared to be righteous—by works of the law.” (2:16) Before the law, each of us stands naked—accused and condemned—our hatred, our anger, our violent acts against our God and our neighbor laid bare for all to see. The law cuts us off from any hope of refuge. And yet, just before we are led away by our accuser to suffer the just punishment of our crimes, here comes Jesus. He takes off his clean garments and gives them to us as a covering for our shame. He stands naked in our place—allowing himself to be covered by the guilt of our sins. He allows himself to be seized and handed over to our accuser. He allows himself to be led outside the city. He bears our guilt and suffers our just punishment so that we can go free.

The law of Moses gives no mercy—no refuge—for the guilty. So stop looking for it there. Look instead to Jesus. Jesus is the greater Moses because he offers you something better than justice. He offers you mercy. He offers you a righteousness that doesn’t come from your polluted works, but comes from his perfection. When your sins accuse you, cry out to Jesus for forgiveness. He will give it.

May all who take refuge in you O Lord rejoice; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. (Ps. 5:11)

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