Jesus Lives Your Life
1. The Teaching
Why did Jesus live here for thirty-three years, perfectly obeying every detail of God’s Law? This is a question answered by the teaching that in his perfect life of love under the Law, Jesus was living as our substitute before he died as our substitute.
In his letter to the Christians who lived in Galatia, the Apostle Paul teaches us that Jesus lived his life under the law from the very beginning: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus was born under law. He lived his life with it ruling over his head, as though he was obligated to keep it. But Jesus did not need to do this for himself.
Once, when his enemies, the Pharisees, criticized him for allowing his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath, Jesus defended his permission as fulfillment of the law of love. Then he told them, “I tell you that one greater than the temple is here....For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:6,8). As the Son of God, Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath.” He was not obligated to the Sabbath for himself. He kept it for another reason.
If not for himself, then why? Why did he sweat through more than 30 years in this world doing everything God’s law demanded? Paul simply says “to redeem those under the law” in Galatians. But how does his life of obedience serve that purpose?
That is explained in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Jesus didn’t fulfill the law perfectly because he needed it. He kept the law perfectly because we needed it. It makes us righteous. His righteous and holy life of keeping the law is necessary because it provides the righteousness that we need to stand before God as saints who have kept his law. “Christ Jesus...has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
These verses place before us the concept of substitution. Jesus’ life of obedience to the law was one which he lived vicariously, for us, in our place. This substitutionary life is very practical and necessary when we consider the true demands of God’s law. God’s law is not satisfied if we do nothing. It not only commands that we stay out of trouble. It demands that we actively love God and love our neighbor. It demands something, not nothing. Keeping the Law is an active thing. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). Only when such active obedience has been supplied will we “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Such active obedience is exactly what Jesus’ perfect life supplies for us.
Lutheran pastor and professor Franz Pieper illustrates this for us nicely when he says, “The fact that the thief pays the legal penalty for his crime does not restore to him the name of a law-abiding citizen or of one who has never stolen. Much less is the suffering of the penalty of the law a fulfillment of the Law in the sight of God.”
So, this teaching of Jesus’ perfect obedience to God’s law offers us peace in two ways. It grants us relief from all our obligations to the law. Since Christ has perfectly obeyed everything for us, we are under no compulsion, no obligation to fulfill it ourselves in order for God to accept us. We live in the real freedom Christ promised: freedom from condemnation, and freedom to serve purely out of love.
At the same time we have peace in realizing how dearly God must love us to live in our sinful world, humble himself beneath the Law (which had no rightful jurisdiction over him), and expend such effort in keeping it for us. Sinners like you and me are all the reward he gets for such loving condescension. What joy and peace in knowing that God has so made us the apple of his eye and the treasure of his heart.
2. The Life
The life of Christ which substitutes for the righteousness of the believer is not an abstract concept. It is a historical life lived in human history. The substitutionary and redemptive character of these events in Jesus’ life makes the first four books of the New Testament worthy of the title “Gospel,” “Good News,” from beginning to end. They don’t first become good news when the writers begin to describe the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nearly everything Jesus did is good news intended to quiet our consciences, comfort our hearts, and strengthen our faith.
Consider how the events from Jesus’ life provide fulfillment for each of the ten commandments. The principle behind the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” is God’s will that all glory be directed to him. Jesus was upholding just this principle for us when he resisted Satan’s offer to give him all the kingdoms of this world in exchange for Christ’s worship. “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only,” Jesus replied (Luke 4:8).
In all things Jesus put God first in his life, even when it was unpleasant for him personally. When faced with the horror of suffering God’s wrath at the sins of the world, Jesus still prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, “...yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Even when he was feeling the full force of the Father’s fury at sin, even when the Father had withdrawn his love and favor, Jesus still trusted in God above all things to the very end. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” he cried out from the depths of his worst agony (Mark 15:34). Jesus still called him my God, even when he was suffering hell.
The second commandment teaches us respect for God’s name. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” It was Jesus who taught his disciples and his whole church on earth to pray, “Hallowed be your name.” Jesus brought honor to God’s name by performing his miracles in the Father’s name (John 10:25), and by making the Father known to the world (John 17:25-26).
Throughout Jesus’ journeys, we find that “on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). He respected and listened to the word of God, as the third commandment commands. He did so even though he knew God’s word perfectly. That respect for God’s word and the third commandment was something he taught others as well. When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, Martha complained that she was doing all the work while Mary sat and listened to Jesus. He gently rebuked Martha, “...only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Jesus gave perfect obedience to his parents throughout his childhood (Luke 2:51), and so he kept the fourth commandment. Jesus also kept the commandment in his relationships with other human authorities. He willingly paid taxes and taught others to do so in his famous words “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). When he was arrested he allowed himself to be led away peacefully (Luke 22:49-53). As his earthly life was drawing to a close and he hung upon the cross, he was a dutiful son, and saw to it that his mother would be provided for. He gave his disciple John responsibility to take care of his mother: “Dear woman, here is your son,” and “Here is your mother” (John 19:26-27).
Jesus’ many, many healings demonstrate his concern for life and for the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Feeding four thousand and five thousand of his neighbors was another way he showed respect for life and health.
Our Savior was a single man who led a perfectly celibate life. He taught that even lust is committing adultery. Yet he avoided even this sin, though temptation must surely have surrounded him on those occasions when he shared his message with the prostitutes (Matthew 9:9 ff, Luke 15; compare with Hebrews 4:15). He never married, but he upheld the sixth commandment by restoring to the people of his time a sense of the sanctity and commitment of marriage through his teaching (Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:3-12).
In the seventh commandment God teaches us to have a proper regard for wealth and possessions when he demands, “You shall not steal.” Jesus put this into practice by utterly trusting the Father to take care of his needs for shelter or food. He practiced what he preached when he said, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13), or “...do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25). He was absolutely generous with the few possessions he did have.
Jesus was the only human being who ever lived who could see a person’s heart. Everything he said about his neighbor was accurate. He was also careful to protect his neighbor’s reputation as God commands in the eighth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness.” When Simon the Pharisee was critical of a sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, and critical of Jesus for tolerating it, Jesus reminded him that the many kind things she was doing for him were evidence of her repentance, evidence that “her many sins have been forgiven-- for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). When Jesus’ own disciples were critical of man who drove out demons in Jesus name because “he is not one of us,” Jesus defended the man, saying, “Do not stop him...No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40).
Closely related to his careful words about his neighbor were his perfectly honest words in every situation. Jesus never lied. When asked about the authority behind his actions and teachings as a trap, Jesus did not want to give his opponents an opportunity to make accusations which might push toward his arrest and death more quickly than God’s plan, though telling them his authority was from God would have been perfectly true. He did not try to lie his way out of the situation, either. He simply refused to answer under those circumstances, and he did so in a way prevented his enemies from insisting when he insisted that they first answer, “John’s baptism--was it from heaven, or from men?” (Luke 20:4). At all times, Jesus’ control of his tongue was perfect.
The ninth and tenth commandments, “You shall not covet…”, deal with God’s concern that our thoughts and desires be pure. Jesus was never merely keeping external rules. In every case Jesus upheld the principles of the law--he loved people first of all. When his task was exposing the sinful self-righteousness and idolatry of a rich young man, Mark tells us, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (10:21). He assured his disciples on Maundy Thursday evening, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). And just so we have loved all men, because Christ is our righteousness, our holiness, and our redemption.
In all these examples, Jesus is serving as “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). It is through the obedience of this one man that the many, including ourselves, have been made righteous. He certainly has fulfilled the law, just as he promised he would, and in him our righteousness far surpasses that of the Pharisees of his day (Matthew 5:17, 20). In him, we are the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
On the day on which Jesus formally began his public ministry and was anointed into his Messianic office, the Father spoke these words from heaven. “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). As the end of his earthly ministry was drawing near, and Christ revealed his glory to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, those same words were proclaimed from heaven again. Those words give testimony to the perfect life of love Jesus led. How could the heavenly Father look at his perfect Son in any other way? God’s declaration of love and satisfaction with his dear Son should not surprise us.
These same words also have application to the imperfect sons of God adopted by grace through faith. Because God himself applies the active obedience of Christ to the believer, Christ’s life and everything in it is our very own--including these very words. In Christ we are the sons whom the Father loves, with whom he is well pleased.