Tuesday, 17 December 2013

What is Our Message

In Matthew 5:18 Jesus meant literally all of the Law. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. 

That's what His statement meant to His original intended audience: none of whom were Gentiles; all of whom were Jews; all of whom were under the Old Covenant; all of whom had obligations under Moses' Law; the New Covenant hadn't yet been inaugurated.

To them at that time it wouldn't have sounded like an unreasonable attitude to demand towards the Law seeing the altar, Temple, priesthood and Levitical genealogies were all in tact.

Jesus was explaining to both disciple and teachers alike that blatant disregard towards even just a single part of the Law was a prevalent attitude that wasn't going to get a person very far in the Kingdom of Heaven once it comes. He was asserting that His doctrine was not founded on insolence towards any part of the Law.

In understanding any Bible verse, the first consideration is: what did it mean to the original intended audience; and the second consideration is: how can that meaning be applied more broadly. Often it would be a mistake not to distinguish between the two.

Jesus' statement can't apply directly and literally to anyone today, because the altar, Temple and Levitical priesthood no longer exist. It would be a mistake to say that it does.

But it would also be a mistake to say that He didn't mean it literally to His original audience just because it can't apply literally to us today.

He meant it literally, for them. But we can still apply something of it, to ourselves today. But we have to be careful how we do that. 

In doing so, we must be guided by other statements Jesus made about the same topic, statements which were intended for us more directly in our time and situation. 

And He did make such statements. For example, He told the woman of Samaria that the time was coming and now was when the true worshippers would worship neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem (as Moses' Law had demanded) but would worship in spirit and in truth.

At the last passover, He declared that the feast was transitioning into a new covenant in His blood. And He encouraged His disciples to remember Him not on a set day as the passover had been remembered, but as often as they happened to share bread together.

At the cross He said, "It is finished". And the veil of the Temple was rent from top to bottom.

All of these statements of Jesus help to qualify the way in which Jesus' statement in Matt.5:18 can be applied to ourselves today. It wasn't intended to carry over to us literally.

We can also use the rest of the Word of God as a guide. For example, we can use the Law itself to know how the Law was meant to apply to us. In the Book of Genesis we see that God gave promise to Abraham that in his seed (singular, which is Christ) all nations would be blessed (justified, saved). Abraham believed it, and his faith was credited to him for righteousness before he was even circumcised. So the Law, which came later, wasn't a condition for the promised blessing. It was a temporary and limited inclusion.

The Law stated that the Lord God would raise up a Prophet to Israel like unto Moses.

The Psalms spoke of a true rest which was still to come to Israel, despite the fact they were already commemorating rest through their sabbath rules.

The Psalms also foresaw of the Melchisedek priesthood, an order of priesthood that had no place in Moses' Law.

The Prophets also spoke of a New Covenant coming. All of these things necessitated a change of the law.

So the Old Testament itself, not only Jesus' words, spoke of a time coming when Moses' Law would no longer apply directly and literally to us as a necessity.

So also does the rest of the New Testament. Jesus commissioned the Apostles to go into all the world, not only around Judaea, preaching the Gospel, teaching all nations (including Gentiles) to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them.

The Apostles understood that this did not mean to go and teach all nations to observe Moses' Law. The Book of Acts shows incidences, and records sermons, where the Apostles as a matter of policy put no such burden on the churches. And they rejoiced for the reassurance.

The Epistles teach that we are free from Moses' Law.

So we have abundant witness that Jesus' words in Matt.5:18 don't apply directly and literally to anyone today. So how can we apply it? In many ways.

First, it shows God to be holy and inspires our worship of Him, because it authenticates Jesus and the Gospel and the New Covenant and the Scriptures, by showing that Jesus' doctrine and everything He achieved obeyed and fulfilled the Law and the Prophets completely.

Secondly, it reminds us of the importance of attitude. Whatever God's program is for us, we ought not to be insolent towards even a small part of it, but to embrace all of God's grace with a good and honest

Right and wrong are still consequential. It reminds us that if we yield to the Holy Spirit, and walk in love, we'll behave in a way which no point of the Law can condemn; or if we yield to the flesh, there'll be an opposite consequence. The Epistles don't encourage complete lawlessness, just not under Moses' Law as the complete, literal system that it was.

The Law can be consulted to teach ethical principles, spiritual realities. Those are some of the ways we can apply it.

But examples of mistaken ways of applying Matt.5:18 would include:

Thinking that Jesus didn't mean it literally, to His first audience;

Thinking that it applies literally to anyone today;

Thinking that modern Jews must still try to keep parts of the Law in a rehashed way;

Thinking that Gentiles must begin keeping parts of the Law in some rehashed way.

Each of the above is impossible - an oxymoron - and involves giving a meaning and scope to Jesus' statement that He didn't intend, as the immediate context, the wider context, and the rest of the Word of God shows, as already shown above.

The message which Jesus intended for His Apostles to carry, the message Jesus intended for the churches today whether Jew or Gentile, the message which is able to make our heart strong, the message which is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among those that are sanctified, the message that saved us, the message which we are taking to all nations, is the message of the grace of God, the message of the cross.

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