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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Law or Liberty - which is it?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the Old Testament: 1) It is out of date and no longer applies because we have the New Testament now; and 2) It has "some" meaning, but it really isn't all that relevant to us today. Both of these beliefs are a little bit askew of what Jesus taught, making them inaccurate.  There used to be an old adage about tossing the baby out with the bath water - if we toss out the Old Testament just because Jesus came on the scene, we are kind of doing just that.  In fact, Jesus reminded the people he taught of the importance of "keeping the Law", but he changed the focus of "how" it was to be kept.  Prior to his teaching, the Law was a set of rules to be kept by repeated self-effort.  If we look at what Jesus says about "keeping the Law", we will find that he simply says we are to obey it, teaching others to obey it, as well.  You may argue Jesus came to "fulfill" the Law, therefore making the Law no longer necessary.  I don't think we are seeing what Jesus was saying here, so maybe we need to consider the "audience" of the teaching.  This is part of the Sermon on the Mount, a message to "curious" (those who hadn't quite figured out who this Jesus was), the "well-taught" (Pharisees and Priests who were actually the teachers of the land), and the "hungry" (those who were following Jesus not so much as "look-loos", but as those who wanted to have what he offered).  Most of the time, people compared their lives to that of the Pharisees and Saducees - the teachers and priests of the land.  They thought of them as the "spiritual elite" - those who "got it right" when it came to "serving God".  Jesus is about to set their perception of what they "believed" on end - something he did with quite a bit of skill and frequency!

“Don’t think that I have come to destroy the Law of Moses or the teaching of the prophets. I have come not to destroy their teachings but to give full meaning to them. I assure you that nothing will disappear from the law until heaven and earth are gone. The law will not lose even the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter until it has all been done. “A person should obey every command in the law, even one that does not seem important. Whoever refuses to obey any command and teaches others not to obey it will be the least important in God’s kingdom. But whoever obeys the law and teaches others to obey it will be great in God’s kingdom. I tell you that you must do better than the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. If you are not more pleasing to God than they are, you will never enter God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:17-20 ERV)

As Jesus opens the discussion with the crowd, he sets them straight on a couple of matters which seem to have been the discussion in the crowds:

- The Law isn't made "invalid" by his presence, but it fulfilled (given full meaning and having all requirements met).  When we begin to see Jesus as giving the full meaning to our lives, meeting all the requirements which bring us into a place of renewed/restored relationship with God, we understand the meaning of the Law in its entirety as God wanted us to come to know it.  We don't throw it out, but see the requirements set forth in the Law of Moses as something which points us toward living within "safety boundaries" and not something we can discard as irrelevant.

- Those in the crowd who were relying upon their own ability to fulfill the Law were not even close to doing so, because self-effort will never make us "pleasing" to God.  The means of finding pleasure in God's eyes is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he is the means by which we enter into this position of "grace" in God's eyes.  As much as the religious leaders went out of their way to keep the rules, their rule-keeping didn't "buy their redemption" for redemption still required the shedding of blood (something no religious leader ever did as part of their "rule-keeping").

Jesus is simply dealing with the fact of religious "focus" rather than relationship focus.  We don't pick and choose what we will believe - we either believe the Word of God in the entirety of its contents, or we don't.  There is no middle ground.  We don't fulfill the law in self-effort, but receive the effort of Jesus on our behalf to actually make us "able" to fulfill the meaning or intent of the Law. In essence, Jesus was saying we don't have a clue what the Law really meant until we see it through the eyes of grace!  Grace sets everything into perspective - making all the rule-keeping take on different meaning or significance.  In essence, when I see the "rule" to have no other God but the One True God through the eyes of grace, I begin to understand God was simply protecting me from the things in my life which would distract me.  Distractions mess with focus and focus determines how well we will fulfill our purpose.

The "mixed" crowd on the Mount that day all came to an understanding of the Law from a different perspective.  Some had no clue what the contents of the Law were, but they saw the religious in the crowd as kind of rigid, rule-bound, and pretty "limited" in their focus.  Others had an idea of just what the Law required, but kind of felt a little down on themselves because try as they might, they just didn't measure up to all the Law required.  In other words, they had tried and failed enough they were pretty discouraged by their "lack of progress" toward being "religious".  Then there were the religious zealots in the group who just didn't have much good to say about the other two-thirds of the group! They were so caught up in the rules, they missed the relationship.  All in all, Jesus just says we need both the rules and the relationship.  The relationship is primary - the rules just keep us safe WITHIN the relationship!

We may not keep the rules all of the time, but we do know and trust them as guiding principles we cannot discard.  We may call upon grace more than we think is humanly possible to understand or comprehend, but we can rest assured it is readily given whenever we do call upon it.  We may not be the religious zealots in the crowd, but then, we aren't called to be!  We are called to be the "relationship zealots" who focus on the one who fulfilled (completed all the requirements) the Law and now guides us into the wise principles and practices of the Law as a means of keeping us safe in our daily walk.  So, don't shun the Old for the New - allow the Old to give meaning and provide the boundaries we might just miss if we only focus on "liberty" and throw out the "law".  We don't need to offer the sacrifices of grain, animals, and the like anymore, but we can understand and appreciate the principles of sacrifice, knowing how much God values a heart who serves without restraint. Just sayin!