Laying Down the Law Part 1
The Law: For a People, For a Time
This morning, we begin a brand new message series entitled “Laying Down the Law.”
One of the goals of this series is to walk away with a better understanding of the DNA of the Bible, how it is made up, how it is put together, and more specifically, what role the Law has in the Bible and ultimately in our lives.
I think this is important because if we are going to be outward focused in 2015, then we are going to be making an effort to reach people who probably know very little about the Bible. Of course, they will have their own opinions about the Bible, what they observe from the outside, what they may remember vaguely from Sunday School as a child, what they hear from televangelists as they flip the channels, what they may hear if they happen to land on a Christian radio station. The assumption for most people is that when you have a religion that has a book associated with that religion you follow it. Islam has the Koran, and Muslims are to follow the Koran. Christians have the Bible and Christians are supposed to follow the Bible.
Back when I was doing youth ministry, I was invited to be a small group leader at a Discipleship Now at a large church in Austin. Dnow is a weekend retreat for the youth group where speakers are invited and after the large groups with worship and a message, the small group leaders drive the group back to the house of the host family and facilitate discussions. One of the young men in my group was particularly intelligent and ornery. He asked me, “As Christians are we supposed to follow the Bible?” My answer was yes. He followed up by flipping open to Leviticus and asking if we were supposed to make animal sacrifices and my answer was “no.” He asked, “why not? It says right here in the Bible – the one that you said we are supposed to follow.”
The command he pointed to is found in the Law. His question was a good one and it represents a series or group of questions that pertain to our topic at hand. How does the Law relate to the Bible as a whole? How does the Law relate to Christians? Are we to follow or obey the Law? If not why not? Doesn’t that mean we are being selective – picking and choosing what we want to obey? How, then do we choose which parts of the Bible to obey and not obey?
If Christians are supposed to follow the Bible does that mean that as Christians we can flip open the Bible to just any page, put our finger on a verse and say, we need to be doing this? That gets a little tricky as most of you know. A large portion of the Bible is narrative. That means it is telling history. How do you “follow” a narrative? The OT is over ¾ of the Bible. The first five books of the Bible make up what is known as The Torah or the Law. The bulk of the commandments in the Bible are found there in the Law. It is said that there are 613 commandments in the Law. So when somebody says we as Christians need to follow the Bible does that mean that we are to obey the 613 commandments found in the Law?
In short, my answer to that would be, “no.”
But, one might reply, the Law is where we find the Ten Commandments. That’s where we find the commands to not murder, or steal, or commit adultery, or bear false witness. Aren’t those good commands that should be obeyed? If we aren’t to follow the Law, does that mean that we are abandoning those commands? Does that mean murder and theft are okay?
You can see why this is a tricky topic and an important one. Those who do not go to church usually have a reason. Some of them we can do nothing about. Sometimes it is a heart issue that only God can resolve. But in some cases they have good reasons; they have legitimate questions. I think that by having honest answers to those questions, we have a better chance of reaching them. Sometimes smart people have read parts of the Bible and wondered why Christians say we follow the Bible but don’t follow all of it.
I’m not saying that after this message series we will all be able to give satisfactory answers to all of the intellectuals that challenge Christianity. My hope, however, is that we will have informed answers so that we can have intelligent conversations with people – conversations that explain why it appears that we pick and choose certain parts of the Bible to follow to the exclusion of others, conversations that show that Christianity is not a foolish religion – but a reasonable one, conversations in which we share the real gospel, the real good news of freedom that sets people free from bondage, the real good news of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ not a false gospel of here is a list of 613 new rules that you must follow in order to be in covenant relationship with God.
For this morning’s message, I want us to walk away with the understanding that The Law was for a particular people, for a definite time. It was a covenant made with ethnic Israel; it had a beginning; it had an end. It began with Moses and ended with Christ. Before we dive in there are 2 terms that I want to clearly define as we will be using them regularly one is covenant, the other is The Law.
Covenant. The dictionary defines covenant as a solemn and binding agreement. It’s kind of like a contract, but perhaps better defined as a promise. God made several covenants with his people in the course of history. The first covenant we see in Scripture is a covenant that God made with Noah that He would never flood the earth again; the sign of that covenant was the rainbow. God then made a covenant with Abraham, promising that Abram would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would inherit the Promised Land; circumcision was the sign of that covenant. Then God made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob aka the nation of Israel. This covenant was known as the Mosaic Covenant or the Law of Moses. So a covenant is a solemn and binding agreement, kind of like a contract, but perhaps better defined as a promise. Throughout history, God has made several covenants. Understanding the concept of covenants will be a great foundation for us in the next few weeks.
The Law. The second term I want to define is “The Law.” The term law is found all throughout Scripture and is used in various ways, but the primary use is in reference to the Mosaic Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant is essentially the Law of Moses or The Law. In a nutshell the Law is the Mosaic Covenant which lays out the commandments that God gave through Moses for His chosen people, Israel, to follow. The Law is laid out in Scripture beginning in Exodus 20 and concludes at the end of Deuteronomy.
Since we don’t have time to read all of that this morning, the best place we can go to get a snapshot of the big picture of the Law of Moses or the Old Covenant without reading Exodus through Deuteronomy is Deut 28, so let’s open our Bibles to Deut 28. As you find your place, put your finger there and then give me your eyes. I want to point out a few things. When studying Scripture we always want to consider audience relevance and historical particularity. In other words I want to draw your attention to the: who, what, when, where, and why of our text. Who is the original audience? Listen as I read to you from the first verse of Deuteronomy 1:1-4 1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the LORD had commanded him concerning them.
Who (is the audience?)= Israel
What=the words of Moses
When=in the fortieth year on the first day of the eleventh month (thousands of years ago)
Where=in the desert east of the Jordan
Why=immediate why is found in context: to recap Israel’s recent history, repetition and expansion of the laws laid out in previous books. The ultimate why is found in the NT and we’ll cover that later
So the audience is “all Israel.” The audience doesn’t change from chapter 1 to chapter 28. In fact, it is reiterated several times
4:1 Hear now, O Israel…
5:1 Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel…
9:1 Hear, O Israel…
10:12 And now, O Israel…
27:9 Then Moses and the priests, who are Levites, said to all Israel, “Be silent, O Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the LORD your God.”
The audience is ethnic Israel, the descendants of Jacob. That is crucial to understand prior to jumping into Deut 28, lest you get it twisted.
Deuteronomy 28: 1 If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God: 3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. 6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. 7 The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. 8 The LORD will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The LORD your God will bless you in the land he is giving you.
You could continue reading through v 14 and see simply more and more material and physical (here and now) sort of blessings that were contingent upon the obedience of the Israelites. Now let’s pick back up in v15 and see the contrast, the curses that the Israelites would receive for disobedience to the Law.
15 However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: 16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. 20 The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. 21 The LORD will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22 The LORD will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23 The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24 The LORD will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
25 The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. 26 Your carcasses will be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 27 The LORD will afflict you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors, festering sores and the itch, from which you cannot be cured. 28 The LORD will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind. 29 At midday you will grope about like a blind man in the dark. You will be unsuccessful in everything you do; day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you.
You could continue reading about more and more and more terrible things that would come upon them as a result of disobedience, which seems to far outweigh the blessings for obedience.
The Law, or the Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant that God made with a particular people- ethnic Israel, the biological descendants of Jacob, son of Isaac. The Law of Moses was a covenant that God made with ethnic Israel thousands of years ago, not Americans in 2015.
The Mosaic Covenant was not made with you and me because you and I are not ethnic Jews.
Let me illustrate this. On March 16th, 2002, I made a covenant with Breann Blakely. I promised to take Breann to be my lawfully wedded wife. I promised to love and to cherish Breann in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity, to nourish and cherish her, to be the spiritual leader of our home. I promised to be to her in all things a true and faithful husband, forsaking all others, keeping myself only unto her as long as we both should live.
I made that covenant with Breann. I made that solemn and binding agreement with Breann; I made those promises to Breann. Josh Miller didn’t make those promises to Breann. Josh Miller wasn’t a part of the Covenant made on March 16th 2002. Josh Miller cannot be expected to love and cherish Breann in sickness and in health; Josh Miller cannot be expected to be the spiritual leader of her or her children. Josh wasn’t a part of that covenant. I was. I’m expected to love and cherish Breann; I’m expected to be the spiritual leader of her and our children. I was a part of that covenant. Josh Miller wasn’t. Adam wasn’t. You weren’t.
In the same way, you and I weren’t a part of the Mosaic Covenant that God made with ethnic Israel. Just as Josh can’t be expected to follow the stipulations of the marriage covenant made between Breann and me, we can’t be expected to follow the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant made between God and Israel.
Even if we were a room full of ethnic Jews, we wouldn’t be part of the Mosaic Covenant. Why? First (and this is controversial), but who today could truly be considered a full blooded, Israelite? The bloodline has been for lack of a better term “watered down” over the course of time that it is not likely that such a thing exists. At one point they kept genealogical records or family trees to show who descended from whom, all the way back to Abraham, but those records were burned in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.
Additionally even IF there was such a thing as a pure blooded Israelite today though the Law was for those particular people, it was also for a definite time. Though it was a covenant made with ethnic Israel; it had a beginning; it had an end. It began with Moses and ended with Christ.
So whether someone is an ethnic Israelite or not makes no difference, you and I are not under the Mosaic Covenant, you are not under the Law because it ended with Christ.
For example, that marriage covenant between Breann and I that I mentioned earlier also had a beginning and it has an end. I promised to do all of those things till death do us part. If Breann should die (God forbid) I would no longer be held to the covenant stipulations. At the point that she dies, the covenant ends. If she’s dead, I can’t exactly love and cherish Breann. She is no longer there to love and cherish. When she dies the covenant is over. She isn’t bound by the covenant/law and neither am I.
Rom 7:1-6 Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? 2 For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. 3 So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.
4 So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
The Law was made with a particular people: Israel. But at the end of the age, Christ died and those who were baptized into Christ and identified with Him, those who were in Christ, died with him, participating in his death, burial, and resurrection. Thus, since they died with Christ, they are no longer bound by the Law because it only applied to them prior to Christ.
So even if you were an Israelite, you wouldn’t be under the Law as that covenant has ended. Look what Paul the apostle says in 1 Cor 9:20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. Paul, the Jew of Jews, is not under the law because he died with Christ.
Gal 2:19-2119 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Paul, the Jew of Jews, is not under the law because he died with Christ – he died to the Law so was no longer bound by the law and points out that righteousness could not be gained through the law.
Ephesians 2:11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. Jesus abolished the Law with its commandments and regulations. To abolish something means to end it. The Law was for a people and for a time. The Law began with Moses and ended with Christ.
Flip over to Colossians 2: 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. The written code is the Law.
Col 2:14 Christ cancelled the written code. He cancelled the Law. When you download something, there is a button that says cancel. If you press that button you end the download. It ceases. It is over. It is no more. It is the same with The Law. The Law or the written code has been cancelled. It has ceased. It is over. It is no more. The Law began with Moses and ended with Christ.
SO WHAT? So shall we rip out our OT? NO! But we should take this understanding with us into our reading as we read OT Scripture (better hermeneutics)
1. If you read the Law – know that it was for them, not you THEY couldn’t:
a. Eat pork but you are not under Law
b. Work on the Sabbath but you are not under Law
c. Tattoo themselves but you are not under Law
d. Wear clothing woven of 2 different materials but you are not under Law
e. Cut the hair at the sides of their heads but you are not under Law
f. Trim their beards but you are not under Law
2. If you read history (Joshua – Esther)
a. know that they were under the MC
b. 2Chronicles 7:14
c. Needs context and v11-13 11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, 12 the LORD appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. 13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
d. Why no rain? (MC), Why plague? (MC), What land? (Israel) Where is the land of God’s people today? Everywhere! We can’t take this out of context & make it apply to America
While this may not sit well with some, I can assure you that this really is good news. Acts 13: 38-39 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. We will discuss this concept in depth in the next few weeks, but let me just introduce the idea now. The law could not and would not justify anyone; it only brought condemnation. But through faith in Jesus (not observance of the Law) we have been justified and forgiven. Trust in Jesus.
Rom 8:1-3 there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. I encourage you to put your trust in Jesus, who was born of a woman, born under Law, who did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He followed the Law in Letter & Spirit. As a perfect being Jesus was qualified to be the sacrifice that the Law foreshadowed. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. If you have not done so, put your faith in Jesus! Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.