#2: Laying Down the Law

By January 26, 2015 Laying Down the Law No Comments

Laying Down the Law Part 2

Transition from Old to New

In 1985 I got my first cassette tape.  It was Aerosmith greatest hits.  On my cassette player I pressed rewind and then play, then rewind and then play over and over till I found the beginning of my favorite song, “walk this way.”  Even though I had to rewind the tape over and over in order to listen to a song again or to push fast forward in order to skip one I didn’t like as much, it didn’t really bother me.  I just accepted that as normal for the present age.  It was the same thing with VHS tapes, which were contemporaries of the audio cassettes.  When you got done watching them, it was easy just to push eject, but the next time you wanted to watch it you would have to wait for it to rewind.  That was just part of life.  You have to rewind a tape if you want it to start from the beginning.  Furthermore, the longer you had a cassette tape or a VHS, the more you wore it out, it’s like the tempo slowed down significantly as the tape got stretched out over time.  Then there was tracking. You know when there were lines across the screen and you had to fix the tracking.  And to make matters worse every now and then an audio or video cassette tape wouldn’t act right.  You could tell that something was wrong so you pushed eject and sure enough, a mound of crinkled up, twisted, folded brown tape popped out.  Oh, cassette tapes.

Well, a day came when a new and better form of audio and video technology was born, one that made the former old and obsolete.  Remember when CD’s and DVD’s came out?  They were so much better!  CD’s were so much better than cassette tapes.  You didn’t have to rewind them; they always start at the beginning.  You could skip songs in an instant with the push of a button.  No more waiting for fast forward.  No more stretched out or mounds of crinkled tape, but rather a crisp clean polished digital sound.  Tapes became old and obsolete.  It was the same with DVD’s.  You didn’t have to rewind them; they always start at the beginning.  No more tracking; no more bunched up tape.  Pop in a disc and voila: crisp clean polished image and sound.  I remember when people started to leave the old, obsolete way of the VCR and buy in to the way of the DVD player.  Blockbuster changed their entire inventory and they were practically giving away their VHS cassettes.  Though the new way was better, there were some people who resisted the change; they didn’t want to make the change over to digital sound and video.  They were comfortable with tapes.  They kept their VHS and cassette tapes.  Eventually, stores didn’t carry that stuff anymore.  There was really no way to carry on that style of entertainment as comfortable as they were with it.  Things have moved on, the world around them has moved into a new era.  Society, by and large has gone from analog to digital.  I doubt if any car manufacturer puts a tape deck in a newly manufactured car these days.  VHS and cassette tapes are obsolete.  And what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Now, pretend it’s 1985 and you’re watching VHS movies and listening to audio cassette tapes.  Imagine if I come along and tell you with authority that a day is coming when we will have a new way of listening to music and watching movies; it won’t be like the way you do now with these cassette tapes.  This is the way you will be entertained after that time: you will listen to CD’s and view DVD’s.  No longer will a man listen to cassette tapes, or a man view VHS movies, saying, ‘if only this tape was rewound,’ because CD’s and DVD’s will all be rewound from the least of them to the greatest.  For they will need their tracking buttons no more.

What would your response to that be?  You would have been like, “Whoooah.”  Sounds cool.  It would have sounded far-fetched, intriguing, different from what you were used to.  That’s what it was probably like for the Israelites when God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah.  

If you have your Bibles go ahead and turn to the book of Jeremiah 31.  If you don’t have a bible with you, we will have this on the screen.

What I’d like to do this morning is start to kind of fill in some details.  Last week I gave you two great markers.  The basic message from last week was that the Law was for a specific people, for a definite time.  It was for the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and it began with Moses and ended with Christ.  The Law, also known as the Law of Moses was part of the Mosaic Covenant, which we also refer to as the Old Covenant.  That Old Covenant was basically Israel, here is the Law, the 613 commands that you are to follow and if you follow them, then you can stay in the Promised Land, God will grant you material blessings, prosperity, and victory in war.  If you disobey the Law, God will curse you, take you out of the land and you will be defeated by your enemies.

One important thing to note here is that the Law of Moses is inextricably linked to the Mosaic Covenant.  The Law and the Covenant go hand in hand.  The Law was part of the Covenant that Moses mediated.  So Israel agreed to this covenant and lived under it for hundreds of years.  During that time God sent prophets, who spoke on behalf of God to His people, the Israelites.  Prophets usually weren’t popular people.  The primary purpose of the prophets was to reinforce to the Israelites the Law of Moses.  (Jer 11) They were usually the bearers of bad news.  This is what the LORD says, remember the Covenant.  You have broken the Law.  Return to the Law.  Stop bringing lame sacrifices.  Stop oppressing the poor and neglecting the alien and the widow and the fatherless.  That was the primary purpose of the prophets.  Additionally, the prophets predicted future events, often times coming judgment on nations, sometimes Israel was the recipient of such judgment and usually through the form of a foreign army.  

After living under the Law for nearly a millennium, God sent the prophet Jeremiah, who did all of the above.  Jeremiah, however, explicitly introduces to Israel the idea that one day God would make with them a New Covenant.

So Jeremiah, speaking to ethnic Israelites who were under the Mosaic Covenant, says beginning in Jer 31:31

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.   33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  

We defined covenant as a solemn and binding agreement, kind of like a contract, but perhaps better defined as a promise.  The audience is under the Mosaic Covenant.  The time is coming, God says, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel & Judah. 

 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.

This New Covenant will not be like The Mosaic Covenant, which included the Law.  

33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Under their current covenant the Law is written on tablets of stone that they read and then do their best to observe and follow.  God says in the new covenant I am going to put my law in their hearts and on their minds.  They are not going to be a disobedient and obstinate people (as Rom 10 says); they will not be a stiff-necked and rebellious people (as Scripture says ten times).  They will be a regenerate people, a people who love and live the word, a people characterized by truth and love.  They will have renewed minds and hearts.  They will truly know me from the least of them to the greatest.  I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.  There will be reconciliation between a holy God and sinful man as there will be forgiveness of sins.

Israel at the time is under the Mosaic Covenant and they are told that a day is coming when God will make a new covenant with His people.  What exactly is this new covenant and when is it made?  I mentioned last week that the Law was for a particular people (Israel), that it was for a definite time: it began with Moses and ended with Christ.  It was with Christ that the Old Covenant ended and the New Covenant began.  Luke 22 describes the last supper.  Jesus made new application to the elements of the Passover meal.  Verse 20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  The covenant you are currently under, The Mosaic Covenant, which included the Law of Moses is about to be superseded by a new covenant at the shedding of my blood.  The new covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah has come.  The New Covenant is realized in Christ.  The New Covenant finds its fulfillment in Christ.

TIME OF TRANSITION

Flip over to Hebrews 8.  The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews, to Israelites, with the goal of showing them that Jesus was pre-eminent and superior to Moses and that the New Covenant was pre-eminent and superior to the Old Covenant.  The gospel is pre-eminent and superior to the Law.  It contains much talk of the Old Covenant simply serving as a types and shadows of the better things to come and the reality being found in Christ.  

With that as our context, let’s look at Hebrews 81The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.   3Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 

6But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

The ministry of Christ is superior to the former ministry.  The covenant of which Christ is mediator is superior to the covenant of which the former priesthood was mediator.  Christ is a heavenly high priest and is a better high priest than the earthly high priests called for in the Old Covenant.  Christ is superior to the old priesthood.  The Gospel is superior to the Law.  It is founded on better promises.  In the first century, with the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Law is rendered obsolete and inferior to the Gospel.

 7For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

If the Mosaic Covenant changed hearts and produced a God-loving people, no place would have been sought for another.  If the Law justified people before God, there would have been no need for a new covenant.  But the Law binds men and enslaves them; the Law cursed men; the Law of Moses apart from rebirth from the Spirit produces rebellion.  If there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another, but the people produced by that covenant were a stiff-necked and rebellious people; they were disobedient and obstinate.

He said if there was nothing wrong with the Mosaic Covenant there would have been no reason for a new covenant.  If the end goal and the fulfillment of the promises was accomplished by the Law, the Gospel of Jesus Christ would be pointless.  But they were not accomplished by the Law. 

But hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying God failed.  It’s not that God tried to produce a people that would love Him, gave it a shot with Israel and the law but had to say, Aww, shucks…I guess I had better try something else.  Son?  Jesus was not plan B.  The church was not plan B.  Jesus Christ was always THE PLAN. God used the law as a type and shadow of the better things that were to come that are found in Christ and His redeeming a people for Himself by the shedding of His blood.

God did not fail.  8But God found fault with the people (not Himself.  The Law did not produce a God-loving people) and said: The author of Hebrews quotes that passage we read earlier from Jeremiah 31.  
“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 
9It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. 10This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” 

13By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.  The Law is obsolete and inferior to the Gospel.

By calling this Covenant “new” he has made the first one obsolete and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.  Now, all analogies break down, so don’t be distracted by that…just understand that I am using this as an illustration: A day came when VHS and audio cassette tapes were made obsolete by a new and better way – CD’s and DVD’s.  So also a day came when the Law of Moses, the old covenant was made obsolete by a new and better way, a new and better covenant with better promises.

There was a period of time in which what was obsolete and aging was passing away and would soon disappear.  There was a time of transition while CDs and DVDs were slowly replacing VHS.  I was working part time at Blockbuster video when this transition was happening.  There was a time when there was a DVD section and a VHS section.  Eventually they sold all of the VHS and now there are no VHS in the entire store.  At one point it would have been very applicable to say, “What was obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”  A year came when that which was associated to the old form of audio and video entertainment has disappeared.  I don’t even think you can buy a new car that has a cassette deck.  I don’t think they manufacture cars with tape decks anymore.  They are obsolete at this point and have disappeared.

What does the author mean in Hebrews?  The author of Hebrews says By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.  

The first century was a time of transition from the Old Covenant to the New.  It wasn’t an overnight switch.  It was a transition that occurred over a forty year period from about AD 30 to AD 70.  It began with Christ’s ministry, death, burial and resurrection and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The law began with Moses and ended with Christ.  But the cross was not the clear line of demarcation between the Old and New Covenants. Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross, but that didn’t mean that the things prescribed by the Law ceased to exist before their very eyes.  Remember what we just read in Hebrews.  Hebrews was written in the first century, just prior to AD 70. The sacrificial system prescribed by the law was still being carried out by a priesthood prescribed by the law.  It was an obsolete priesthood performing obsolete and pointless sacrifices.  And what was obsolete and aging was soon to disappear.  History tells us that in 70 AD, that obsolete Temple was destroyed and all of the obsolete elements of the Old Covenant order disappeared.  Without a temple in which to perform the sacrifices prescribed by the law, you can’t perform the required sacrifices.  The Law is obsolete and inferior to the Gospel.  The Law is obsolete.  The remnants of that obsolete covenant have long since disappeared as the temple was destroyed in AD70.

Just like in the late 90’s when you bought a DVD player and replaced your VCR.  You may not have thrown away your VCR yet, but its days were over.  The order of the cassette tapes had ended and the digital entertainment age had begun.  The remnants of the old order were still around, though they were no longer serving a purpose.  They were obsolete and replaced by something new and better.  You just hadn’t made time to take it to goodwill yet.  What was obsolete and aging would soon disappear, but until you disposed of it, it was still there.  The Law is obsolete and inferior to the Gospel.  That which is obsolete has disappeared.  For the author of Hebrews, in the first century, there were remnants of an obsolete system until they were disposed of in 70 AD by Roman armies.

How is the Law obsolete?  How is it inferior to the gospel?

·         It enslaves (Gal 4:21-31)

·         It curses (Gal 3:10-14)

·         Brings death and not life (Gal 3:21, Rom 7:7-11)

o   It is inextricably linked to sin and it is the power of sin

o   Rom 7:8

o   1 Cor 15:56

·         It doesn’t justify sinners before a holy God

o   Gal 2:15-16

o   Rom 3:20-28

o   Acts 13:38-39

Part of the gospel for first century Jews is not just: you are free from sin, but you have been set free from the Law!  That is good news! Romans 7:1-6

We are the recipients of a better covenant.  The Law is obsolete and inferior to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, of which we are the partakers.  We are not under the law, which enslaves men; we are free…not free to indulge the flesh, but free to serve God.  We are not under the law which curses men; we are recipients of spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus.  We are not under the law which brings death; we are recipients of the Spirit who brings life.  The Law is obsolete and inferior to the gospel of our glorious lord Jesus Christ.

Let’s enjoy the freedom, the blessings, the forgiveness that we have in Christ as the glorious New Covenant community of God.